Shakira comes to 'The Voice,' but has she lost her own?
I love Shakira. Especially her Spanish-language music. I was thrilled when I heard that she, along with Usher, would be joining The Voice as a judge this year! I've loved her since Dónde están los ladrones? I was just starting college when I bought that album, and I was amazed by her lyrics as well as by the fact that a Colombian rock star existed, which I'd never thought to expect.... So, it's troublesome to me that Shakira seems to have gone more and more toward "Spicy Latina" the further along in her career she's gone.
I love Shakira. Especially her Spanish-language music. I was thrilled when I heard that she, along with Usher, would be joining The Voice as a judge (http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/09/17/the-voice-usher-shakira/) this year! I've loved her since Dónde están los ladrones? I was just starting college when I bought that album, and I was amazed by her lyrics as well as by the fact that a Colombian rock star existed, which I'd never thought to expect. I'll admit it, growing up Nuyorican I was surprisingly sheltered when it came to Spanish-language culture. I watched novelas, Sabado Gigante, and Cristina with my mom. I knew of Olga Tanon, and Selena, and Thalia...but that was about it. I figured all of Latino culture could be neatly divided into Salsa, Merengue, Mariachi, and Son. And sometimes there was crossover pop music. Sometimes.
And then there was Shakira, who was not only a Latina Alanis Morrisette (I was really into Alanis in high school and college, so this was a good thing), but one-upped her and everyone else I was listening to with her poetic, substantive lyrics. She was not only a rock star, she was smart and had something to say. She was beautiful, but you always felt that she would beat the crap out of you rather than allow you to underestimate her as just another hot, female musician. I loved her, because she is intelligent and singular and brave; because she seemed to want to challenge expectations.
I was listening to the radio the other day (yes, the actual radio. My iPod has that function and I use it. For my feelings about radio, click here) and Shakira's "Rabiosa" came on. As I listened, it occurred to me that Shakira's been man-crazy lately. After all, she's rabiosa. Sometimes men make her Loca with desire. Her Hips Don't Lie and do all her talking for her, and when it's really bad, she turns into a Loba.
I don't know how I feel about all this.
Don't get me wrong. It isn't as if Shakira lost herself entirely after Dónde están los ladrones?. After all, she celebrated Africa for the World Cup with Waka Waka (This is Africa), and sang about the fight for East Timor's independence in Timor. Even when she's written about love, it's usually been deep and full of emotion. Also, it isn't as if I'm generally against female musicians being frankly sexual. One of the reason why I love artists like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha is because they are teaching a generation of young women that it's OK to be honest about your sexual desire; that wanting sex doesn't make you a whore, and that a woman's sexual fulfillment has more to do with herself and her own decisions than with any partner.
So, why does Shakira being a loca, rabiosa loba whose hips don't lie bother me so much? Well, it's partially to do with my experience of online dating.
Bear with me. This all comes together in the end.
Like many people today, I've done my fair share of online dating. And in filling out my various profiles, I've always specified that I am Latina. Not that ethnicity or race matters to me when I date, but I know that it matters to many people, and why not be thorough when presenting yourself to people you want to date? The thing is, most men who'd respond to me would say some variation of "I love Latin women!" Which always makes me uneasy. What is it about "us," exactly, that you like? Are we all the same to you? And I keep coming back to the old stereotype of Latinas being really, really passionate and great in bed. On the surface, that seems like a compliment, but much like any generalization about an ethnic/racial group (Asian people are great at math! Jews are really good with money!), the idea that Latinas are "hot and spicy lovers" doesn't sit well with me because of where generalizations like that can lead. So...Latinas are hot for it all the time? Is that why Latinas always have so many kids? Are Latinas only good for one thing?
Latinas have enough trouble within their own cultures, which tend to be infused with heavy-duty machismo. Dealing with this particular brand of misogyny outside our cultures makes me feel doubly persecuted. It feels as though Latinas go through Madonna/Whore persecution in the extreme, from all sides, and so it bothers me more when Latina celebrities trade on their sexuality than it does when others do. At the same time, I would never want to deny my Latina sisters their voice when it comes to making their sexual needs and desires known. But where is the balance for us, both as Latinas and as women?
So, it's troublesome to me that Shakira seems to have gone more and more toward "Spicy Latina" the further along in her career she's gone. While I get that as she's gotten older she's likely gotten more in touch with her sexuality, I miss the intellectual, activist bent of her earlier work. I wish she'd gone further in that direction as she's gotten older, rather than seemingly playing so much to mainstream acceptance of her swiveling hips. I hope that her tenure on The Voice, which begins March 25th on NBC, will encourage her to stay true to her own voice and show the mainstream pop culture audience what a smart, vibrant, powerful musician she actually is.
Am I being too hard on Shakira? Do you think she needs to be a little less man-crazy in her music, or do you want her to keep doing her thing? Where do you think the balance is for Latinas between sexuality and substance? Tell me in the comments below!