It’s in this English-language part of the Fijación Oral/Oral Fixation double album that Shakira gets real with her audience. There’s still the same painful honesty of her always exquisite songs about love and heartache (“Don’t Bother” is a beautiful example), but on this album, Shakira, perhaps more comfortable with her audience, is more forward with her weirdness and explicit with her political views.
By now, people are used to that voice, that voice that is like nothing else, sometimes hushed and sweet, sometimes ferocious, sometimes throaty and teetering on the edge of control, but always a marvel to listen to because you can’t predict where it’s going and it’s so weird that it’s mesmerizing. But there’s still the question of those lyrics that so often get a “did she say what I think she said?” reaction, not because she said something shocking, but because what she said was weird. For Laundry Service, this was excused because Shakira was just learning English, but with Oral Fixation, Shakira lets everyone know that it’s not the language barrier, it’s her.
In “Costume Makes the Clown” Shakira starts with “told you I felt lucky with my humble breasts” as if to say, “you liked that line so much that I brought it back.” I want to high five her every time I hear it. The song is also a response to the critiques that Shakira received when she crossed over about how she transformed to fit a certain pop star mold and lost who she was as an artist. And Shakira admits that she did lose herself in a way. She says, “I’m taking the make-up off my face / Before I forget my own features / I’m not here to let you down / But the costume makes the clown.” When she set out to win over new fans, Shakira did not mean to disappoint the fans she already had. And perhaps she made certain moves that she didn’t fully believe in for the sake of winning over those new fans, but she recognizes it and asks those people she has disappointed to not be so hard on her because she’s taking off the make-up. One of the main critiques of Shakira has been her oversexualization. She addresses this with “I’m not a virgin but I’m not the whore you think,” which is not just specific to Shakira as an artist who largely built her career in the English-language market on her sexuality, but also a comment on how women are not allowed to be in control of their own sexuality and about how a woman’s worth is often tied to her body.
Then there’s “How Do You Do,” which begins with a choir reciting the Lord’s Prayer, then goes into Shakira asking God what language he speaks, if he’s happy, if he feels our pain, all with the choir backing her up. Then it turns into a rock song and the Lord’s Prayer becomes the hook of the song and you start thinking that maybe she’s going a little past weird. “Timor,” a disco protest song about East Timor, is when she confirms that she’s way past weird, she’s all out bonkers. And that’s really where her genius lies. Because it is completely nuts to have these two songs on the same album as a song so widely appealing and destined to top the charts as “Hips Don’t Lie” (or on any pop album, really).
But “Hips Don’t Lie” wasn’t originally on the album, it was later included on the 2006 re-release as a way to save Oral Fixation’s stalled sales. And it definitely worked. The song became Shakira’s first #1 single in the U.S. and the video for the song was the most watched video on YouTube in 2006. It even inspired fans to upload videos of themselves dancing to the song. These fan videos were later edited together for a fan version of the video. “Hips Don’t Lie” is the song that Shakira is most associated with now but, while it makes sense given that it’s her biggest hit, those who bought Oral Fixation because of “Hips Don’t Lie” should take the time to listen to the rest of the album because it really captures the essence of Shakira, the brilliant insanity that makes her such a captivating artist.
“I want to attribute to Eve one more reason to bite the forbidden fruit, and that would be her oral fixation.”
After such wide success with Laundry Service, Shakira’s decision to release a double album, with part one entirely in Spanish (save for a little bit of French), was a bold move to make so early in her post-crossover career. Would the album, which was somewhere in between Donde Estan Los Ladrones? and Laundry Service sound-wise, be enough to win back fans up in arms over her new look and new sound? Would non-Spanish-speaking Laundry Service fans be able to connect? But Shakira had a better sense of what her fan base would react to than the critics who speculated that it would not go over well with her new audience.
First single “La Tortura,” a poppier take on reggaeton featuring Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz, went on to become the best-selling Spanish-language track of the decade and was the first Spanish-language song performed at the MTV Video Music Awards. This, along with reggaeton being embraced so widely around the same time, was huge for pop music. It was perhaps the closest that Spanish-language pop got to being considered just pop and not Latin pop. Even at the height of Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias (who isn’t even Latin American!), their success with English-language songs was still deemed the “Latin Invasion,” “other” music invading the mainstream.
Much like her previous albums, Shakira employs (and impressively executes) a wide range of musical styles on Fijación Oral. There’s the dreamy opener “En Tus Pupilas,” bossa nova number “Obtener un Sí,” then Shakira gets synth-y with “Las de La Intuición,” which perhaps signaled Shakira’s later venture into electro pop with She Wolf. Rock legend Gustavo Cerati, one of Shakira’s biggest influences, joined her for two songs on the album, “Dia Especial” and “No.” The latter, with Cerati’s mournful guitar and Shakira’s pained vocals, is a heartbreaking song that from the very beginning, with that pleading whisper of “no,” embodies that feeling of being torn up over a break up, even when you’re the one doing the breaking up.
The year that the video for “La Tortura” was nominated at the MTV Video Music Awards (2005) was the first year that videos for Spanish-language songs were nominated (Daddy Yankee was up for an MTV2 Award for “Gasolina”), and Shakira’s performance during the show was the first Spanish-language performance at the VMAs.
“Lo oral es tan importante, tan fundamental. Es el vehículo principal para descubrir el mundo.”
From the moment it begins with the mariachi-inspired trumpet of “Ciega, Sordomuda” until it ends with “Ojos Asi,” Donde Estan Los Ladrones? is the definition of a perfect album. A collection of songs about love and love lost ranging from rowdy rock tracks to quiet almost-ballads and progressing seamlessly, the album shows Shakira really finding her strength and taking charge.
The first time you listen to “Ciega, Sordomuda” can be puzzling. The mariachi strings and trumpet, the pop rock percussion and melody, the intense talk-singing break…they shouldn’t work together, but they do. And they work together so well. The elegantly somber mariachi instrumentation accompanies the verses, which Shakira sings in a voice that’s almost resigned to the fact that she’s completely under love’s spell. But near the end she lets out her frustration and resentment, tearing through ojerosa, flaca, fea desgreñada / torpe, tonta, lenta, nécia, desquiciada / completamente descontrolada / tu te das cuenta y no me dices nada / se me ha vuelto la cabeza un nido / donde solamente tu tienes asilo / y no me escuchas lo que te digo / mira bien lo que vas a hacer conmigo. I’m sure I’m not the only one who practiced that part until I could sing along with tripping over the words.
“Moscas en la casa” and “Tú” similarly speak about profound and overpowering love. The former is about that feeling of emptiness after a break up, about becoming so numb to the world that even allowing trash to build up and flies to gather in her house don’t phase her. In “Tú” Shakira offers up every part of herself so that her love won’t leave because he is everything to her (mi sol, la fe con que vivo, la potencia de mi voz, los pies con que camino) and she could never live without him. This song prominently features Shakira’s voice and just how much emotion she can convey with it. “Ojos Asi,” which was later translated into English for Laundry Service, is one of Shakira’s biggest hits. The video was also her first time really featuring Middle Eastern influences and showcasing her belly dancing. This is where her famous dance moves started, y’all! At least as a part of her public performances (Shakira’s been dancing since childhood).
I’ve only mentioned some of the single releases here, but every single song on Donde Estan Los Ladrones? is integral to the album, each one potent lyrically, musically, and thematically. There’s not one track that can be removed or replaced, which is how you know that it’s perfect.
One of the reasons that a lot of people say they miss “the old Shakira” is that she used to say something with her songs, which means she used to say something they considered more important or relevant or worthwhile. Take, for instance, “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos” (so ’90s video above!), which comments on social norms and expectations, like being polite to your neighbors, saying the right things, getting an education, and getting married because “Que diria la familia si eres un fracasado?” (What would the family say if you were a failure?).
Then there’s “Se Quiere, Se Mata,” which speaks about teenage sexuality and reproductive health, veering frighteningly into anti-choice imagery near the end of the song and in the accompanying video. It tells the story of a teenage pregnancy and how fear of her family’s reaction leads the female protagonist to seek an abortion, which causes her death. Pretty heavy stuff for the then teenage Shakira to address in her music. And, while the song can be taken as a firm stance against abortion, it seems more like a commentary on the lack of reproductive health information and education available to teens and society’s fear of teenage sexuality.