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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Waiting For Godot 2005: If Godot Were A Curvaceous Latin Pop Star
The New York Times stumbles upon the world's most perfectest pop star.

"Psychoanalysis, biblical revisionism, Renaissance paintings. Not to mention DNA-level multiculturalism, torrid dance moves and an ear for rhythms and hooks from all over. Fulfilling the basic needs of current pop - a catchy song, a pretty face - doesn't begin to match Shakira's gleeful ambitions. She is pop's 21st-century Latina bombshell, a sweetly upbeat face of globalization, and then some."

She speaks 39 languages. Reads newspapers. Probably loves Led Zeppelin. And definitely seems the sort to rescue kittens from trees or campaign against the use of Moroccan mine-detonating monkeys in Iraq. Plus, she's got a smokin' bod.

"I'm just a consequence of the great musical momentum and the great changes we are going through in the world."

Well, maybe.

We don't dislike Shakira. And we don't even dislike this piece about her. We just think this is probably the most lavish fawning ever bestowed, long after the fact, on someone who is, effectively, a one-hit wonder.

All right, that's a little glib. Her last album did peak at No. 4 on the Billboard charts (though we defy you to hum the tune - right now, from memory - to that record's lead single). But, at least in North America, she remains only a great pop star in theory. An unfulfilled music intellectual's wet dream.

You don't want another sports analogy, do you? Well, you're going to get one anyway.

Shakira is Peyton Manning. Pretty and perfect. Peyton is the charming southern gentleman, son of a former NFL quarterback, now leading the NFL's sexiest offence in the heart of the American midwest. On the field, he is charismatic, handsome and proficient. He leads, he directs, he throws perfect spirals on command. Good boys want to be him, good girls want to be with him. Mothers dream of giving birth to guys like him. Fathers want their daughters to marry young men like him. And the NFL wishes so bad that he that he could be the unquestioned star of their league, the focal point of their bazillion dollar business - the square-jawed, upstanding ambassador to succeed Saint Favre and vanquish evildoers like Terrell Owens.

There's just one problem. Guess how many championships he's won? We'll give you a hint, it's a number less than one.

The best Peyton could offer was the 2004 season. He threw for about 8,000 yards and 116 touchdowns. Then gagged on his own perfection in the playoffs.

Shakira had 2001's Laundry Service. Wherever, Whenever was good for a few thousand plays per day on your local radio station. Then she was taken to the same classified location where the American government is hiding Ricky Martin and the Mighty Might Bosstones.

Now, Peyton has the Colts at 9-0 and Shakira is poised for continental domination with another English-language record. But neither yet proves anything.

If you were to rank America's female pop stars, where would Shakira rank right now? Would she even make the top 20? Consider, by first name, those who would presently be considered 'bigger': Britney, Christina, Lindsay, Hilary, Mariah, Beyonce, Ciara, Gwen, Kelly, Jessica, Ashlee, Shania, Avril, Joss, Fergie, Sheryl, Faith... oh, and Madonna we suppose. And this completely ignores, for expediency's sake, country music. So where's that leave Shakira at this point? Neck-and-neck with JoJo?

The argument made by Shakira-fans and globalization-proponents is this: the world would be a better place if Shakira was bigger then all of the above. But what they actually mean is this: if the world was a better place, Shakira would be bigger than all of the above.

Because the world is not like Shakira. Yes, we'd like to believe the world is smart and cultured and thoughtful and ambitious... with a nice ass. But it is not. The world is far more like Britney than it will probably ever be like Shakira (just as football will always be far more like Owens than it ever will be like Peyton). It is weird and messy and self-possessed and dirty and it smells of Cheetos and cigarettes. It is falsely virginal.

This is not to say the world is a terrible place (nor is this an anti-intellectual argument, so spare us). Quite the contrary. The world is endlessly fascinating and periodically great. Just, you know, sometimes it ends up marrying really icky looking guys. That's life. It ain't fair. There is very little discussion of Jung on a daily basis.

That's not going to change until Peyton Manning wins a Super Bowl*.

(*Note: This may actually happen in February.)

(There is a slight possibility that, reading this, you will conclude that we are not a fan of multi-culturalism. Let us assure you that we're big fans of multi-culturalism. We have all their records.)

(There is also a slight possibility that, reading this, you will conclude that we are not a fan of Madonna. Let us assure you that we, in fact, do not like Madonna.)

Update. Josh asks: "for one thing that #4 billboard debut was for a spanish-langauge album, no?"

Indeed, you are correct sir. But what does that really prove? How truly surprising is that?

It was the biggest debut and most lucrative week ever for a Spanish-language record, but...

For one thing, Shakira had already established an English-language fan base with Laundry Service (over 3 million copies sold in the United States). So this was hardly the case of an unknown Spanish-speaker grabbing America's collective heart. You have to think that a fair number of people who adored Underneath Your Clothes were curious enough to pick up this album. You also have to figure that in 2005 there are a fair number of people with the requisite Internet access and open-mind to pursue foreign-language records.

But just for laughs, let's assume not a single English-speaking fan purchased Fijación Oral 1 during that first week when it sold 180,000 copies.

According to census figures as of July 1, 2004, the Hispanic population in the United States was 41.3 million. At 14% of the total population they are the largest minority in the country.

Even if we assumed that the Hispanic population accounted for the only Spanish-speakers in America and that the only people in the U.S. who bought Shakira's record were these Spanish-speakers, only .39 percent of them would have had to go out and buy Fijación Oral 1 in its first week to result in a fourth-place debut.

So, all things considered, how astonishing is that debut? Personally it doesn't quite blow our mind.

(Trivia: The three records that finished above Fijación Oral 1 that week in June, Coldplay's X&Y, Black Eyed Peas' Monkey Business and the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan.)

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