After achieving superstardom
throughout Latin America, Colombian-born Shakira became Latin
pop's biggest female crossover artist since
Jennifer Lopez broke down the doors to English-language success.
Noted for her aggressive, rock-influenced approach, Shakira maintained
an extraordinary degree of creative control over her music, especially
for a female artist; she wrote or co-wrote nearly all of her own
material, and in the process gained a reputation as one of Latin
music's most ambitiously poetic lyricists. When she released her
first English material in late 2001, she became an instant pop
sensation, thanks to her quirky poetic sense and a sexy video
image built on her hip-shaking belly-dance moves.
Shakira Mebarak (full name: Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll) was
born February 9, 1977, in Barranquilla, Colombia, into a poor
family. Her mother was a native Colombian and her father was of
Lebanese descent, and so as a child Shakira soaked up music from
both cultures; she also listened heavily to English-language rock
& roll, listing her favorite bands in later interviews as
Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Police, the Cure, and Nirvana.
Shakira wrote her first song at age eight, began entering (and
winning) talent competitions at age ten, and started learning
the guitar at age 11; one story runs that around this age, she
was kicked out of her school choir for singing too forcefully.
In 1990, at age 13, Shakira moved to Bogotá in hopes of
pursuing a modeling career, but wound up signing a record deal
with Sony's Colombian division instead. Her 1991 debut album,
Magia (Magic), was comprised of songs she'd written over the past
five or six years, including some of her earliest efforts. Although
it didn't break internationally, the record started to make a
name for her in her home country. Dissatisfied with the pop inclinations
of the follow-up, 1993's Peligro (Danger), Shakira changed direction
for a time, joining the cast of the Colombian soap opera El Oasis
When Shakira returned to recording in 1995, she asserted more
control over the direction of her music, and worked more rock
& roll rhythms -- as well as occasional Arabic tinges -- into
her Latin pop material. The first results were Pies Descalzos
(Bare Feet), which was initially released in 1995; a slow seller
at first, the album gradually caught on thanks to the rock-tinged
single "Estoy Aqui," which became a hit all over Latin
America, as well as Spain. After that breakthrough, Pies Descalzos
just kept spinning off singles: "Dónde Estás
Corazón?," "Antología," "Pienso
en Ti," "Un Poco de Amor," "Se Quiere, Se
Mata." The album hit number one in eight different countries
and eventually went platinum in the U.S. as well; Shakira toured
for nearly two years promoting it (she finally left El Oasis in
Seeking to build on her success, Shakira signed Emilio Estefan
-- Gloria's husband and a highly successful music-biz insider
-- as her manager and producer. The move paid off when her follow-up
album, 1998's Dónde Están los Ladrones? (Where Are
the Thieves?), became an even bigger worldwide hit than its predecessor.
What was more, it cracked the lucrative U.S. market wide open,
spending 11 weeks at number one on Billboard's Latin album chart
and producing two U.S. number ones (on the Latin chart) with "Ciega,
Sordomuda" and "Tu." The album's signature track,
however, was the worldwide hit "Ojos Así," her
most explicit nod yet to the Arabic music she'd picked up from
her father (not to mention its latent belly-dancing connotations).
Dónde Están los Ladrones? was also the most effective
presentation yet of Shakira's strong-willed persona; her self-analysis
made her even more popular among female fans, while her anger
over love gone wrong drew comparisons to Alanis Morissette.
When Gloria Estefan offered to translate "Ojos Así"
into English, the prospect of a crossover suddenly seemed tangible,
and Shakira decided that the most effective way to maintain control
over her material was to learn English well enough to write in
it herself. In the meantime, she set the stage for her crossover
bid with a performance on MTV Unplugged; the channel's first Spanish-language
broadcast. MTV Unplugged was released as an album in early 2000,
and topped the Latin charts for two weeks on its way to becoming
her third straight platinum album; it also won a Grammy for Best
Latin Pop Album. At the inaugural Latin Grammy Awards ceremony
in 2000, Shakira delivered a much-discussed, show-stopping performance
of "Ojos Así," and took home Unplugged-related
trophies for Best Female Pop Vocal ("Ojos Así")
and Best Female Rock Vocal ("Octavo Dia").
Mainstream pop stardom
beckoned. Shakira dyed her long brown hair blonde, romanced Antonio
de la Rua (son of the former president of Argentina), and went
to work on her first (mostly) English-language album, Laundry
Service. The single/video "Whenever, Wherever" was released
in advance of the album in late 2001, and made her a star in the
English-speaking world almost overnight. Laundry Service entered
the American pop charts at number three, and "Whenever, Wherever"
climbed into the Top Ten of the singles chart, peaking at number
six. The follow-up "Underneath Your Clothes" also hit
the Top Ten, halting at number nine; less than a year after its
release, Laundry Service had gone triple platinum. Reviews of
Laundry Service were divided as to the effectiveness of Shakira's
English lyrics, but nearly all agreed on her unique poetic imagery.
~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide