How Shakira Broke My Heart


The tickets to see Shakira at Madison Square Garden were supposed to be an innocent gift to my wife. We had no birthday or anniversary to celebrate, but Ana, who grew up in some half dozen countries around the world, already knew all the classics from the half-Lebanese Colombian-born international superstar, and I thought it would be a nice surprise. I was not a superfan (yet!) but her "Hips Don't Lie" with Wyclef Jean had been the top song of the summer, and I expected little more than a few hours of pop-infused fun.

As it turned out, Shakira stared me down. How naive I was to think myself immune to—and I'm being completely serious here—her immense talent as a singer and her sultry and seemingly inexhaustible gift as a dancer. As an amateur musician myself, I stood, stage right, starstruck, bowled over as she sang "Estoy Aquí," and the entire Garden roared the chorus back at her. It was clear that I was late to the party. I bought the album. Later, visiting Ecuador, I bought a handful of live concert DVDs. (Which were great, by the way.) Ana thought it was all hilarious—her chiding was always accompanied by an implied, "Um, yes, nice of you to realize how great she is." Indeed, I had realized.

Which is exactly why I nearly collapsed when I saw her new video "She Wolf," the title track from her upcoming album. I had been anticipating her new release for, well, years now. My hopes were high. Her last, the two-volume Oral Fixation, was produced by the music-industry legend Rick Rubin; it won six Latin Grammy awards and the Grammy for best Latin rock/alternative album. Even if she did little more than keep up the impressive arc of her six previous studio albums, the new record would be bliss.

Instead, she's gone off the rails. The video for "She Wolf" is cringe-worthy. In one sequence, Shakira is dressed in a black half-body suit, dancing awkwardly in a sparkly red cave. Half her backside is bare. Literally. In the other, she wears a skin-colored body suit (yes, she might as well be naked) and contorts herself into mind-numbingly awkward positions in a golden cage. All of it makes for B-grade porno material, that is, until the end when she is seemingly doing gymnastics in the moonlight on an apartment rooftop, at which point it is simply insufferable.

Which is to say nothing of the song itself: a synth-laced dance track about an animal-possessed woman trapped in a closet. The lyrics are confounding, i.e. "I'm starting to feel just a little abused like a coffee machine in an office." It drones on with a flippy little guitar lick and a repeating bass line. Dynamics? No. Journey? None. Energy? Unless it's blasted at a club, there's little to be found.

Of course, sex appeal is an essential element of successful musicians, but for someone as talented as Shakira to resort to trashiness on par with Britney's most bothersome buffoonery is, to put it mildly, a letdown. It may well sell albums—male bloggers are unsurprisingly fawning over the hypersexualized hokum—but for a woman who has the musical talent far beyond her peers and is at the vanguard of social policy in Latin America, "She Wolf," comes off what it is: cheap thrills that will soon be forgotten.