Shakira turned 40 this month, capping off what has been something of a comeback year for the Barranquilla-born artist. It isn’t that she has ever fallen off the radar, but Colombia’s most famous singer has seen more success in recent months than she had during the past few years combined.
Her great run began last year in May with the release of “La Bicicleta.” The song originated from the studio of Carlos Vives, a vallenato-pop singer/songwriter from Santa Marta who has long been a force in Latin American music. But the two performers had been looking for a chance to collaborate, and Shakira says she knew this was the perfect opportunity as soon as she heard an early version of the track.
Before the end of year, “La Bicicleta” would win Latin Grammys for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, beating out the likes of Enrique Iglesias and Andrea Bocelli. The song spent 12 weeks at number one on Billboard’s Latin Airplay list of the region’s most widely played pop songs, and its official YouTube video has more than 750 million views.
“I’ve always dreamt of writing, producing and recording a song with Shakira so that together we can show our Colombia to the world,” Vives told Billboard last year. “She has taken our country’s music to unimaginable heights, and finally being able to collaborate with her is a realization of this dream.”
The song did more than dominate airwaves across Latin America. It also served as something of a tourism pitch for the duo’s native Caribbean coast. In the chorus, Shakira tells her long-time partner and world-class footballer Gerald Pique that, after he sees the gorgeous beaches of Tayrona National Park in Colombia, he will never want to return home to Barcelona.
It is a boastful declaration of hometown pride, with a carefree coastal video shoot to match, that was well received by her compatriots, many of whom have lost some affinity for the artist when she morphed her alternative rock to pop and began to spent less and less time in her country. But her current desire to re-embrace Colombia and work with local acts is not going unnoticed.
From La Bicicleta to Chantaje
Literally the day after “La Bicicleta” won the two biggest Latin Grammys — and thus made Shakira the winningest female artist in history with 11 trophies — she followed up this breezy, Caribbean chart-topper with another duet that represented a sonic 180. Along with another fellow Colombian, the 23-year-old Maluma, who was still in diapers when Shakira put out her major label debut Pies Descalzos in 1995, she released “Chantaje.”
This contagious jam is a return to the energetic, mega-produced style of earlier works like “She-Wolf” and “Dare (La La La).” It achieved all its goals — and more. The track debuted on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs list, becoming just the second to do so since the organization changed its rating criteria in 2012. (The only other song debut at number one in the past five years was Mexican group Mana’s “Mi Verdad,” which featured Shakira.) It has since spent the past three months near the top of the charts and garnered more than 700 million YouTube views.
“Chantaje” has also received wide critical acclaim, helping to earn her a nomination in the upcoming Billboard Latin Music Awards category of Latin Pop Songs Artist of the Year — despite not even releasing an album since 2014. Shakira also got the rare double nod in the Hot Latin Song of the Year, Vocal Event category, with “La Bicicleta” and “Chantaje” taking two of the four nominations. Overall, she received nine Billboard nominations, tying her for the most of any artist alongside Nicky Jam.
If that wasn’t enough, Shakira also got some love from the actual Grammy committee as well. Her English-language performance of “Try Everything” from the animated movie Zootopia was up for Best Song Written for Visual Media. (It ended up losing at the mid-February ceremony to the Justin Timberlake-led ensemble rendition of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from the film Trolls.)
Even with all the musical success, Shakira takes as much pride in her social work. And just six weeks into 2017, she has already had a banner year in this regard. In January, she was honored in Davos with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Crystal Award for her lifelong humanitarian work.
Through her foundation Pies Descalzos, named after her major label debut album and founded in Barranquilla in 1997, the chart-topping singer has become a major advocate for investing in early-childhood development, nutrition, and education. She is also an outspoken advocate through her role as U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and devotes the bulk of her efforts towards helping kids who have been directly affected by violence.
“It comes with many obstacles that we have had to overcome — and we still have to overcome on a daily basis,” she said from Davos. “We work in very remote areas where literally there is nothing. Sometimes we encounter a tremendous lack of infrastructure, no potable water, in many cases no electricity, no paved roads. It means we have to work twice as hard.”
Soon after receiving the WEF award, she again became an activist example by penning an editorial for Time magazine in opposition of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration ban for seven Muslim-majority nations. Many Latinos have been outraged over Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric, and Shakira’s perspective is further rooted in her Middle Eastern heritage. Her grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to New York, where her dad, William Mebarak Chadid, was born before moving to Colombia and later having a daughter he gave an Arabic name.
”Persecution against any group for religious beliefs or race,” wrote Shakira, “is illegal and unconstitutional in the United States … Muslims are our people. They are human beings with children, needs and dreams like the rest of us. Not all Muslims are terrorists, and by the way, not all terrorists are Muslims. Latinos are our people. They don’t come to ‘steal jobs’ — they come seeking an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and for their children, which is what the U.S. has always prided itself on representing: opportunities.”
No Signs of Slowing Down
While Shakira plans to continue speaking out for what she believes is right and dedicating her time to fixing what she knows is wrong, she knows that music is still the biggest part of her life. Even at 40, it is still clear that her “Hips Don’t Lie,” so she has no plans to stop making hits.
She is expected to put out a new album in 2017. And by the sounds of things, this will be far from her last big year winning awards and making the world dance.
“I suppose that I will continue dedicating myself to music, because I don’t know how to do anything else,” Shakira told Chile’s El Mercurio newspaper before her birthday. “Especially now, I’m enjoying it much more than before. I will continue until my body and my spirit stop me, and as long as I have things to say. Because when I have nothing more to say, it’s better to shut up, no?”