Swaying hips, record sales and radio play don’t lie. Shakira is the stuff of crossover dreams, a singer fully immersed and accepted in two distinct worlds.
Two recent singles, She Wolf and Waka Waka (the 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem), were global smashes, topping charts as far as away as Germany, Italy and the U.K. Her live shows carefully balance dual languages and cultures.
Think back to Ricky Martin’s late-’90s breakthrough and the subsequent “Latin explosion.” Martin’s popularity quickly waned. And of the spate of crossover acts that followed — Enrique Iglesias, Paulina Rubio, Thalia, even boxer Oscar De La Hoya — Shakira has proven the most consistent.
But so much success has come at a price.
Shakira’s first Spanish-language albums, Pies Descalzos and ¿Dónde Están los Ladrones?, were angsty, anthemic calls to arms. Even if some called the sound a knockoff of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, no one was doing it en español. Her throaty yodel pushed up against jangly rock arrangements on hits ¿Dónde Estás Corazón?, Tú and Ciega, Sordomuda.
It was soulful. It was fresh. It was raw. Her pale skin and dark hair, sometimes twisted into braids, gave her the look of a tribal goddess.
But 2001’s Laundry Service changed all that, effectively scrubbing clean so much of what made Shakira interesante. Her black hair was dyed blonde. Her midriff became a focal point, even when she wasn’t belly dancing. The rock framework that made her a star was collapsed into routine dance-pop, with token Latin flourishes.
It transformed the Colombian singer into a superstar. But it also alienated those who were around pre-Britney-fication.
“Shakira has definitely watered down her original style in order to gain the crossover audience,” says Edson Sanchez, editor of RockenHouston.com. “I bought Laundry Service the day it came out and was absolutely disappointed. I ended up selling it at Half-Price books.
“She used to be so proud of her Lebanese roots, and now she tries to be as Anglo as possible. She’s not even playing her guitar anymore. It’s all about recycled beats and elaborate choreography.”
Maybe those changes were, to quote one of her standout tunes, inevitable. Shakira’s last all-Spanish-language album, 2005’s Fijación Oral Vol. 1, paled in comparison to previous releases. Too much balladry, not enough bite.
Last year’s She Wolf album was her best in several years, but it was an English-language effort with a few translations.
“I don’t hate her now; I just don’t appreciate her as much as, say, Inevitable or Tú,” says longtime fan Javi Barragan. “I miss those tiempos. The one thing about her music that changed when she crossed over is the heart, but that’s what first grabbed me. Now, it’s all beats and hooks and catchy choruses. I can’t help but think that there’s a record exec demanding, "More Wyclef! More Wyclef!”
But there is hope, and it’s on the horizon.
The forthcoming Sale el Sol is, finally, a return to form of sorts. (It’s online and in stores Oct. 19.) There are fiery cumbia rhythms, heartfelt love songs and — yes — rock elements. The songs are interesting and don’t feel like concessions to any certain market. It’s a largely invigorating effort.
And Shakira cleverly acknowledges fans who prefer the original incarnation during new song Gordita, a duet with Residente of Calle 13.
“You’re very pretty, but I also liked it when you were more plump,” he raps in Spanish, “With black hair and a round face, asi medio rockerita.”
Maybe, after so much double immersion, Shakira will be able to find a balance to satisfy both sides of the argument.
“I think she has done a great job of introducing the English market to her style, her mix of American pop with her Colombian
Lebanese roots and expression,” says singer Roxxi Jane, who’s equally adept at frothy pop and mariachi tunes.
“Of course, I love her Spanish music because its effortless. She thinks and feels in Spanish. But she is evolving, and you can see she is very comfortable in her art.”
Shakira: 8 p.m. Friday. $9.50-$149.50. Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. toyotacentertix.com or 866-446-8849.