Some musicians enjoy an initial meteoric rise to fame and burn out almost as quickly. And then there are artists like Shakira, whose star in the music world has risen slowly and steadily for nearly 20 years now.
You might be surprised to learn that the youthful-looking Colombian performer is already 37 and has recently become a mother (with her partner of four years, Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué), and that her career stretches back to her Latin American debut in 1996. Shakira's crossover into the mainstream American music scene came in 2001 with her first English-language album (and fifth overall), Laundry Service. Another big boost came in 2006 when her sultry hit (and even sultrier video) "Hips Don't Lie" topped the charts in America and 54 other countries. That song has since sold more than 10 million units globally and is the best-selling single of the 21st century.
With Shakira's current stint as a judge—and a surprisingly gentle, encouraging and likable one at that—on NBC's popular singing competition The Voice, no doubt a new generation of fans is discovering her for the first time. That's doubly likely given the fact that hitmaker extraordinaire Dr. Luke is among Shakira's producers on her eponymous 10th album, a 12-song effort that spans the musical gamut from pop to rock to EDM to reggae to folk to (even) country in one song with fellow Voice judge Blake Shelton.
"Spotlight" praises a man (likely her Spanish beau) for wanting Shakira for her own sake, not for her celebrity or money. She compares the glare of celebrity to a "spotlight … and it's hurting my eyes." In contrast, her relationship with Piqué gives her something fame and fortune don't: "But you are the thing I was missing and I couldn't find." "Broken Record" involves Shakira trying to convince a skittish suitor that her love is for real ("I've said it 700 times/I don't need to keep looking/You are the one/ … You promised that you'd always be with me/And I promised too"). "Medicine" (the duet with Blake Shelton) rejects chemical mood management ("I don't reach for the bottle of whiskey/ … You won't see me popping pills") in favor of a good romance ("If I want the pain to go away/ … You're my medicine/ … You make it all better, better/You make me feel whole").
Shakira rethinks her unspiritual convictions on "23" as she falls in love ("A couple years ago I was lonely/I used to think that there was no God/But then you looked at me with your blue eyes/And my agnosticism turned to dust"). That song also references praying and parsing God's responses ("God knows that I'm a good dancer/My feet can move to the music He plays/But there were times I asked for an answer/When He was acting in mysterious ways"). "The One Thing" likewise gushes about finding a romance so good that previous romantic misfires just don't matter anymore: "I made mistakes, that much is clear/But I made it here, my love/ … You're the one thing I got right."
"Cut Me Deep" uses that phrase to describe a wounding romance. In the end, however, Shakira wisely chooses to cut her losses ("Let me leave now in peace/You know you took it too far").
One of the more problematic tracks (and its video has even more issues) is "Can't Remember to Forget You," a duet with fellow diva Rihanna. Both she and Shakira sing about giving into the temptation to hop back in the sack with men they know are bad for them. Rihanna sings, "I go back again/Fall off the train/Land in his bed/Repeat yesterday's mistakes." Shakira adds (metaphorically) that she'd embrace a life of crime if that's what it takes to hang onto her guy ("I rob and kill to keep him with me/I do anything for that boy").
"Empire" dallies with sultry suggestiveness when Shakira teases, "Take off all your skin/I'm brave when you are free/Shake off all your sins/And give them to me." Other smoldering lines say, "We are alive/And the stars make love to the universe/You're my wildfire every single night." Suggestive lyrics also turn up on "Broken Record" when Shakira sings, "I can get lost climbing on your legs that never end/I found a perfect distance between my body on you."
"Dare (La La La)" frames a handsome man's effect on Shakira in terms of inebriation: "Let's not recover from the hangover/When your eyes got me drunk I was sober." "You Don't Care About Me" finds the singer lamenting a lover's evaporated affection, yet she can't bring herself to separate completely from him.
Shakira's last English-language effort in 2009 was dubbed She Wolf (which Plugged In did not review due to poor sales in the U.S.). That title, though, encapsulates the image Shakira had cultivated up to that point: one of a ravenous, sexually predatory woman on the prowl.
I expected more of the same on Shakira. And, to be critical, this album does have a fair bit of sexual innuendo. But there's a surprising amount of sweetness and starry-eyed romance here too. Shakira hasn't yet married her partner of four years (as is increasingly the case among celebrity couples), but she's at least singing about the relationship in terms of permanence, coupling her promises of fidelity with the idea that such commitment brings security and joy.
From that perspective, Shakira takes a few dance steps in the right direction … even if there are a few more that still need to be choreographed.