Powered by the irresistible single, “Whenever, Wherever,” Laundry Service, the first English-language album from Colombian-born Shakira, has been among the top twenty best sellers in the United States since its release in November. Shakira, however, has been a major star throughout Latin America since her early adolescence. The twenty-four-year-old has been interviewed by Gabriel García Márquez, and for the last two years she has been seriously involved with Antonio de la Ruá, son of the recently deposed president of Argentina. Her music is comparably diverse: As she says, and as the Led Zeppelin-influenced guitar on some of her songs reflects, she is “a pop artist with a rock & roll heart.” But as the Andean flutes on some other tracks suggest, her head is in the clouds of her native continent, and as that belly-dance thing she so memorably does in her video shows, her abdominal muscles retain the memory of her father’s Lebanese heritage. “My music, I think, is a fusion of many different elements,” she says. “And I’m always experimenting. So I try not to limit myself, or put myself in a category, or . . . be the architect of my own jail, you know?”
Did you just say that you try not to be the architect of your own jail? I like the direction that your command of English is taking. You have a lot of older brothers and sisters?
Yes, I am the youngest, and I am the only child of my parents’ marriage. But from my dad’s first marriage I have five brothers and three sisters. He didn’t watch that much TV, my dad.
So what kind of conversation did you have around the dinner table growing up?
My dad always liked to have interesting conversation at the table. He was kind of an intellectual. He liked to try to teach us about literature, he was always very attracted to politics, and he would want to find out what we thought about different things. He always made it interesting. Of course, now we talk about more trivial things.
You’ve also done some acting?
I was a really bad actress, I must confess. I did a soap opera when I was seventeen. And I really enjoyed it, because it was a very new stage in my life. I was moving to a new city, the capital of my country, and I had never moved before, and I was surrounded by true artists. And when I say true artists, I mean real actors who have been performing for twenty years and have a true commitment to art. So it was pretty much a waking experience for me. But I was too young, and I was a little overacted, and I don’t feel too proud, you know? I don’t like to watch the episodes of that series.
Are you interested in doing any more bad acting in the future?
It’s not a calling, and it’s not something that I dream of. But it might happen just because I’m very curious to see what it means to work in all the fields of art. I feel the world of music running through my veins, but I’m an admirer of art in all its dimensions. So, yeah, why not?
Yes. Why should you be the architect of your own jail? What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is when my mom received the bad news of my brother’s death. Because I used to have six brothers, but one of them died when I was two years old, and that’s the earliest memory that I have. And that’s probably the reason why I’m necrophobic – I have a phobia of the subject of death. Death of relationships, death of feelings, physical death, my death, but especially the death of people I love. Lately I’ve been getting over it a little bit, for my own good.
Forgive me for asking, but how did your brother die?
He died in an accident. He was riding a motorcycle, and a drunk man hit him with his car.
How awful. I’m so sorry.
Well, I was very little, I just remember the scene. But psychologists say that the first memory that a person has is always very determinative.
Do you believe that?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You do not believe that?
Well, I don’t disbelieve it. But I’m older than you. I believe that the determinative factor in life keeps changing.
Yes, my circumstances also determined my life and my career, because even though I had brothers and sisters, I was the only child of my nuclear family, and to be the only child is very determinative, too. they say that the only child is always overprotected. And that might be true. But then when you grow, you tend to become overprotective. And I overprotect my parents. Because they always meant my whole world. They were the pillars, the columns of my life structure. And they also were my best friends. So to me it’s very important to make sure that they’re fine, that they have everything that they need, that their health is in good condition. I depend on them, a lot. But it’s a high-dependence relationship, mutually, from my side and their side.
I read that the first song you wrote was about your father’s sunglasses.
Yes. It was called “Your Dark Sunglasses.” But it was dedicated to a little boy in my imagination. Because at that time, I did not have a boyfriend, I was eight years old. But I always wrote romantic songs, always. Even when I was a little child, the subjects of my songs were romantic. But I took the sunglasses as a motif. Because, you know, children just take advantage of the small realities, the few things that happen in their lives, because their world is very small.
Was there a specific little boy you had in mind, or was it literally in your imagination?
It was in my imagination. A blue prince in my imagination.
No, a blue prince, like in a fairy tale. We call it that in Spanish: principe azul. I don’t know if you have the same phrase in English.
No. We should, though. And you have an actual boyfriend now.
Yes. Now I have a real one. A real prince. A prince who didn’t become a frog. Like I say in my song “Underneath Your Clothes,” you’re “all the things I deserve for being such a good girl, honey.” And I think I’ve been a good girl.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Yeah. Many. I want to be every time a little more serene to solve my problems. And I want to be more tolerant with myself. And every time I want to have less fears. I want to learn how to live in the present with my eyes open. Because, you know, we always go through the present blindfolded with our hearts in the past and our minds in the future. And that way we never enjoy the here and now.
Those sound more like lifelong projects than New Year’s resolutions.
Yes. But every year you have to plan.
This story is from the February 14th, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.