Let’s be honest from the start—it’s hard to say anything negative about Shakira because, well, she so darn likeable. In her two seasons as a coach on NBC’s The Voice (Christina who?), the international superstar has shown America her personal side, shown us that behind those swiveling hips that don’t lie, there’s a down-to-earth girl whom everyone wishes they could just go have a froyo with, and ask her questions just to hear more of that accent.
But behind all that, Shakira is still an artist, and a talented one, at that—so when she puts out an album, there’s a heavy expectation that comes with it. And when she puts out a self-titled album (which insinuates a highly personal or self-defining effort), the expectation becomes greater still. Unfortunately, the album (while good) doesn’t quite tick all the boxes.
The good news is that there is plenty to like about Shakira. (the album). Already known for her diversity, Shakira tips her hat to genres that include reggae (“Cut Me Deep”), alt-rock (“Spotlight”), Latina-tinged dance-pop (“Dare (La La La),” “Can’t Remember to Forget You”), and country (more on that one momentarily), and somehow her unique, almost-unpredictable voice manages to tie them all together. In that regard, the album is at least a showcase of what she’s capable of.
But as I said, a self-titled album is supposed to be somewhat self-defining, and the bad news here is not the stuff that is Shakira, but the stuff that isn’t. Production credits for this record are divided up among a slew of heavy hitters (Dr. Luke, Greg Kurstin and Max Martin, for example) who seem to have a shared memo to steer the album toward what is saleable, rather than what is personal. A similar thing happened with the songwriting, with Hillary Lindsey, Chantal Kravaizuk and others lending their skills to either enhance or supplant Shakira’s own songwriting. The end result is difficult to explain, but let me try. Shakira already flirts with spreading herself too thin in the genre department, but in most cases, her performance and emotion are the adhesive that keeps things together. Throwing the extra production and songwriting into the mix seems to weaken that adhesive, so the album starts feeling aimless. Chalk it up to too many cooks in the kitchen. The most glaring example of this aimlessness is “Medicine,” Shakira’s country duet with Voice co-star Blake Shelton. The song itself plays well, sounds great, etc., but it is completely out of place among an already-wandering track list.
All that said, the parts of the album that shine the brightest are understandably those in which Shakira is most notably center stage. Ironically, these moments aren’t dance tunes or rock anthems, but rather ballads and mid-tempo pop numbers. The most revealing and endearing part of the record is near the end, with two back-to-back Shakira-penned tunes, “23” and “The One Thing,” paying homage to her boyfriend and her child, respectively.
And so it goes. Shakira. is not a complete fiasco by any stretch, but neither is it the self-portrait or magnum opus we might have hoped for. But then again, right now, Shakira doesn’t really need a vehicle like this to show us who she is—she does that every week on TV. I don’t hear anything on this record that matches the power of “Hips Don’t Lie,” but honestly, she doesn’t need that kind of a hit right now, because she’s the hit. Everyone loves Shakira, and for that reason alone, I expect she’s going to sell a crapload of these records.