When I was two years old, I had one goal in my life and one goal only. And that was to be Shakira.
Twenty three years later, I have some different and more concrete goals but I still look to Shakira for a reminder of who I am, where I come from, and who I can be. And somehow, she strikes the same awe in me now as she did in two year old me.
I can’t think of a better way for me to celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month than for me to dive into why Shakira is one of my musical loves of my life. Heck, let’s call her the first musical love of my life because that’s the truth.
Shakira was born Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll to a father of Lebanese descent and a mother of Spanish/Colombian descent in Barranquilla, Colombia. She grew up with a passion for music, dance, and lyrics: writing her first poem at age 4, getting rejected by her Catholic school choir in second grade because of her vibrato, and being known as “the belly dancer girl” at school. She started her music career when she was just 13 and released her first album, Magia. She broke through the Latin music industry with her first major studio album Pies Descalzos. And that’s around the time I was born and destined to be inspired by her for my entire life.
Growing up, I didn’t have much but my parents worked hard to provide. My Mexican dad and Salvadoran mom had been in Los Angeles for about 10 years and were very much trying to make ends meet while working in fashion manufacturing. I was too preoccupied with my love for mangoes and Los Bukis (who I should talk about in a blog post one day) to understand how hard they were working, but I guess I provided some joy by being so cute. Also, I should mention that my sister and I were kids models for the business, which was cool.
We only consumed Spanish language media in those early days: the news, my mom watching Caso Cerrado and Primer Impacto, weekly family nights watching the iconic variety show Sábado Gigante, and my sister tuning into all the Los Angeles Latin pop radio stations.
She loved dancing around to Shakira’s first single “Estoy Aquí” from her first studio album Piez Descalzos and me being the baby in awe of my older sister, loved to join in too. In my quest to learn words, I was fascinated by Shakira’s ability to say so many words so fast. I had no idea what she was saying and it sounded like gibberish but I found it so amusing.
Then came her second album, Donde Esta Los Ladrones, that my sister got on cassette. Shakira rocked out in her black braided her with red and purple streaks. She was grungy, she sang Spanish lyrics over Arabic beats, and she had the coolest belly dancing skirt with the jingly coins. To a child that was constantly trying to improve her motor skills, belly dancing was the coolest thing ever and while I didn’t pick it up, my parents did get me a purple belly dancing skirt.
Oh and don’t get me started on how cool the music video to “Inevitable” was with all the bubbles. That’s the moment I said “I want to be HER when I grow up.”
Then came the first breakthrough. Shakira became a blonde haired force of nature singing in English, the other language I was learning. Her third album, Laundry Service, was the first album I ever bought.
Now this is the time that a lot of people in the rest of the world hopped on the Shakira train too. She was dancing around in leather chaps, singing a passionate love song featuring pan flutes called “Suerte” in Spanish and “Whenever, Wherever” in English. Again, I looked at her and thought, “Wow, I want to be HER when I grow up.”
Laundry Service remains one of my favorite Shakira albums because of the badass way she kept her rock roots and world music focus as she broke into the American pop charts. NOBODY WAS DOING IT LIKE HER THEN. People were MYSTIFIED when “Whenever, Wherever” came out because #1 she looked hot as hell in the video and #2 people had not heard a pan flute in a pop song in like the history of ever!! Like please, point me to a pan flute song that charted before “Whenever, Wherever” showed the world that she was a force to be reckoned with. This era has such a special place in my heart because in addition to being the breakthrough that set her up for the long career she’s had, it showcased her creativity and innovation for bringing together genres that no one in pop had tried to bring together before.
After Laundry Service, Shakira released Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 and Oral Fixation Vol. 2 back to back. Please consider this the start of Shakira’s world domination because nine year old me definitely thought that as she proudly looked on. Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 was her fifth album in Spanish and contained so many bangers, like the iconic collaboration with Alejandro Sanz “La Tortura.” Oral Fixation Vol. 2 was her second English album and even though she translated a couple of her Spanish songs into English, the lyrics of these songs were mostly initially written in English by Shakira. This album is where we get her second signature song, the iconic collaboration with Wyclef Jean, “Hips Don’t Lie.”
I feel like the world finally caught up to my awe of Shakira when “Hips Don’t Lie” hit #1. I distinctly remember dying of laughter with my sister when Yahoo! Music released a fan version of the music video of “Hips Don’t Lie” and seeing all the creative ways people lip synced to the song. I’m talking people dancing in the middle of the street, a guy being super dramatic with a trumpet, and my favorite, the guy rapping Wyclef Jean’s verse and doing a hand wave for the “we own our own boats” part. It’s not that funny but somehow it is. The way that video pre-dates TikTok just goes to show that people love to dance and don’t care how embarrassing they look. Major props to everyone in that video because that took coraje (courage).
After “Hips Don’t Lie” and the iconic tour that followed, we got the earth-shattering She Wolf era. Like Laundry Service before it, this album contained songs mostly in English but some songs got a Spanish version. This Shakira era made me stop in my teeny bopper Disney Channel tracks to be in awe once again like “how does one woman contain THIS MUCH TALENT. I WANT TO BE HER WHEN I GROW UP.”
I remember I hadn’t been paying too much attention to Shakira since “Hips Don’t Lie” but my sister and I somehow ended up watching an MTV behind the scenes before the “She Wolf” music video premiered. Hearing her talk about how she got lessons from the Crazy Horse troupe, a group of dancers known for burlesque dancing, for this video was inspiring because she was like “it was NOT easy, but it was a lot of fun.” I feel like she made me see that burlesque dancing was empowering and a true sport, breaking the preconceived notion that it was a way that men objectified women.
Around the same time that Shakira was moving on from She Wolf to her Sale El Sol era, she contributed arguably the best World Cup song of all time. Shakira was hired to write the song for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” and it went to the top worldwide. Like seriously, this song singlehandedly made me believe that world peace was possible, even if for a moment. I also have to mention that it warmed my heart when I met new local friends while studying in Shanghai who also loved Shakira because of this song. Also, I remember hearing the song in the Shanghai subway. Damn, what a time to be alive.
Sale El Sol saw Shakira start to blend merengue and Latin dance music with all the different kinds of music she had already experimented with in past albums: confessional Latin pop/rock music, world and dancehall music, and electropop. Admittedly, I wasn’t paying too much attention to her music at this time because I was super deep in my Jonas Brothers obsession so I only wanted to listen to them and their associates. But I knew the singles she released were such great songs to dance to.
After that era, she released her self-titled album, which was her TENTH studio album and third English album in 2014. Although I was peripherally paying attention to her during this era (because I was starting college soon), this era reminded me again that Shakira is the most badass person ever. The reggae-inspired lead single “Can’t Remember To Forget You” was a collaboration with RIHANNA. Yes, RIRI. Lol remember when Rihanna made music? Hahaha rip all of us. But back to Shakira in this song and video, she really knocked us all out with that one. Like…I’ve fully lost track of the number of times I’ve said this, but once again, “I WANT TO BE HER WHEN I GROW UP.”
I have a really random memory with her song “Empire” from that self-titled album. So first of all, she looks and sounds ETHEREAL here. Second of all, the first time I heard this song was when my college Bible study friends and I went for a normal Tuesday night bowling session. For some reason, I have a mental picture of my friends Doug and Keanu taking turns lifting each other up to this song. It matched up with the song so perfectly, it was too funny. Damn, I wish I had the video still.
After her self-titled era, she took a break to figure out what was next in her career after having her second child. This was around the time she was in Disney’s Zootopia as Gazelle and sang the iconic “Try Everything.” Then she came back, releasing another mostly Spanish album in 2017, El Dorado. In this album, she combined her Latin pop grooves with genres like reggaeton and bachata. Most of the songs in this album reflected a more mature Shakira, singing sweet love songs to her kids and her partner, Gerard Piqué. But don’t get it twisted, there’s some great club bangers here too, like the song “Chantaje” with Maluma — ugh that one’s straight fire. This album’s tour was when I FINALLY got to see her in concert with my sister.
And that brings us to now! She recently released a couple songs, including an absolute banger that reminds me of “She Wolf” called “Don’t Wait Up.” Also, we have to talk about when she singlehandedly won the 2020 SuperBowl (sorry JLo). Dang, that’s the only time 2020 was good to us…tbh, I’ll take it.
Ok, I’m gonna give us all a second to breathe and realize that we just went through Shakira’s 20+ year career just now. I am in so much awe for so many different reasons that I will now dive into. But first, can we acknowledge the fact that THE WOMAN DOES NOT AGE. Like, I want to know her secret of youth because she has more energy than I do and I’m like half her age.
So why do I love Shakira? Oh let me count the ways.
First of all, Shakira’s songwriting is a true cornerstone in my admiration for her. Her quirky songwriting has always fed my imagination and approach to life because she writes about everything. Her lyrics are silly yet poetic, sexy and intellectual, bitter and biting, nostalgic and carrying so much emotion, and just so full of joy. If you really listen to her discography, you’ll see that she’s somehow captured the entire female human experience…and guess what? She still has stories to tell!! And that sheer fact inspires me so deeply.
Similarly, I am beyond impressed how she’s been able to combine so many different genres of music to create her own sound. Like let’s not forget that she started as a Latin teen pop idol who was a full rocker chick in the 90s. And it’s crazy to see how the music she makes now isn’t actually that different than the music she made early in her career. She never stopped being a rocker chick and you can hear it in EVERY album. What’s happened is that she’s taken elements from all her musical ventures to make music that is uniquely hers and I mean, isn’t that every artist’s dream?
Another reason I admire her is the way blends cultures in a way that feels respectful. So many artists have gotten in trouble for culturally appropriating in disrespectful ways, but Shakira seems to have been one of the only people that’s done it right a majority of the time. Shakira is a true global citizen that lets artists and elements from different cultures shine alongside her because she has a deep appreciation for the world. Plus, my girl has got a foundation, Pies Descalzos, that helps poor and impoverished children around the world that she started literally wayyy back at the start of her career. I mean she doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, but I wanna be all that too.
Also, I have to express how profoundly in awe I am of the way that Shakira embraces and celebrates her feminine power because she does it in a way where she’s in control of the narrative. In her music, she has made space to embrace her femininity in all its shades: as an angry and scorned woman, as a woman who is an ethereal light in the world, as a woman who confidently wields the power of her sexuality, and as a woman who is tender and embraces motherhood. Like, the fact that she can go from something so undeniably sexy like “Did It Again” to a wholesome song about her kids like “Amarillo” just blows my mind. And it’s all her choice! Honestly, I feel like I’ve learned how to be the brand of “spicy wholesomeness” that I am through her.
Lastly, Shakira has taught me what it means to embrace being a Latina. The world and the media has tried to reduce Latinas to being “spicy” and “sexy” which is such a disservice to the great multitudes we contain. Shakira is a perfect example of a Latina who is so much more than “spicy”, “sexy”, and her “hips don’t lie.” She is clever and intelligent, creative and innovative, a visionary, a humanitarian, and truly a force to be reckoned with. Throughout her entire career, she’s been involved in the stories she tells and she has sought to never forget that she came from Barranquilla, Colombia. I have learned so many lessons from Shakira and I have no doubt I will learn more as I keep getting older. But I am so thankful for her because she has taught me that what makes me Latina is the way I embrace the stories of where I came from and the best way to celebrate my identity is to live my life as a joyful reflection of that.
This playlist goes into some of my favorite songs of hers. From showcasing her sweet ballads to her rock ‘n roll growls to her danceable rhythms, Shakira has done it all and we need to celebrate her sheer RANGE. Phew, there’s so much more to say, especially about all the songs in this playlist. But I’m gonna choose a few highlights.
This song walked so my high school Taylor Swift-esque songwriting could run. Y’all, this song is so sad, so 90s, and so beautiful. I remember I played it for a Latino Heritage showcase that my Advanced Spanish class put together. I remember that I chose to play and sing this song for two reasons: one, it was easy to play on guitar and sing and two, I was going through the rejection from the dumb boy that I wrote the most songs about in high school and it just hit really hard. It was such a cool way to connect with my heritage and my deep love for Shakira while also being super dramatic through music. Classic high school me.
I’m not gonna lie to y’all, I spent a huge chunk of this week trying to nail the bridge to this song. I think I got pretty far but Jesus, it is not easy to sing/rap that one. Especially in Spanish. I love this song because it reminds me of mariachi music but in a hip, cool way. I didn’t appreciate traditional Latino music like mariachi or norteña music when I was a kid, but this song was an early and accessible way for me to appreciate elements of those genres that are so important to understanding my heritage and culture. So shoutout Shak for mixing rock, pop, rap, and mariachi horns for this one.
Oh man, this is Shakira’s most BADASS song. The video and song imprinted on me at such a young age, I can’t even begin to tell you how cool this song and video were at age 5. This was also the first song she ever wrote in English (as encouraged by her English teacher, Gloria Estefan. YES THE GLORIA ESTEFAN.) I love the way that she combined tango elements with pop and just hardcore pure rock. Like listen to what the guitar is doing while she raps the bridge, it’s hypnotizing and it sounds hard to do. So can we all say it now con ganas (with desire)? SHAKIRA FUCKING ROCKS. Also, this video low key made me believe that breast implants were actually balloons for way too fucking long.
Las de la Intuición
Ok first of all, love this electropop song from Shakira. Second of all, I remember my favorite Spanish teacher in high school asked us to bring in a song in Español to show the class and I brought this one. So we watched the video in class and little ol’ prudish high school me was embarrassed because she forgot how much Shakira put her sex appeal on display. My poor teacher Ms. Ng tried to diffuse the situation in case someone from administration came but I felt bad for putting her in that situation. No one in the class cared lol. Ah, I miss her, she was a great teacher.
The sentiment in this song is a VIBE. Like, girl yes, all I want in this stage of my life is to be a muse. I will not be going into that any further at this time, so go listen to the song lol. The instrumentation of this song is a trip and I want to talk about THAT. It’s a little rockabilly in the way it swings and there’s some definite Queen inspiration. I hear Queen influence in it because it’s almost theatrical in how it expresses the desire in this song. Ugh, her MIND. I definitely feel like this was a good teaser to the stuff we hear on She Wolf.
Men in This Town
Ok, can I just start with the fact that she literally wrote a song about how hard it is to date/find a good man in LA? *insert primal scream here* We don’t have to go into my impossibly high standards right now, but seriously Shak, HOW DID YOU READ MY MIND AND THE MINDS OF LITERALLY ALL THE LOVELY LADIES IN LOS ANGELES. Also, I love how she randomly name drops Matt Damon here. Anyway, sonically, this one is very electro-pop with some rock moments and it somehow feels very fresh (and so clean…listen to the song, you’ll get it). But yeah, where are all the men in this town? We will never know.
Sale El Sol
This song is a perfect example of Shakira’s later rock roots as she started to explore other influences. In an album full of merengue, reggaeton, and other amazing Latin influences, the title track feels just so naturally Shakira. It’s melancholic, belty, descriptive, and just so beautiful to soak in because it feels right. I need more people to know that Shakira at her core is a rock chick and I’ve always loved her for that because so am I.
We need to acknowledge that Shakira is a power ballad QUEEN. The piano in this song is so beautiful and it really lets her lyrics shine. It’s a gorgeous set of loving lyrics and honestly, it feels like a love song to her kids more than a love song to her partner. It could be both honestly, but I believe it was written after second pregnancy. Ugh, just a beautiful moment to soak in.
This song feels so nostalgic and joyful and I love how Carlos Vives complements her in this song. I should also mention that my dad’s name is also Carlos and early in his career, he looked a lot like my dad in the 80s. This song has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of my sister and I going to see Shakira together. Really though, seeing her in the El Dorado tour and it felt like such a beautiful full circle moment. While at the concert, we felt like we were little girls dancing in our parents’ studio apartment again.