One thing I did not get much flak for as a kid was being short. This is because I grew up in Phoenix. I don't know whether it's ethnic variation or environmental conditions or what, but a lot of Mexican women are itty-bitty, and Mexican men have been conditioned to expect that there is an inverse relationship between the size of the lady and the size of the lady's temper. You do not mess with the tiny little chicas if you value either your life or your cojones. Especially if she has her kids with her -- a sufficiently-enraged mamacíta is perfectly capable of turning around and just fucking killing you without putting the baby down.

Shakira is one of these pocket-sized bombshells. She's something just shy of five feet tall, exact height depending on which bio you read. I first ran into her music in 1998 or so, while taking a Spanish class that I had signed up for because my high school required me to be on campus for at least half the school day, and they had completely run out of anything else I could possibly take. The teacher played Spanish-language pop from time to time -- I have her to thank for that proclivity -- and Shakira caught my attention mostly because she was the only artist in the lineup who wasn't doing Tejano. Nothin' wrong with Tejano pop, mind, but when you hear Selena everywhere, you get kind of habituated to it.

Shakira is also another one of those people who crams some really weird vocabulary into pop music. She started as a child, writing poetry in her native Spanish, and the literary voice tends to carry through. Not a lot of people who can successfully get the word "lycanthropy" into a dance-pop song, in both English and Spanish:

"Loba" (English: "She-Wolf")

She's been putting out albums in Spanish since the mid-nineties, but in the Anglophone world, her most famous song is probably the duet "Hips Don't Lie", with Wyclef Jean, which ranked as one of the best-selling singles of the 2000s:

That video also introduced the world to her habit of belly -dancing through everything, whenever possible. Her family is part Lebanese -- one of her middle names is "Mubarak" -- and she uses Arabic influence to a degree that's quite unusual for a western pop/rock artist. Nor does she feel the need to keep it segregated from any of her other influences; she mixes and matches pretty freely, with the result that the video for "Ojos Así" looks strangely like it's being produced by a Hispanophone Turkish-Egyptian garage band:

"Ojos Así" (English: "Eyes Like Yours")

She also shows off her skill as a dancer in the video for "Lo Hecho Está Hecho":

"Lo Hecho Está Hecho" (English: "Did It Again")

Almost all of the Spanish tracks she's released since making her US debut have had English equivalents; she's fluent in both, and I believe she does the translation herself, although she probably has a native speaker checking them over. Lately, she's just decided to mix the two in the same song. "Addicted To You" is a bilingual Tejano-Arabic-Euro dance pop track from her latest album, Sale el Sol, and it's great:

"Addicted To You"

For anyone wanting to practice their Spanish on her, you should know that she's from Colómbia, and has a pretty pronounced New World accent. There are pronoun differences (americano Spanish does not use vosótros, mostly resorting to Uds. for all second-person plurals instead, although some dialects in places like Argentina use the roughly equivalent vós), vocabulary differences (a car is coche in Spain, and carro in Mexico), and accent differences (primarily, the lisp is backwards -- you get "loth dedoth" in Barcelona, versus "los thethos" in in Tijuana.). I've never heard her speak Portuguese, but she's fluent, and given where she's from I imagine it's Brazilian.


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