When Shakira shimmied her way onto MTV in 2001 with a steamy video for a slick, cookie-cutter dance-pop song, some people associated the Colombian singer with her American pop-music contemporaries Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. But the stylistic breadth of Shakira's music — elements of folk, Middle Eastern and traditional Latin styles over a foundation of rock and pop — gave her a degree of credibility the American teen queens lacked. What's more, when Shakira broke through in the United States, she'd already been a huge star across Latin America since 1996.
Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll was born February 2nd, 1977, and raised in a middle class family in the Colombian port city of Barranquilla. Her Colombian-born mother is of Spanish and Italian descent; her New York City-born father's parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon. Shakira's name is Arabic for "full of gratitude."
She wrote her first poem at four years old, learned to belly dance after her father took her to a local Middle Eastern restaurant and wrote her first song lyrics by age eight. At 10, she won first place in a talent contest sponsored by a local TV station. After enrolling in a modeling school, she put together a dance group and served as its choreographer. Three years later, at 13, she performed an impromptu song and dance for an executive of Sony Discos — the Latin division of Sony Music — and was offered a three-album deal. Her first two albums, Magia (magic) and Peligro (danger), released in Colombia only, consisted of poorly produced pop ballads with electronic accompaniment, and suffered weak sales. But before she began writing and recording the songs for her third disc, she took a hiatus to finish high school. In that time, she discovered American rock acts Nirvana, Aerosmith and Tom Petty.
In 1995, with new musical influences that also included Alanis Morissette, Shakira began recording Pies Descalzos (bare feet), a giant leap forward from the synthesized pop of her first two discs. Released in 1996, the album of singer-songwriter rock and pop wound up selling more than 5 million copies and was followed the next year by a reworked version titled The Remixes. In 1998, she released ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones? (where are the thieves?), a set of pop, rock and acoustic ballads whose poetic imagery and solid melodies won her big critical acclaim. The Middle Eastern-tinged "Ojos Así" became a worldwide hit, making Shakira a household name across Latin America and Europe.
The only big country she hadn't broken into was the United States. For that — at least at the turn of the millennium — Shakira would need to record in English. She didn't want to record songs by other writers, and she wasn't ready to write in English until she had a strong enough command of the language. Instead, Shakira followed Ladrones with a live MTV Unplugged album that included all but one of the songs from the previous album, plus "Estoy Aquí." a Latin pop chart-topper from Pies Descalzos. And she hunkered down with English-language songwriter Gloria Estefan, who co-wrote Shakira's big breakthrough hit, "Whenever, Wherever." It was the first single from her 2001 U.S. breakthrough album Laundry Service, shooting to Number Six on Billboard's Hot 100 and propelling the album to Number Three. (Her precursor in the Latin crossover sweepstakes had been Ricky Martin, who broke through to U.S. audiences two years earlier with the Billboard chart-topper, "Livin' la Vida Loca," from his 1999 album Ricky Martin.) Also in 2001, Shakira's boyfriend Antonio de la Rúa, son of then-president of Argentina Fernando de la Rúa, proposed to her; as of 2008 the couple had not yet married.
Meanwhile, Laundry Service had developed legs. In 2002, the album produced two more successful singles, "Objection (Tango)" (Number 55) and "Underneath Your Clothes" (Number Nine). Overall, the album sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, solidifying Shakira's stature as global pop phenomenon. In 2002, Shakira won the MTV Latin America category at MTV's Video Music Awards for the song "Suerte" (the Spanish-language version of "Whenever, Wherever"). She also took home five MTV Video Music Awards in Latin America, including Best Female Artist, Best Pop Artist, Best Artist–North (Region), Video of the Year (for "Suerte"), and Artist of the Year. Shakira also teamed with Celine Dion, Cher, the Dixie Chicks and Anastacia for VH1's 2002 Divas Live Las Vegas event. As commercially successful as Laundry Service was, however, the album failed to garner the critical acceptance of Ladrones, with some reviewers complaining she was not yet fluent enough in English and that much of the poetry of her Spanish-language work had been lost in the translation.
Aside from a high-profile Pepsi commercial in which she dances a tango to her song "Objection (Tango)," Shakira stayed out of the spotlight until 2005, writing the songs for her follow-up albums, an all-Spanish album called Fijación Oral Vol. 1 produced by Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Tom Petty) and its English-language counterpart, Oral Fixation, Vol. 2. Release of the first volume was a bold move for the young singer, and it paid off. Its first single, "La Tortura," a Middle Eastern-tinged duet with Spanish pop star Alejandro Sanz, climbed to Number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, a respectable ranking for a song sung in Spanish. The album, which added bossa nova and new wave to Shakira's mix of rock and dance pop, was well-received critically and commercially, reaching Number Four. It was the highest-ranking debut ever for a Spanish-language album. Vol. 2 actually fared worse, but not by much (it reached Number Five). Then, in 2006, Shakira reissued Vol. 2 with a Spanglish version of "La Tortura" and a bonus track, "Hips Don't Lie," featuring Wyclef Jean. That song shot to the top of the singles chart, putting Shakira back at the center of the commercial playground in the U.S., tying her for the most nominations at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. She took home Best Choreography for "Hips Don't Lie." Both albums fared even better in Latin America and Europe.
From June 2006 until July 2007, Shakira embarked on her 111-date Oral Fixation Tour, which took her to Europe, America, Africa and the Far East. She also teamed with Beyoncé for a song and video, "Beautiful Liar," which shot to Number Three on the Hot 100 chart in April 2007. A second duet with Wyclef Jean, "King and Queen," was released on his Carnival Vol. II in December. In June 2008, she said she had begun work on a new album in the Bahamas.
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