Shakira — “She Wolf”

Released: 7.13.09

Peak: #11

Pay any attention to the past century of music history and it’s hard to unconditionally oppose the practice of industry suits peeping over artists’ shoulders to second-guess their decisions. Uncomfortable and undignified as such top-down collaboration must be, the inextricable commingling of creativity and commerce is what makes music pop. Unfettered individuality is no less likely to spawn self-indulgent goo than imposed commercial strictures are to compress the artistic impulse into aural styrofoam.

Still, I wish the check-writers at Epic would let Shakira be Shakira. Her own skewed misapprehension of pop form is always preferable to someone else’s idea of how she should sound. After Oral Fixation Vol. 2 slipped on the charts, the label tacked on “Hips Don’t Lie” as a bonus track; Shakira sounded exactly as bored as any reasonable person would be to hear Wyclef shouting her name in 2006. Annoyingly enough, “Hips Don’t Lie” became a number one hit — her first, in case you wondered whether pop audiences could be just as wrong as label heads about how a star should sound.

Just as wrong as Amanda Ghost, that is, who was responsible for “Beautiful Liar,” which was less a song than an idea — that idea being “Beyonce and Shakira are singing on the same song!” Ghost also brokered the existence of “Give It Up to Me,” Shakira’s most expedient bit of chart-bait to date. Occasionally, the star’s throaty sing-song, gone all rap-like, makes it sound like she’s willing to give it a go. But post-OneRepublic Timbaland is no longer the unsurpassed international beat thief of the early ’00s, and here’s the bellydance preset to prove it. As for Lil Wayne, by ’09 his guest raps were so ubiquitous and phoned in they were the 21st century equivalent of a David Sanborn solo.

“She Wolf,” on the other hand, is uncut, idiosyncratic Shakira. Even the song doctors on call here are oddball picks: Sam Endicott, frontman of everyone’s least favorite New Strokes, the Bravery, and Apples in Stereo guitarist John Hill (who also lent a hand in production). With its Baleiric burble, liquid guitars and, above all, the strings that mimic and then elaborate upon the freefall melody of the chorus, the track insinuated its into a radio-scape that was all bland boom. Even that electronic “S.O.S./ She’s in disguise” was weirder and more deliberately robotic than the prevalent Auto Tune homogenization.

A lesser weirdo might have taken the lupine slavering over the top, but Shakira’s dancing in the video, which splits the difference between porn and contortionism, is the sole concession to excess here. Instead, Shakira convincingly inhabits the fantasy world of a meek woman willing herself to have a wild side, a gal whose idea of putting her foot down is to complain of “not getting enough retribution or decent incentives to keep me at it” — a lyric that, in true Shakira fashion, leaves you puzzling to locate the border between ESL syntax and metaphorical absurdity. And to cap it all there’s that timid “awoo,” straining to earn an exclamation point. You’d almost think that Shakira is kidding around. But darling, it is no joke. This is lycanthropy.

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