Journey to Megastardom
By LYDIA MARTIN
Shakira, the Colombian pop singer with the pinup looks and the powder-keg sound, is the source of much glossy magazine hype these days.
The next Madonna, she is called, which even to Shakira seems way out there.
â€œI think Madonna is too big, and you have to pay a price that is too high to occupy that place,â€™â€™ says Shakira, whose poetic Spanish rock albums have sold more than 8 million copies.
Madonna heights or no, thereâ€™s little question the girl who was barely 21 when she conquered Latin America is now poised to take on the rest of the world. Her first English-language release, Laundry Service, out since mid-November, is winning over critics and capturing the MTV crowd. If thereâ€™s going to be another Latin act to blast into the mainstream, to reach Ricky Martin territory and perhaps even surpass it, it seems the smart money is on Shakira. Sheâ€™s got a pop portfolio like none other.
Her manager, literally drawn out of retirement when he caught sight of Shakira on TV one night, is Freddy DeMann, the mastermind behind Michael Jackson and Madonna. The executive producer of her new CD is Emilio Estefan, the king of the crossover. And thereâ€™s Tommy Mottola, the chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment and one of the most powerful figures in the recording industry worldwide, who vows to do â€œwhatever it takesâ€™â€™ to send Shakira to the stratosphere.
But Shakira is stumped when sheâ€™s asked to come up with a visual of herself in a moment, perhaps around the corner, perhaps a few years away, when she can really say, â€˜This is it, I made it to the Big Time.â€™
â€œWhat would that moment look like for me? I donâ€™t know. I try not to speculate about those things,â€™â€™ says Shakira, 24, whoâ€™s been doing the round of American talk shows and on Dec. 1 was slated to do Saturday Night Live.
But Shakira, a self-professed perfectionist who insists on
driving her own career, even while some of the biggest guns in the industry lead her, held her ground.
â€œYou canâ€™t put a knife to the neck of sensibility,â€™â€™ she said in May, when the heat was on. But that courage started slipping as the day neared when she had to turn over the CD.
â€œI didnâ€™t know what the reaction was going to be,â€™â€™ she says. â€œBut when I finally played it for Tommy [Mottola], I couldnâ€™t believe his response. Tears came to my eyes. He said it was one of the best records he had heard in years. It was such a great relief. It was like, â€˜Wow.â€™ Coming from him, those were big words.â€™â€™
Mottola is banking on Shakira to go the distance.
â€œShakiraâ€™s charisma, musicianship and songwriting ability appeal to listeners everywhere. I have every confidence that sheâ€™ll have a strong influence on both the music fan and pop culture as a whole.â€™â€™
DeMann says heâ€™s also sure sheâ€™s pop icon material. Though exactly what that quality is that removes the stars from the megastars remains elusive even for the man who manufactures megastars.
â€œJuice is a good word,â€™â€™ says DeMann, who had no idea who Shakira was when he chanced upon her singing a duet with Melissa Etheridge on the ALMA Awards. The next morning, he called the showâ€™s producer to find out her name. Six months later, he was out of retirement and signing on as her new manager.
â€œThere was just something that I recognizedâ€”thatâ€™s what I think Iâ€™m good at,â€™â€™ says DeMann. â€œBut itâ€™s something indefinable. You have to have an unbelievable amount of talent, and thatâ€™s purely God-given. A lot of people have talent. They are good singers or good songwriters. But itâ€™s rare that a person has the whole package. Shakira has it.â€™â€™
The bid for international superstardom is usually best fought from the American front. You can be big in Bogota, but it seems you need to conquer Peoria before you can take over the world.
And Shakira has no angst about veering into English to pull it offâ€”so long as she doesnâ€™t have to water down her art. Thatâ€™s part of her appealâ€”in a world of fluff, thereâ€™s a certain depth to Shakiraâ€™s pop. There always has been. She used to be called the Latin Alanis Morrissette, but that seems inadequate now that she is more familiar.
Never one to opt for the cheap turn of phrase, or the easy hook, Shakira labored to inject thinking lyrics into Laundry Service, a CD filled with quirky love songs inspired by the man who keeps her swooning, Antonio de la RÃºa, the son of the president of Argentina.
In Underneath Your Clothes, she lays claim to her man:
â€œThis might sound to you a bit odd/ but you own the place/ where all my thoughts go hiding...Underneath your clothes/ thereâ€™s an endless story/ Thereâ€™s the man I chose/ Thereâ€™s my territory.â€™â€™
It seems an ironic twist that Shakira, a woman in love with the poetic power of the Spanish language, was forced to write in English just at the moment she was most head over heels. But sheâ€™s the type of artist who grooves on lyrical challenges.
â€œAt first it seemed impossible. But it turned into a defiance. And then it turned more and more passionate. As a composer, it was a great adventure.â€™â€™
Itâ€™s that obsession with the work itself that makes Shakira the real deal, says Emilio Estefan, who continues to work closely with her.
â€œI think especially now, after what happened on Sept. 11, people are looking for real artists. And sheâ€™s real,â€™â€™ says Estefan. â€œSheâ€™s a writer, sheâ€™s a performer, sheâ€™s a musician. This is only the beginning for her.â€™â€™
Shakira says sheâ€™s ready for the ride. It was Gloria who gave her the best advice, she said, for how to survive the turbulence.
â€œI learned from her that the work is easier when you understand the importance of always having the real people you love, the flesh and bones people, near you all the time.â€™â€™
Shakira takes her parents with her everywhere she travels, and her boyfriendâ€”with whom she says she has a â€œcommitment for life,â€™â€™ but no ring and no dateâ€”is never far, either.
But does she worry about maintaining such a serious romance while sheâ€™s on the crazy trip to superstardom?
â€œOnly because it is very serious, very real, does it have a chance to survive,â€™â€™ she says. â€œBut what others may consider obstacles to us [are] just grains of sand anyway,â€™â€™ says Shakira.
source: HISPANIC Magazine
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