Shakira’s ‘Dónde Están los Ladrones?’ Is a Classic, But What Did Critics Think 20 Years Ago?

Lead Photo: Singer Shakira performs live on stage at the start of her European Tour at the Colorline arena on January 25, 2007 in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Singer Shakira performs live on stage at the start of her European Tour at the Colorline arena on January 25, 2007 in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
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Twenty years ago, on September 29, 1998, Shakira released Dónde Están los Ladrones?, the influential album that reinforced her place as one of Latin America’s most celebrated artists — and positioned her to become a global superstar.

It was Shakira’s fourth studio release, and her first collaboration with industry gatekeeper Emilio Estefan, who had early crossover ambitions for the Colombian pop star. Dónde Están los Ladrones? proved why so many promises had been packed into Shakira’s career: the album was made up of razor-sharp, rebellious pop-rock that drew heavily on the alternative sensibilities of Shakira’s previous release, Pies Descalzos. With the backing of a mega producer, Shakira polished her sound and introduced a new array of influences into her repertoire. The album boasted the mariachi trumpets of “Ciega, Sordomuda,” an opener that remains among the most memorable in Spanish-language pop; creative balladry on “Moscas en la Casa” and “Tú;” a sense of grunge and defiance on “Inevitable”— and, of course, lightning-fast, tongue-twister verses that listeners tried in vain to repeat back just as quickly.

Still, critics familiar with her work did note that some of the songs on Dónde Están los Ladrones? followed the same pattern of her established megahits. Billboard’s Leila Cobo, then writing for The Miami Herald, called out “Que Vuelvas” as a “virtual remake” of Shakira’s earlier track “Estoy Aquí.” But many other reviews at the time skimped on nuances like this, focusing instead on introducing Shakira to the Anglo masses and finding analogues for her in the English-speaking world (Alanis Morissette and Joan Osborne were common comparisons at the time).

Shakira was still a new phenomenon in the U.S., despite her success in Latin America, and many Anglo outlets tried to crack exactly what she and the album represented. They painted her with broad strokes — a singer on her “way up,” peddling “forlorn lovesick testimonials” — and focused on tracks that stood apart on the album, in particular, “Ojos Así,” which writers highlighted for its nod to Shaki’s Lebanese roots.

Remezcla plunged deeper into the archives to find what else critics were saying about the album at the time. Here’s what their takes were following the album’s release:

The Village Voice

“¿Dónde están los ladrones? is ambivalent about the winners and losers in Colombia, a society that has endured a torturous legacy of corruption despite being at the root of democracy in Latin America. But if transcending her roots to become a player in Miami necessitates some concessions to not-ready-for-salsa listeners, a cleverly embedded poetry still manages to peek through in Shakira’s worldview.” –Ed Morales

The Miami Herald

“Ironically, the album’s only failures occur when it looks too closely at its predecessor. ‘Que Vuelvas (Come Back),’ a virtual remake of Shakira’s old hit ‘Estoy Aquí,’ sounds like a gimmick. But when Shakira remains true to her instincts, she is hard to top, and Donde comes out heads and shoulders above most of the material — English or Spanish — being produced by other women. More important, it proves that Shakira’s previous success was no fluke.” -Leila Cobo


“At 22 the Colombian singer-songwriter is on her way up: she’s topping Billboard’s Latin charts; she recently won a Grammy nomination; and she’s working on her first English-language album. The fuss over Shakira is justified. On her latest CD she charges Latin pop with rock ‘n’ roll to thrilling effect. Even when her music gets loud, Shakira’s vibrant contralto remains sweet and expressive. The album’s title translates as ‘Where are the thieves?’ Missing out on this collection would be at least a misdemeanor.” –Christopher John Farley


“Latin pop innovator Shakira represents the kind of eventuality for which Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan and Beck are all precedents. Eventually, all parallel lines intersect, or so that particular mathematical theory suggests, and so it is with separate but co-existing styles. In the world of contemporary music, fusion is an inevitability. Thus, Donde Estan Los Ladrones. This album finds the charismatic songstress combining traditional Latin roots (represented by the occasional acoustic touches) with post-Alanis angry-young-woman sensibilities, Sheryl Crow-esque pop eclecticism and an electrifying rock & roll rhythm. Those expecting polite recreations of Latin styles past will be sorely disappointed, but listeners for whom crossover is the norm will find a wealth of satisfaction in Dónde Están Los Ladrones?, whether or not they understand the words.” –MTV

Orlando Sentinel

“In her newest album, Dónde Están los Ladrones? (Where Are the Thieves?), Shakira combines a variety of rhythms, instruments and catchy verses that forces her listeners to dance right along, regardless of ethnicity or language. In fact, the last song on the album, ‘Ojos Así’ (Such Eyes), actually contains a verse in Turkish. Shakira then switches back to Spanish to lament that even though she has traveled from Beirut to Bahrain, she has never found ‘eyes like yours.’

Such references to other cultures and icons are found throughout Shakira’s CD, including one track titled ‘Octavo Día’ (Eighth Day) that speaks of God’s omnipresence and also makes reference to Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson. The song evokes memories of Joan Osborne’s hit of a few years back, ‘One Of Us.’ Shakira’s style also is closely related to that of Alanis Morissette.” –Orlando Sentinel

El Tiempo

“The release of her new album, Dónde están los ladrones, reinforces the efforts of her label on a global level. The marketing and PR budget of this 11-song CD is so big that it let her label bring journalists from Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil and of course Colombia (the ultimate move to impress) to Miami.

But more than just promotional paraphernalia, it must be said that luckily, fame hasn’t gone to Shakira’s head. She doesn’t sing arrogantly; she prefers simple tones and a passion for her work. The only thing that’s changed is her appearance – her straight hair is now curly and filled with colorful braids.” –Andres Zambrano Diaz


“Star trovadora from Colombia follows up the 1996 smash Pies Descalzos with a like-minded set brimming with forlorn lovesick testimonials set to a mainstream pop/rock sound laced occasionally with edgy guitar and vocal interludes. The leadoff single, ‘Ciego, Sordomuda,’ strongly resembles Shakira’s signature tune, ‘Estoy Aquí.’ It should ride high at radio, along with the steel guitar-flavored ballad ‘Tú.’ But the 11-song album’s most satisfying track, by far, is the thunderous, Middle Eastern-spiced, Spanish-Arab opus ‘Ojos Así.’ ” -Billboard