Shakira has always been marketed to U.S. audiences as an exotic import, but her second English-language album, Oral Fixation Vol. 2, completely eschewed Latin pop in favor of mainstream pop-rock designed to appeal to middle America. Prior to that album’s release, however, the Colombian singer-songwriter’s Spanish-language single “La Tortura” crossed over in a big way, signaling that North Americans were more than happy to take Shakira in all her South American glory—a fact further supported by the massive success of her Spanglish single “Hips Don’t Lie.” These songs didn’t simply reflect Shakira’s strengths as an artist; they were signposts of drastically shifting American demographics and an increasingly diversified pop-culture landscape.
So it was to my surprise when it was reported that Shakira would once again be largely abandoning her Latin roots on the title track and lead single from her new album, She Wolf, this time exploring electro-pop. It was an even bigger surprise to find that she takes quite well to the sound. Produced by John Hill, who was at the helm of most of Santigold’s self-titled debut, and co-written by the Bravery’s Sam Endicott, “She Wolf” is a sleek, hi-NRG/Italo throwback that’s drenched in disco strings and which disguises Shakira’s quirky vocal tics with heaps of robot effects. The song’s lyrics walk a fine line between campy and really campy (“I’m starting to feel just a little abused like a coffee machine in an office”), but Shakira’s ability to make likening oneself to a kitchen appliance sexy with just a simple moan is unrivaled.
Another Hill/Endicott contribution, “Men in this Town,” is a dumbed-down ode to L.A. nightlife crammed with references to Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, SkyBar, and the Standard Hotel that would be better suited for someone like Ashlee Simpson. The promise of the album’s sleek electro-pop title track is, ironically, better fulfilled by some of hip-hop’s biggest names. “Spy” is a discofied collaboration with Wyclef Jean that features a “Billie Jean” beat and Shakira nimbly mimicking a trumpet, while “Why Wait,” one of a handful of productions from the Neptunes, is propelled by a driving 4/4 stomp.
That three of the songs here are also included in Spanish—or that a nearly-identical version of the album has been released under the title Loba—is merely a marketing formality, as She Wolf is unequivocally “American.” “Did It Again” features marching-bad percussion and an “Umbrella”-esque vocal hook, while “Long Time” and “Good Stuff” are filled with a hybrid of dancehall and Latin-pop rhythms. In what’s becoming an increasingly cliché but not yet altogether ineffective move, Timbaland and Lil Wayne are brought in for second single “Give It Up to Me,” a last-minute effort to insure that She Wolf will be more appealing to U.S. audiences, but the track is none of the participating parties’ best moments, and it’s unlikely to save a project that, like the loba herself, has a bit of an identity problem.