Shakira is arguably the most successful bicultural star that Latin America has produced, and she's always been adept at straddling both English- and Spanish-speaking worlds with her seductive pop fusion that draws also on her Middle Eastern heritage.
What's most notable, though, is that Shakira has managed to work both sides of the border with such ease, bouncing back and forth across the cultural divide with no apparent compromise or change in her identity. (Singer Gloria Estefan, Shakira's one-time mentor, also pursued a successful bilingual career, but always from a base in Miami.)
How Shakira accomplished such a feat may lie less with the artist than with the cultures she straddles. Musically, Latin America and the U.S. have been morphing together, for better or worse. It's a phenomenon that has little to do with contemporary globalization, which Shakira herself once cited to explain her cross-cultural appeal. This is all about rock 'n' roll.
Shakira was born in Barranquilla, Colombia's tropical port town. But when it comes to her musical tastes, the singer had a lot in common with teenagers from Boston, Belfast or Birmingham who entered puberty in the early '90s. Listen to her rave about the rock band Nirvana, in a quote from the IMDb website:
"I remember the first time I saw the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' video. I will never forget that day. I just wanted to see Kurt Cobain's face."
Her other favorite bands, regularly cited in interviews, include Led Zeppelin, the Cure, the Police and the Beatles. She never fails to mention her love for Colombia and her Middle Eastern roots, legacy of her Lebanese father. But it's hard to find any reference to specific Latin or Middle Eastern artists she admired.
Still, her music has always had native touches. There were the Andean pan pipes of "Whenever, Wherever" from "Laundry Service." And the restrained reggaeton beats of "La Tortura," from last year's "Fijacion Oral Vol. 1," which earned Shakira nominations for female pop vocal and short-form video.
That fusion has been the signature of rock en espaÅol from the very beginning. This genre was conceived to combine a rock foundation with elements of roots music from Spanish-language cultures. Shakira is the daughter of this egalitarian cultural confluence. That's why her music seems so natural, in either language. Sure, her English lyrics may be awkward at times, but her musical essence seems second nature.