Shakira Border-Hops into Stateside Superstardom

Throughout Latin America, Shakira is a demigod. From Buenos Aires to Miami, men and women, young and old, all know, respect and love her work. Her last two albums revolutionized a genre with 15 years of catching up to do, even breaking through the language barrier (Donde Estan Los Ladrones went platinum in the U.S.). With award-winning success under her belt and talent oozing from every pore of her flawless skin, Shakira is poised to conquer the American market... but it may not be so easy.

Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, Shakira's primary speaking/singing language is Spanish, and unlike her Latin crossover predecessors (like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias), she was neither born nor raised in America. Why bother with the bio? Because it's the primary reason why Laundry Service, Shakira's new album, does not live up to Shak's potential. The image of an English dictionary throughout the liner notes and on the disc itself was probably intended to poke a little fun at the situation: Shak "learned" English before and during the recording of this album. The image instead serves to characterize the lyrical troubles that befall the record. It seems as though Shak has yet to fully master the English language. With lyrics like "I love you more than all that's on the planet" and "These two eyes like for no other other/The day you leave will cry a river" show that she has yet to stop thinking in Spanish--at least in terms of grammar and figures of speech. This linguistic shortcoming is evident throughout the album, and with her thick accent, they make for some bizarre pronunciations and muddle her trademark style.

To overcome this normally career-damning impediment, Shak's team has assembled a juggernaut of a marketing campaign. With Madonna's former manager on hand, bought slots on TRL (C'mon, how else do you think "Whenever, Wherever" made it to #2?), and newly-dyed blonde locks to shift the comparisons from Alanis to Britney, rest assured Shakira will be a stateside success. In fact, it's already begun: Her album debuted at number three on the Billboard chart, higher than Madonna's hits compilation and Jewel's third offering.

One minor rant: Of all the tracks on the album, none is as bad as "Eyes Like Yours," the abominable, word-for-word translation of what's considered by some to be Shakira's greatest song, "Ojos Asi." Outside of its original form, all the metaphors, imagery and linguistic flow that made the original song great die. Translator Gloria Estefan, for this crime against humanity, you shall never have another hit so long as you live. Wait a second...

But let us not be so hasty as to discredit Shakira's talents. After all, neither crafty PR nor previous successes make a career (two letters: M and J). There is a reason that Shakira is a Latin icon. Aside from killer songwriting and a beautiful voice, Shak sings with something that few artists today possess: emotion that transcends language. While the English on the album fails to fully convey what Shakira is trying to say, the slack is taken up by the powerful range of emotions that Shakira's voice spans. From innocent schoolgirl to lovesick teenager and the oh-so-trendy independent woman, Shakira slides through them all. Want proof? Listen to the Spanish songs on the record. Even if you don't know what she's saying, you'll sure know how she feels about it. That, coupled with the (mostly) catchy, well-produced tracks; and you have an album that demonstrates great talent in spite of the language barrier.


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