The Mess: ¿Dónde Está Shakira? An Overdue Conversation on the She-Wolf That Lost Her Bite

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

The Mess is a new column from journalist Richard Villegas, who has been reporting on new, exciting sounds flourishing in the Latin American underground for nearly a decade. As the host of the Songmess Podcast, his travels have intersected with fresh sounds, scene legends, ancestral traditions, and the socio-political contexts that influence your favorite artists. The Mess is about new trends and problematic faves whilst asking hard questions and shaking the table.

We’re going there. We’re talking about it. Even if things get a little messy.

Fun fact: The first piece of music I ever bought with my own money was Shakira’s Dónde Están Los Ladrones. You might remember the monumental heartbreak record was helmed alongside the gilded Estefan dynasty and propelled to vitriolic heights after the lyrics for her first batch of songs were stolen at Bogotá’s El Dorado airport in the mid-’90s. Soon after release, Colombia’s hippie-dippie sweetheart transformed into a ferocious pop Supreme. However, with every subsequent chapter — from her biblical ascendance on Fijación Oral, Vol 1 & 2 to the bedazzled, nonsensical camp of Loba / She Wolf — the barefoot raconteur began to fade in the distance. Twenty-six years later, Shakira’s new album Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran finds her heart in a similarly embattled state. Yet this time, the question ringing among the fandom is, “¿Dónde está Shakira?”

To be fair, this is not a new question. The Brunette vs. Blonde Shakira crusades have raged for ages, but it’s shocking to ponder when exactly the raven-haired poet of a generation was body-snatched by a money-hungry TikTok fembot. Some have argued it was her pivot to blonde hair and English lyrics in the early-2000s — an ambitious play for gringo crossover that left many Latin American fans feeling betrayed, despite being a common trajectory for Y2K pop stars like Thalia and Paulina Rubio. Others suggest Shakira traded art for money with her early embrace of reggaeton, spotting Latine music’s next lucrative wave after the runaway success of Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” in 2004. However, next to the saturated digital jibber-jabber of her more recent singles, classics like “La Tortura” and “Hips Don’t Lie” seem artisanal by comparison.

In a contemporary pop landscape filled with boundary-pushing epics like Motomami and Data, Shakira’s Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran arrived like reheated leftovers from a meal that was never delicious to begin with, being largely a compilation of previously released algorithm fodder. Her collaborations with Ozuna and Rauw Alejandro on “Monotonía” and “Te Felicito,” respectively, sound like fast food jingles, while album opener “Puntería” dims considerably the jagged spitfire talents of Cardi B. There are a few bright spots, like the moody, special effects cornucopia of “TQG” with Karol G, and the afrobeats-intentioned “Nassau.” But even trendy genre hops like “El Jefe” with Fuerza Regida and “(Entre Paréntesis)” with Grupo Frontera come off as clickbait. It’s like Shakira dropped into The Matrix and became Latina Hatsune Miku — a yodeling Vocaloid AI that can be tacked onto any beat. We’ll get to Bizarrap in a minute…

But why is this a problem when so many other pop stars do the exact same thing? Why is it that when I talk to my friends about our “Loba” queen, it always ends in a bummed-out sigh? If you hold off from doxing me for a second, I can explain.

My theory is that Shakira’s music lost the humanity that made her so compelling when she first broke through. Unlike Thalia or Rubio — who were never purported as grand bards, although their artistic contributions certainly deserve merit — Shakira started from a place of meticulous songwriting, niche literary references, and transcontinental perspectives. She was the angsty girl in your classroom scribbling the next Iliad on the back of her notebook. But at some point, the pop cash cow began to outweigh the personal stake poured into her music.

I may be a creaky-kneed millennial nostalgic for the rollicking poetry of “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos” and the disco-mariachi rapture of “Ciega, Sordomuda,” but I also respect and enjoy an artist’s evolution. In 2017, when Shakira ruled the club with the glossy perreo candy of “La Bicicleta” and “Chantaje” alongside Carlos Vives and Maluma, I was there gleefully throwing ass. But I didn’t feel like I knew anything about Shakira anymore, which is why her 2023 Bizarrap session was so exciting, though ultimately galling.

Part of what made “BZRP Music Sessions #53” an event was the long overdue candidness fans had been pleading for. We were suddenly transported back to Shakira’s wrathful ’90s heyday — a woman grappling with betrayal and a crumbling marriage, armed with one of today’s hottest producers and decades of incisive lyricism. And then came flaccid bars like “Cambiaste un Ferrari por un Twingo / Cambiaste un Rolex por un Casio.” I don’t know about you, but I felt Punk’d. Yes, Shakira gets to feel anger, hurt, and pettiness just like everyone else, but here she reduced anguish to the kind of platitudes reserved for Instagram thirst traps.

[Shakira] was the angsty girl in your classroom scribbling the next Iliad on the back of her notebook. But at some point, the pop cash cow began to outweigh the personal stake poured into her music.

Even the song’s most famous line, now the title of her album, “Las mujeres ya no lloran” is rife with incoherence. If this paper-thin read of feminist discourse is a statement of empowerment, characterizing women as historically tearful victims or even suggesting that crying makes one weak is ill-advised. And let’s not even get into the mortifying self-own of her recent comments over the Barbie film. Also, the second half of that verse, “las mujeres facturan,” was proven categorically false by Shakira’s highly publicized court battle over unpaid Spanish taxes. But after announcing her upcoming world tour during Bizarrap’s Coachella Weekend 1 performance and with nosebleed seats going for almost $300 a pop, it seems her bank account will enjoy a speedy recovery.

I’m not going to sit here bemoaning the pop star of a bygone era, but I don’t enjoy being played for a fool, either. On the album, Shakira performs the sorrowful piano ballad “Acróstico” alongside her sons Milan and Sasha. At first glance, it’s a portrait of a broken, aching family, but consider the manipulativeness of having children serenade your ex about the hurt he has caused. As delicious as tabloid drama can be, that’s pretty fucked.

When it comes to expressing my Shak-xieties, I’ve often used Madonna as an example. In recent years, the also bottle-blonde icon has pulled all sorts of cringy stunts to stay hip. But over four decades into her career, she is still very much the scrappy girl that terrorized New York City back in the ’80s. And yet, you cannot convince me Brunette and Blonde Shakira are the same person. There is no narrative, sonic, or personal connection between the two. I suppose they both perform barefoot and yodel like they were raised in the Swiss Alps. 

But the question remains: “Dónde está Shakira?” Maybe the she-wolf locked her in a closet, and hopefully, someday, she’ll let her out so she can breathe. Ah-hoo.