Shakira Just Gave Us A Lesson In Music Business & Nobody Is Paying Attention
Shakira doesn’t give a stitch without a thread, as our grandmothers used to say. The Colombian singer-songwriter has reinvented the music industry for almost 30 years, and few have noticed.
Many of us complained about her abandonment of the rocker look, the change from her jet-black hair to the typical sunburnt blonde. What we never knew was what the singer was thinking when she made such a radical decision.
And it was all hers.
Over the past few weeks, Shakira has been the talk of the town after breaking world records with her collaboration with Bizarrap on the rebound song of the decade.
Although for those of us old-schoolers, her single didn’t even come close to matching “Antología,” the truth is that Shakira doesn’t have to explain herself to us.
Still, she did, and with a masterclass in the music business.
A pioneer that no one has recognized
“You know what I celebrate? That this is happening to a Colombian, to a Latin American woman, and that it’s happening in Spanish,” the Colombian singer told Enrique Acevedo in a February 28 interview.
After talking in detail about her separation from the soccer player father of her children and her vulnerability, Shakira showed her undoubted genius.
“This makes me think it’s worth it; that I have a role in society. There I do have a place, a role,” Shakira explained about the success of her latest collab.
Think that when Shakira began her career in the early 1990s, recorded music had been expanding for more than a quarter of a century.
For us, getting a cassette of her first album was a treasure. Now, all it takes is logging on to Spotify to listen to her entire discography.
However, when Shakira gave us that unforgettable MTV Unplugged, her fans were all Spanish-speaking. Conquering the Goliath of the north was almost impossible.
Today, the reality is different. The most listened to artists are, precisely, Latino artists, such as Bad Bunny, Karol G, and the singer from Barranquilla herself.
How Shakira changed the music industry
In the interview, and after briefly recounting this history of the industry, Acevedo asks, “Do you feel like a pioneer of that?”
In a gesture of humility, shrugging her shoulders and winking her hand, Shakira says, “A little bit, yes.”
“At the time, reggaeton was a very local Puerto Rican phenomenon. There were figures like Daddy Yankee, and it wasn’t very globalized. There were no pop artists experimenting with reggaeton either,” she recounted.
“That’s when ‘La Tortura’ came about,” she says. “I discovered what’s going on in Puerto Rico, and I said, ‘Uy, this, with a bit of dancehall and a bit of flamenquito…'”
“That’s when ‘La Tortura’ was born, and I don’t know if it’s one of the first collaborations between two artists like [the one] between Alejandro Sanz and me was,” she continued. “At that time, it wasn’t fashionable for artists to come together. Everyone went their own way, and there was a bit of a rivalry between artists, between genres.”
“Now they make some arroz con mango,” she said with a chuckle. “And ‘La Tortura’ was an arroz con mango. And it worked.”
But when Shakira decided to make her crossover to the English-language world, singing in Spanish was a handicap. You had to throw hooks in English to bring audiences into Latino music territory.
The first example, undoubtedly, was Ricky Martin with “La Vida Loca.”
“He was one of the first. He was a great pioneer,” Shakira recognized.
“Spanish was not in vogue. Latin rhythms weren’t in vogue either,” she added, opening what would be one of the anecdotes we had most looked forward to hearing.
“When ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ came out, for example, my album was already out; it was already on the market. I remember calling Donnie Ienner, the company head, and I said, ‘Pick it all up. Pick it all up. I’ve got a song that’s going to [break the industry]’.”
She continued: “He said, ‘But how, how am I going to pick it all up?’ And I said, ‘Donnie, how long have I been with the company? Will you please listen to me?’ ‘ And he said, ‘Okay, okay, fine. I’m listening to you.”
“They picked up all the product, and we put ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ in,” the singer said.
“There were people who had doubts. [They had doubts with] a song that says ‘En Barranquilla se baila así,’ with a cumbia, and some typical instruments, indigenous to my land, to the coast of Colombia,” she recalled. “Who would have expected that it would be played on American radio or that it would reach super obtuse markets like England, for example?”
And it happened.
“Now it’s the people who decide,” she concluded.
“Now it’s the people who decide whether a song must be played in a certain territory or not.”
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