20th February, 1999

In accordance with convention, the Hot New Pop Star On the Scene's second number one is a ballad, dreamy and vulnerable where "Ciega, Sordomuda" was lively and whip-smart. The fingerprints of 90s transatlantic rock are all over it, from the smeared guitar lines that could code as either alt-country or neo-psychedelic (shades of Cowboy Junkies) to the string section that chugs from "November Rain" to "To the End." She's long since worked out how to perform ballads in her idiosyncratic vocal style, and if she's less assured than she will later become she'll rarely trust herself to be so naked again without receding behind studio trickery and pop history.

Lyrically it's a straight-down-the-middle love song (as the title, "You," might hint to those who know pop practice) with a sprinkling of Shakira's signature left-field analogies and metaphors on top. The first line is "te regalo mi cintura" (I give you [the gift of] my waist), which sounds just as odd in Spanish as it does in English,  but in a genre in which hearts, hands, eyes and lips are regularly proffered, why not other, equally sensual, body parts? The chorus, however, is all straightforward sentiment, in trusty list format. The object of the song ("túúúúú-júúú") is: her sun, the faith by which she lives, the strength of her voice (typical Shakira hyperbole: surely she'd keep that for herself!), the feet with which she walks, her desire to laugh, the goodbye she doesn't know how to say. She's as strong (if eccentric) a writer as she is a singer (on both counts), and here she produces the rare ballad that repays intellectual attention as much as emotional.

When people complain about Shakira's going blonde and chasing a global (i.e. Anglophone) audience (and there are — still! — some who do), it's because the star she was at this point in her career so precisely satisfied a desire in the Latin audience for a performer who was easily as magnetic, as prodigiously talented, and as wildly creative as any US or UK rock star, but who was entirely theirs. Beck and Radiohead don't record albums in Spanish; Spanish-speakers have to go to them in order to enjoy their fruits. Why shouldn't the world have to come to Shakira, instead of the other way round?

But although ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones? was certainly in conversation with Beck and Radiohead, her sights were already set higher. When next we hear from her, her peers won't be white male rockers, but the young women — black, white, and Latin — who are, in early 1999, already deeply engaged in the process of transforming the face of pop music in the US. Some of them will make their own appearances on this travelogue; like Shakira, they go to their audience, and are comfortable wearing the clothes of many places.

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