Iconográfica is a column that celebrates divas that not only bring it artistically on a regular basis but exude grrrl power in the process. It’s a pop culture investigation of the context, sound, and style of independent and powerful Latinas, with original illustrations and animated gifs by Cristóbal Saez.
Back in the day when the airwaves exclusively played broody singer-songwriter jams, 19-year-old Shakira broke into the market with a brilliant Latino alt-pop record. With her acoustic guitar in hand and two flop albums on her track record, this record was her last chance to prove herself in the industry. The Colombian-Lebanese chanteuse took the reins and co-produced and co-wrote 11 pop tracks that resulted in Pies Descalzos, her real opera prima. The record’s honest take on pop served as a foundation to the bleached bombshell we know today, sexual image aside.
After Magia and Peligro, Shakira’s first promo albums, she knew it was time to go in for the kill and pursue the persona she’d always wanted: the rocker chick. When Pies Descalzos was included in a Colombian compilation album, tween-pop Shaki shed her skin and a bold, rocker Shaki was hyped up to stardom. Interestingly enough, a similar singer-songwriter phenomenon was happening halfway across the globe with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, out the same year as Pies Descalzos. These two albums (both third album efforts) were constantly compared, due to their vivid lyrical imagery and catchy pop melodies.
The themes in this record mainly deal with heartbreak, angst, and Colombia’s social pressures as seen through the eyes of the then-19-year-old Shaki. The album’s title track, “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos,” has lyrics that protest the social pressures women go through, including weddings and quinceañeras. “Se Quiere, Se Mata” tells the cautionary tale of Dana and Braulio, which (spoiler alert) ends with a dead baby and baby mama. The album’s opener, “Estoy Aqui,” followed a formula that starts off with Shakira’s signature wailing about being unable to get over an ex-lover, accompanied by her acoustic guitar, and as the track evolves, an infectious ’90s house beat and bassline kick in. This formula, along with the honesty and vulnerability of her lyrics, sent many of her singles shooting up the Latin and US charts. This formula is even translated to ballads like “Antología” as the song evolves into a melancholic and moving pop song when the beat kicks in. The record even dabbles in reggae and dub with “Un Poco de Amor,” which has a video treatment that could definitely double as an Urban Outfitters campaign nowadays. Throughout Pies Descalzos we get to see all sides of teenage Shaki, going through angst and heartbreak accompanied by lots of belly tops and low-cut jeans.
Nowadays, Shakira’s persona has shifted from being the Colombian Alanis Morissette rocker chick to a pelvic-thrusting blonde bombshell. However, there is still some vintage Shaki deep down there, somewhere. Her music may have gone from pop rock brilliance to mainstream trash (ft. Pitbull), but she’s still pretty down to earth. When Pies Descalzos struck gold, Shakira allegedly donated 70% of her earnings to orphan children, and she started Barefoot Foundation along with her parents, which is still working to build schools for Colombian children to this day. Even though we may never get to experience this Shakira ever again, Pies Descalzos is still a staple of Colombian pop and holds a place in our ’90s hearts.