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La reina del crossover hit

For now, Shakira has her career in hand. In two languages. As for the future, who knows? .

November 26, 2005|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Just after winning yet another honor at this week's American Music Awards, singer Shakira paused briefly to worry about how long success will last. Though the 28-year-old crossover star from Colombia has one of the most celebrated faces -- and figures -- in contemporary pop music, she knows one day her fame, like her beauty, will be gone.

"The nature of things is very sad," she said by phone from her chauffeured car. "We are predators and we take advantage of others while they're useful, and when they're not ...

She left the thought unfinished, then continued.

"Sometimes I wonder what will happen when I'm not successful anymore, which is a day that eventually will come. Someday I'll have wrinkles and I won't make it to a cover of a magazine, and maybe people won't want to hear my songs anymore."

Shakira's concerns with the disposable nature of celebrity are reflected in her latest album, "Oral Fixation, Vol. 2" (due in stores Tuesday). It's her first English-language album in four years and the counterpart to "Fijacion Oral, Vol. 1," her first Spanish album in seven years, released in June.

Though the albums provide no answers in either language for the future fate of fading stars, Shakira's bilingual approach to music-making doubles her chances of never being forgotten.

In the world's increasingly difficult music market, the belly-dancing sensation is one of the few major performers to develop a two-pronged marketing plan that includes entirely separate works issued almost back to back.

Other artists such as Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony make records in both languages, but Shakira is considered the first star to consciously time her English- and Spanish-language releases in tandem as a unified body of work in a single year.

"I really wanted to integrate both of my audiences," Shakira said this week while in town to attend the American Music Awards at the Shrine Auditorium, where she was named favorite Latin artist. "If I could release my Spanish album first, I thought that would somehow encourage the non-Hispanic audience to listen to my music in Spanish, which is a big deal to me. I've had a career for 14 years, singing and writing and making songs in Spanish, and I really wanted my non-Hispanic fans to become familiar with that other side of my artistry."

So far so good.

Her latest Spanish album marked a milestone in Latin music with the highest chart debut for a Spanish-language release in the SoundScan era. "Vol. 1" entered Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart at No. 4 and has already sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, according to her label.

In addition, her video for the hit single "La Tortura," with Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz, also collapsed cultural barriers by becoming the first Spanish-language clip in regular rotation on MTV and VH1. The tune, with a modified reggaeton beat, is also one of the rare Spanish numbers to become a top-selling cellphone ring tone.

So no matter what happens on the English side, Shakira already is crowing about the cross-cultural success of the Spanish single.

"It's being played on Top 40 American [stations] that weren't used to playing songs in any foreign language," she said. "It's one of the biggest stories that I can tell my children.... But I don't feel proud, like, I'm the one who's generating this. I'm just a consequence of the moment, I'm not the cause."

The moment she means is the era of globalization that has encouraged the fusion of cultures, embodied by Shakira's Colombian-Lebanese heritage and her pop influences that run from the traditional vallenato of Colombia's Carlos Vives to the '80s rock sound of England's the Cure.

Yet this also is a time when her crossover colleagues are struggling to hold on to the new popularity they gained in the U.S. with the so-called Latin explosion of 1999.

Ricky Martin's latest English-language album, "Life," was virtually dead on arrival. It has sold barely 152,000 copies since its Oct. 11 release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. So far, that's 100,000 less than the total for his previous Spanish release, 2003's "Almas del Silencio," and a world away from the 6.9 million copies sold of his 1999 breakthrough album, "Ricky Martin."

Shakira said she wasn't worried about duplicating the phenomenal success of 2001's "Laundry Service," her first English album, which sold 13 million copies worldwide, according to label figures, and established her as the globe's unrivaled crossover queen.

"The music industry has changed a lot for me to expect that I'm going to match those numbers," said the singer from Barranquilla. "The crossover concept was very much in style five years ago. Today I think there's a new concept emerging: the cultural integration of artists from so many different places. We really live in a melting pot now."

The world has changed in unimaginable ways since the boom days at the turn of this century, and not just for Latin artists.

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