When I Want To Feel Something, I Turn To ’90s Shakira

Growing up Puerto Rico, Shakira was the cool older sister I wish I had. Even before she became a mainstream icon with “Whenever, Wherever” and “Waka Waka,” Shakira was the angsty young adult with black hair and colourful highlights, whose albums “Pies Descalzos” and “Dónde Están Los Ladrones” played non-stop in my family car.

Her lyrics still fascinate me: “Pies Descalzos” starts with a reference to Adam and Eve and ends with a criticism on pantyhose, marriage, and quinceañeras; “Donde Estan Los Ladrones” is a pop-rock ballad full of political references as well as an unforgettable sound. Though both albums were released before I was born, I related so much to what it said about being a young woman coming of age in places that do not want us to express ourselves freely. I had never heard anyone be so honest about their flaws or express love so purely. Listening to Shakira be open about how she cries once a month allowed me to get in touch with my own emotions. Today, these tracks still help me excavate countless feelings — rage for our breakups, wonder for the relationships we had, and an extra consciousness of “lo que es amar…”  .

Drawing on roots from her Colombian and Lebanese background, Shakira laid out the foundation for Latina rockeras. Shakira reclaimed the male-dominated genre over 20 years ago with music, turned the form into her personal diary, and gave it to us as a little annotated guide to navigate machismo in all the places we find it in the world. Personally, pre-blond ‘90s Shakira established my music taste, helped me recover from heartbreak, and brought me confidence to really feel my feelings while also rejecting injustices, just like an older sister would.

Don’t get me wrong; “Hips Don’t Lie” is still a bop, and Shakira was unstoppable with “She Wolf.” All her tracks collaborating with Beyonce and Rihanna are undeniably iconic. But, still, nothing spoke to me like ‘90s Shakira.

Her voice, the evocative lyrics, and her youthful style resonated with many of us, with countless posts on social media of “90s Shakira 😍.” As a new wave of emo-pop artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Willow come into their own teenage struggles, I’m reminded of the feeling ‘90s Shakira brings out in many of us. Nineties Shakira transcends decades, generations, relationship statuses, and even languages.

The 44-year old singer released her latest single “Don’t Wait Up” last Friday. While some people (yes, me) hoped she would be returning to the rock sounds of her early years because of an Instagram post where she had bright red hair again, “Don’t Wait Up” is more of a dance anthem, as lively as a summer night. The song is pleasant, and still carries a feminist perspective of going out and not having to respond to any partner.

But comparing this new single to her older songs doesn’t really do either of them justice. Shakira’s music is always evolving, which has made her stand out in the industry that expects Latina musicians to stick to one genre. From rock to mainstream pop songs, she’s explored a variety of sounds, some that are as effortless as her amazing dance skills and others that are slightly more gloomy and intimate. “Don’t Wait Up” is a classic pop song, and if this is the lead-up for her next album, I’m excited for this totally new sound. After all, it’s not like I’ve lost ‘90s Shakira. I still look to her early albums when I need some advice or I want to imagine myself in a movie falling in love with my boyfriend all over again. My heart will always hold space for that feeling of finally understanding what her songs were all about, and I’ll love reliving it forever. That’s the power of ‘90s Shakira.

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