Shakira at the United Center, 2003


By Mark Guarino

Shakira, the Colombian-born singer whose current album sold 10 million copies and counting, is not Britney Spears. That’s a point she’s been adamant about ever since her first English-language debut made her an MTV star. Even though Shakira is already a Grammy winner, recorded five albums in Spanish and counts Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez as one of her admirers, Americans, it seems, are so gullible in assuming all blonde sex goddesses shilling for soda pop are one in the same.   

Shakira’s Saturday night show at the United Center was designed to prove she is everything Spears is not. In the fading teen pop industry where lip-syncing and charisma are hotter commodities than vocal talent and musicianship, that’s hardly a challenge.   

Shakira indeed did more than simply shake her bonbon to synchronized dance routines. She was less a marionette showpiece and more fully involved in her nine-piece band, playing keyboards, drums, harmonica and guitar while hitting all her obvious influences, from Led Zeppelin to Blondie. Her singing was robust and strong, similar to Alanis Morissette, and as an empowered sex symbol flirting with gender expectations, she resembled Madonna.   

Even though her current album “Laundry Service” (Sony/Epic) helped break her through to a wider audience, Shakira didn’t forsake long-time fans. She concentrated on older, bouncier pop songs sung entirely in Spanish (“Ciega Sordomuda,” “Estoy Aqui”). There, she connected straight into the heart of her mostly Latin admirers.   

When she turned more formulaic means — the many cliches of arena rock — her show became a well-meaning but inevitable parody. Firebursts, fog and mirrorballs ruled. She played up Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” with camp, skipping across the stage like a cheerleader. She also emasculated another hoary classic rock warhorse, AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” by kicking it off with a vamping lounge version as hollow as karaoke.   

Yet the expected bombast was not performed as cynically as it sounds. Winking at western rock cliches is just one part of her international appeal. She certainly understood what links all cultures together. During her song “Octavo Dia,” her bandmembers slipped on masks, each becoming a well-known world leader. A video screen above showed George W. Bush and Saddam Hussain engaged in a bloody chess match, each man controlled by Death, a puppeteer. While most artists may flash peace slogans, Shakira’s message was nightmarish and direct.   

She is half Lebanese and, as a child musical prodigy, grew up in Columbia but ended up in Miami, the most international city in the U.S. Her pedigree became fluent in her show, which included songs sung in Spanish, but including Middle Eastern flourishes.    

More than any other artist, she performed a show with wide-ranging diversity, performing reggae (“Un Poco De Amor”), disco (“Ready For the Good Times”), rock (“Poem to a Horse”), piano lounge (“Tu”), New Wave pop (“Rules”) and a tango (“Objection”). This way, the 25-year-old is the perfect international star, armed with something for everyone. Like the washing machine pictured on the back of her album, Shakira’s music mixed many genres together, even at the expense of colors fading

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