1st March, 2003

Wiki | Video

I don't know if I can adequately express my thoughts -- or more accurately, my feelings -- about this song. Let's see.

In late 2001, I had a lingering, hopeless crush on a young woman of Mexican heritage who I knew little about except that she loved Shakira (the dark-haired, Spanish-language Shakira of the 90s). It was largely under the influence of that crush that I bought Laundry Service at the strip-mall CD store which was the first physical locus of the music nerdery that would consume much of my adult life.

If I remember correctly, I bought Bob Dylan's Love and Theft in the same purchase. The polarity of the two albums felt right: one a gravelly-voiced recapitulation of a hundred years of folk and blues imagery in creaky arrangements swung just wrong enough to make them feel fresh, the other a hypermodern, fiercely intelligent pop-rock record that blended three continents' worth of unconventionally literate, emotionally expressive, and body-first musical traditions into dance music that even a timid, emotionally stunted nerd like me, more comfortable swimming about in Furry Lewis and Charley Patton rewrites than with beautiful young Latinas who asked me uncomfortable questions, could appreciate.

Every time I listened to Laundry Service, and I did often in 2001 and 2002, it was as though I was listening to it with my eyes averted, trying to hear what Gabriel García Márquez had praised in her rather than admitting that the obvious pleasures of rhythm and tenderness meant anything to me. I still felt wrong, creepy, a dirty old man (I was 23) when I listened to millennial-era pop music, the legacy of a sheltered evangelical upbringing which had left me with the lasting impression that expressions of physicality were tantamount to pornography, and that consuming pornography was the ultimate social crime. But (as with actual pornography) I found myself unable to stop listening to pop, no matter how ashamed I was of it.

"Que Me Quedes Tú" (literally That You Remain to Me, but in context more like "as long as I have you") became an island of solace in the middle of the album. Neither in English nor a dance song, its 60s-throwback chiming sitar-like hook, with a guitar arrangement that reminded me of the Britpop the internet was teaching me I had missed, and Shakira's hushed, back-of-her-throat performance (doing things Alanis Morrissette never could have) felt like one adult speaking to another, rather than a teenager performing for bleachers of creeps.

The distinction, I've come to realize since, was all in my head: there's no intrinsic difference between a rhythm guitar chug and a pulsing sequencer, or between 60 and 120 bpm, only the cultural meanings we assign them. And even at her most scantily-clad and snake-hipped, Shakira was always self-evidently an auteur, making her own performing decisions and entirely in control of her narrative. (Britney Spears is the obvious comparison; her early work, which I dismissed then but now admire, I still prefer only to listen to rather than watch videos which still seem exploitative and uncomfortable.) Poptimism, or the belief that pop music can be as meaningful, as well-crafted, and as culturally relevant as anything set up in opposition to it, whether the "rigor" of art music or the "authenticity" of folk (or the combination of the two attributed to various masculine-identified subgenres like rock or hip-hop), remains the guiding principle of my musical life.

But enough personal history. What about the song in the context of the Hot Latin chart?

It doesn't sound entirely out of place. Ricky Martin, Carlos Vives, Ricardo Arjona, and Shakira herself have been bringing rock instrumentation to the forefront in recent years, and although the ratio of ballads to uptempos has improved since the early 90s, there are still plenty of slow songs. But I don't think there's been a genuine rock ballad at the top of the chart since the heyday of Ana Gabriel, and although a poetic expressiveness to the lyrics has been relatively common thanks to auteurs like Juan Gabriel and Ricardo Arjona, "Que Me Quedes Tú" is still unusual for the apocalyptic thoroughness with which Shakira is willing to sacrifice the rest of the world, as long as she is able to indulge in her lover's inventive kisses and eternal melancholy.

It's an extravagant, hyperbolic expression of love set to such tastefully classicist guitar pop that unless you speak Spanish well, you could entirely miss its weirdness. I did for many years, feeling only the romantic self-indulgence of the chorus rather than the destructive glee of the verses. But as an expression of a complete thought, a doomed but whole-bodied feeling common to many relationships, it's perfect.

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