“Back in the day, crossing over seemed like an impossible task,” says the global pop star.
On Nov. 13 Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour will debut in movie theaters around the world: the concert film is set to play in 60 countries. It documents Shakira’s 2018 El Dorado World Tour, which included 54 shows in 22 countries in North America and Latin America, Europe and Asia. Shakira’s latest album, 2017’s El Dorado, includes among 13-tracks (three in English) that have been streamed 526 million times in the United States alone, according to Nielsen Music.
In an interview last week after a preview of the film in Barcelona, where she lives, Shakira reflected on the challenges she faced early in her career, “when Spanish music or even Spanish-influenced music wasn’t that cool,” to break through language and genre barriers.
“Latin artists are in a much more advantageous position now, but back in the day crossing over seemed like crossing over the Great Wall of China,” the 42-year-old Colombian artist says.
Shakira also spoke to Streets Talkin about being a “control freak,” revamping her early hits, representing Latinos at the Super Bowl, and directing a movie dedicated to her fans.
Streets Talkin: The behind-the-scenes footage of the El Dorado concert movie definitely makes the point that you are involved in every aspect of the production of your music and your tour…
Shakira: I think my fans already have an idea of what a control freak I am [laughs]. But I think it’s interesting to be able to experience this tour from different angles, from all the angles, it’s a 360-experience. And to be able to understand everything that goes behind putting together a show like this one. We spent a couple of months just re-arranging some of the songs. Songs that are considered classics among my audience and we wanted to inject different life into them. Respecting their essence but being able to present them in a different package this time around. So, there was a lot of work behind the production of this album and this tour, and I think it’s fun to look back and see what an awesome crew I had, how important team work was, and to be able to pull this off, and I think that it’s a different experience I’m offering my fans after so many years of doing this.
When you started your career, you did songs in Spanish and then you did songs in English. Was that something that you decided early on that you wanted or needed to do reach a bigger audience? And do you feel that if you were starting out today you might feel it is something that you do not need to do?
When I started my career, I had to face so many different challenges that I probably would not have to face today with the way the music industry is shaped now. I started out in Colombia where there was no pop music scene, it was non-existent. Everything that was on the radio or that was worth listening to from local artists was folklore, like vallenato and salsa and all this tropical music. But any artist that attempted to make pop music was like doomed to failure for some reason, and that was the atmosphere in which my career had to develop, so you can imagine the challenges that I had to face back in the day. I had to and visit every single radio station, every single TV station, and do the whole nine yards, really put an immense effort to promote my music. So when the idea of making music in English was presented, it was sort of in an organic way, it happened in an organic way. It was the next step. I learned English, I learned how to write in English, I learned how to soften my accent in English and so forth, and I ended up making music in English. We came up with this album Laundry Service, which was a crazy success back in the day, but I always felt that I needed to continue writing music in Spanish.
This whole new world had opened up to me, and with it came so many great opportunities, but I continued to pursue impossible goals such as making a song like “Hips Don’t Lie” for example — that had a Colombian cumbia and a mention of Barranquilla in the middle of it — play on American radio. I remember people from my own record company telling me ‘this is never going to play on American radio,’ and I was so sure that it would. So I had to practically convince the executives in my record company to pick up all the albums I had released and reprint them with “Hips Don’t Lie on it. I remember I said to [then Sony Music Chairman] Donny Ienner, ‘You have to trust me on this one. This is going to happen, this song is going to blow up.’ I knew it and it happened, it was a great prophecy.
But you can imagine the challenges I had to face when Spanish music or even Spanish-influenced music wasn’t that cool. Now it’s a different story, Latin artists are in a much more advantageous position now, but back in the day is seemed like the Great Wall of China, crossing over seemed like crossing over the Great Wall. An impossible task.
The audiences that you see in the movie look very young, perhaps surprisingly, given the length of your career so far, and your popularity for the past two decades.
It’s a curious thing, I might not be 23, but it seems like a big portion of my audience is very, very young. It’s hard to explain, but it seems that there is a really young audience that listens to the music that I put out lately. But I also feel like a big portion of my audience has grown with me, has evolved with me and those who started out listening to music when they were kids, now they’re adults, and also they have kids and their kids are also listening to my music. I think with the fact that now music permeates every single aspect of people’s lives through social platforms, I feel like somehow I can relate to the whole family [laughs].
Your El Dorado show was two hours long, but at the same time it was pretty minimal. It has all of the lights and screens, but it’s you with your band members and not a big corps of dancers and the whole thing we might expect. It’s more like a rock concert than a huge spectacle. Why did you want it to be like that?
I wanted to carry the whole weight of the show on my shoulders, I think it was a challenge artistically. And also to have the margin to improvise, to be able to just go with the flow and use the energy in the room and respond to it, and let the audience control the whole thing and make it be all about them. I was so grateful with my fans and the way they supported me, how they backed me up all this time, I just wanted the show to be about them, about the connection that I have with them, about the gratitude I feel towards them. I felt that if I brought dancers in, the show was going to be so much more rigid and scripted, and I needed to have the liberty to just respond in any way and leave some room for improvisation. I wanted to make it about the music. The repertoire that I’ve been able to build with the help of my audience throughout all these years, and about their energy and their reaction. I think that this show was mostly about them.
Why was it important for you to do this concert movie?
I think this tour has been pretty different from the rest. It’s the first time I’ve gone on the road as a mom, and even starting this album presented its difficulties. And going on tour after having had a vocal cord injury and having recovered, it just made me see my whole career in a different way, see my fans in a different light, and it made me realize that every night on stage was a gift and was a miracle, and I wanted to share with my fans from all over everything that I went through before they saw the final product: from the experience of going on the road as a mom for the first time, to the suffering that I went through when I lost my voice, the doubts that I felt about singing again, and when I was back how grateful I was to be back, the joy that I felt. To me, it was a very important tour, I think this album and this tour have been two of the things that I’m most proud of in my career, and to be able to share it with people all over the world, people in different countries, who belong to different cultures, speak different languages, and to be able to watch it simultaneously. I know that some people are going to be living that experience for the first time watching the movie, but some people are going to be reliving it with me. It just means so much after everything I went through.
What can you reveal about your upcoming performance at the 2020 Superbowl?
It’s going to happen on my birthday (Feb. 2) so I’m excited about that, I’ll be celebrating it with I don’t know how many people watch it, I think it’s some absurd number like 100 million people. So there’s a little bit of pressure of course to do things right. I I’m going to put everything in my power, everything I’m capable of into this task and try to deliver an amazing show like the American audience deserves. I feel that this is a great responsibility too, because I’m representing the Latinos, those who are born in the U.S. and those who have been born abroad. It’s a big day for Latins, because the Super Bowl is such an important stage in the world, and being there with that purpose just makes it all the more exciting and grand. We’re waiting for the producers to give us orders about what we can and cannot do [laughs]. But I feel that I’m in great company [with Jennifer Lopez], and I really hope that things work out. We are really going to try and put a killer show together, the best we can.