Shakira is to English/“Western” pop what snow leopards are to environmentalists or animal lovers: a Shakira sighting is rare in our neck of the woods. It has been five years since her last solo English outing in She Wolf, and in that time, she’s managed to shack up with an international footballer and have herself a baby. However, it’s testament to her lack of willingness to overindulge in the fame machine that, unlike Queen Bey, little of this private life appears in her music, nor in the promotional rounds of interviews that have accompanied her new release in Shakira. (note: the full stop is part of the album title).
In the new world of Selena Gomez-es and Miley Cyrus-es, it is easy to speculate on the meaning of songs and point fingers at other names in the industry who they might have been about. The strength of Shakira’s new album is the power message behind the songs, if not in the lyrics, then implied through the music.
This can be seen even in the album’s premiere single, ‘Can’t Remember to Forget You’: this is no mushy love song, and Shakira recruits another prima diva in Rihanna to stomp out, not sob out the message. The anthemic, rocky feel continues in what is arguably the best song on the album, ‘Empire’. Here, love is a strength, and for a song titled so majestically, Shakira’s great vocals crown it fittingly.
In today’s female solo music market, it is becoming increasingly easy to bracket artists into ‘similar-alike-kinda’ bubbles. Whichever way you decide to micromanage the females on your iPod, Shakira has always stood apart. As a performer, she owns the stage of Latina pop in a way that other contemporaries such as Thalía, Belinda or Paulina Rubio have never quite managed. But her sound, when translated over to English-speaking ears, has never quite fit in with any other category, either.
It could be argued that Shakira is slightly Americanising her sound in her new album. This is most evident in songs such as ‘Spotlight’, a song that, frankly, could really be covered by any female artist, as well as ‘Dare (La La La)’, which slots all too easily into the Europop framework.
But in the overall framework of the album, these songs are few and far between. Even the slower ballads, such as ‘23’ or ‘Medicine’ (which features country star Blake Shelton), still sound distinctly “Shakira”: a sound that fuses Latin with “Western” in a way that no other star – aside from Selena Gomez, very, very briefly – has managed to emulate or achieve.
If there is any critique in the album at all, it’s that, whilst vocally impressive, few of the songs are ‘special’. They’re great songs, ones that make the album a strong, coherent whole, but only a handful could realistically be taken as singles and be expected to achieve something. Contrast this with some of the big powerhouse albums of the past few years – Beyoncé’s 4, Taylor Swift’s Fearless or Red, Adele’s 21, Emeli Sandé’s Our Version of Events – and Shakira’s self-titled offering looks comparatively unimpressive.
Yet her uniqueness puts her in a good position, and overall Shakira. is a great welcome back to this side of the hemisphere for the singer. In this album, her music – and only her music – manages to reflect why she’s such a great star, and one not easily dispensable in our music charts. There is only one Shakira, and the sound of today would be a lot more boring without her.