If a team of scientists were commissioned to build the perfect pop star, chances are the result would bear a striking resemblance to Colombian singing sensation Shakira.
A bona fide pop wunderkind, Shakira is what you get when you combine beauty, talent, sensuality and intellect. Though English-speaking U.S. fans have only recently become aware of the singer, 24-year-old Shakira is actually a Latina legend who signed her first recording contract at age 13. Her Spanish-language recordings have been certified platinum in the U.S., Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Central America, Mexico and Spain, and she's already nabbed a Grammy, two Latin Grammys, four BMI Latin Awards and a BMI Songwriter of the Year honor. Shakira is such a phenomenon in the Latin world, Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez rhapsodized: "Shakira's music has a personal stamp that doesn't [sound] like anyone else's, and no one can sing or dance like her, at whatever age, with such an innocent sensuality, one that seems to be of her own invention."
BMI's Barbara Cane (left) is shown congratulating BMI songwriter/artist Shakira on her success prior to the taping of MTV's "Icons" show in Los Angeles.
Her own invention, indeed. With the late 2001 release of her first English-language album, Laundry Service - and its irresistible debut single "Whenever, Wherever" - Shakira revealed a diverse sound punctuated with sultry pop melodies, twangyInl spaghetti-western guitars, new wave rock rhythms and crackling Latin undercurrents. Her current single, "Underneath Your Clothes," combines soul-inflected balladry with Beatlesque arrangements, while "Ready for the Good Times" reprises the disco sounds of the '70s. Ambitious and assured, Laundry Service thrusts Shakira into the same multi-platinum pantheon occupied by superstars like Britney Spears and 'N Sync.
Shakira's music stems from years of listening to Anglo and U.S. rock acts like Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Beatles and Nirvana. "I was so in love with that rock sound," Shakira explains, "but at the same time because my father is of 100 percent Lebanese descent, I am devoted to Arabic tastes and sounds. Somehow, I'm a fusion of all of those passions and my music is a fusion of elements that I can make coexist in the same place, in one song."
Upon its release, Laundry Service floored the critics. Interview magazine praised Shakira's "memorable hooks, gorgeous looks and impromptu belly-dancing," while Rolling Stone drooled over the singer's "breathy, yearning ballads and fierce, sassy pop-rock." Time magazine effused: "In a world ruled by packaged pop, Shakira offers up a refreshing blast of off-center rock." Teen People magazine included her as one of its "25 Hottest Stars Under 25."
The idea to write and perform English-language songs first came up during Shakira's partnership with former manager Emilio Estefan Jr. and his famed wife, Gloria Estefan. After successfully composing her first song in English, Shakira immersed herself in western literature and music. "I had to find a way to express my ideas and feelings in English," Shakira explains. "So I bought a couple of rhyming dictionaries, read poetry and authors like Leonard Cohen and Walt Whitman."
Having risen to the challenge of creating a commercially viable English-language recording, Shakira now speaks of a limitless future. "I think I am celebrating life more than ever," the singer says. "I feel washed clean of the way I looked at things in the past."