Things that have been said about Shakira:
The female Ricky Martin. -everybody, about her crossover
Laundry Service, is the ultimate in crossover nightmares. Its wan ska-pop, faux-country ballads, and generic rock barely betray a Spanish accent or any musical heritage. -David Browne, Entertainment Weekly
You are actually authentically talented. You are a songwriter above all else, rare for a woman in Latin music, or really anywhere. -Matt Cibula, Pop Matters
If there is a market for music for tapas bars with sexually frustrated customers, Shakira has it cornered. -Dave Simpson, The Guardian
Mariah Carey after a quarter-bottle of tequila and a weekend lost in the rainforest. -Mike Diver, BBC
A combination of Latin licentiousness and English self-taught via Bob Dylan lyrics and a thesaurus means you’re never quite sure the Colombian singer knows what she’s saying. -Johnny Davis, The Guardian
I won’t bother with addressing the above quotes specifically because ugh. But what I do need to address, and what I’ve already talked about to some extent this week, are the main reasons why Shakira is one of the most underrated artists of our time: the othering of Shakira, as well as how sexuality negates a woman’s credibility, and the dismissal of pop music as a legitimate art form.
All of the quotes above place Shakira outside of the mainstream because of where she is from. Even though her crossover album was released in 2001, she is still almost always referred to not as pop star Shakira, but Latin pop star Shakira. She herself has said, “I hope at some point I am just considered an artist and not an alien.” Even though she makes music influenced by styles from all over the world, even though her albums have gone platinum outside of Latin America, even though non-Spanish-speaking audiences have embraced Spanish-language songs like “La Tortura,” there is still a reluctance to include her in the mainstream. And the problem is not just with wanting to define Shakira as a Latin pop artist, but with having to separate Latin pop (and K-pop/J-pop/any pop that’s not from the U.S. or the UK) from pop. The music industry is very insular and, as Jonathan Bogart put it, xenophobic. American and British music (in English, of course) is the default, and everything else, no matter the scope, no matter the impact, is other music. But there are exciting things happening in music all over the world. I can mostly speak to what’s happening in Latin America, but there is so much going on that it’s a shame that no on is paying attention. If you like what Shakira did with disco strings on “She Wolf,” you should hear what Javiera Mena is doing. And if you like the merengue on Sale El Sol, check out Rita Indiana.
Shakira is also often dismissed because of her image and how she chooses to express her sexuality. Because of what she wears and how she dances she’s not seen as a serious artist. Unfortunately, this is the case for all women in music. There is a standard of beauty that women must meet in order to be visible, but there is also a limit to how sexy a woman can be and still be taken seriously. Nicki Minaj put it well when she said, “When you’re a girl, you have to everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet. You have to be sexy and you have to be…nice. I can’t be all those things at once.” Shakira is as close as you can get to being everything, but because people focus on her sexy dance moves (instead of the weird, jerky ones), and because her expressions of sexuality are seen as signaling that she is manipulated instead of in control, she cannot be a serious artist.
She has also receives more critical praise for her music when it’s not-so-pop. It’s on her angrier/angstier rock songs that Shakira gets points for being a “real artist.” When Fijación Oral Vol. 1 was released, it was said to win back some of the credibility she had pre-crossover. Because rock music is more credible than pop. Because pop artists aren’t real musicians. It’s this widely accepted view that prevents brilliant songs like “She Wolf” from getting the respect they deserve. It also prevents artists like Shakira (though are there really any?), who is an insanely talented songwriter, producer, dancer, and all-around performer, from getting the recognition they deserve.
Shakira week has been pretty brilliant.