Behind Shakira’s Hot Electro Groove: The Making of “She Wolf”
On Shakira’s pulsing new single “She Wolf,” the Colombian superstar transforms into a howling, empowered beast — and drops the term “lycanthropy” (a psychiatric condition where a person believes she can transform into an animal). It’s a fierce piece of electro-pop that the singer took a full month to meticulously mix, but she tells Rolling Stone the original idea arrived in a flash of inspiration. ” ‘She Wolf’ came to me very mysteriously,” she says. “I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting.”
“She Wolf” is the first single from Shakira’s October album, which she recorded during a series of 12-hour-a-day sessions mostly in the Bahamas with John Hill (known for producing Santigold’s self-titled debut), Pharrell and other collaborators. She jokes she spent so much time locked away without daylight, “that’s probably why I turned into a she wolf.” But the hard work helped transform her sound from the slithery Latin-tinged pop of “Hips Don’t Lie” to something more glitchy, buzzing and fiercely danceable. “It’s very electronic and dance-oriented, club-oriented,” she says of the disc. “It’s designed for people to have fun and enjoy themselves and forget about their troubles and the crisis.” She says she always wanted to do a bass-heavy record without losing “the fusion, which is something I’m always very interested in — bringing in elements from different cultures. So you’re going to find Indian, Africa, Colombian, Middle Eastern influences, but always with the synthesizers as a dominant element.”
Those Middle Eastern influences are evident on “Good Stuff” and “Why Wait for Later,” two Pharrell tracks that are heavy on percussion and unusual synth tones. “Good Stuff” recalls the producer’s work with Britney Spears on “Slave 4 U,” with its unusual syncopation and revelatory, open chorus, while “Why Wait for Later” is a dancey banger with synths that range from string sounds to blazing bag pipes.
“The worst that can happen to me is repeat myself and repeat the same old formula,” Shakira tells RS, adding that she takes a long time between records “because I really want to be sure every detail makes me happy.” She was very pleased to work once again with Wyclef Jean, who she calls a really good friend. She attributes some of their creative synergy to the fact that “We both come from the developing world and we have been close to extreme poverty.” Pharrell forced her to step outside her box and learn to work more quickly, while Hill introduced her to electro acts like Crystal Castles: “They’re a good example of how electronica can take you to different places.”
Next year Shakira will launch a tour and release a Spanish-language LP, but first there’s the video for “She Wolf.” A few stills from the shoot have made their way to the Net, and the singer confirms, “I am in a cage, but I am showing the desperation of being in it. I got a little carried away, hanging upside down.” But the fact that her improvisation on the shoot led to such wild abandon is only a sign she hit her mark. “Pleasing my ears is my first commitment,” she says. “I always try to connect to my music physically. I have to feel a physical reaction, because if I don’t feel like I’m dancing or reacting, if I don’t feel it here [motions to the pit of her stomach], I don’t stop.”
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