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"The design behind this album was to break globally, not just in the Latin markets but to put her on top of the charts everywhere in the world, especially in the U.S.," says Tom Corson, president and COO of RCA Records, who is working "hand in glove" with Sony Latin Iberia on the global release of the album, which launches in all territories the week of March 20. Labels and stars increasingly are operating with a global perspective, but Shakira has taken that approach since 2001, when her English-language debut, Laundry Service, made her the only artist born and raised in Latin America to engineer a global crossover. Laundry Service was the seventh-best-selling album in the world in 2002, according to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, and sold 3.5 million copies in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"Engineered" is the right word for that accomplishment. "It's hard to generate a crossover because generally speaking, every country in the world listens to either local repertoire or music in English," explains Afo Verde, the chairman and CEO of Sony Music in Latin America, Spain and Portugal, who has worked with Shakira in some capacity since the beginning of her career. Shakira was a sensation in Latin America, a dark-haired pop rocker who reminded some of Alanis Morissette and sang about love and dirty politicians. Laundry Service came about in part because Gloria Estefan, another Epic artist, suggested she make an English-language album. At the time, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez were leading a Latin pop boom for Sony. Shakira studied Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen lyrics, read rhyming dictionaries and Walt Whitman poetry and wrote such songs as "Whenever, Wherever" and "Underneath Your Clothes," both Hot 100 top 10s.
"She seriously studied how entertainment works 'in the rest of the world,' " says Verde. "She was totally faithful to her music and her style, but she studied the language, the media in each place."
Artistically and commercially, that type of determination has marked her career. When her 2005 album "Oral Fixation Vol. 2" turned out to be a sales disappointment, she went right back to the studio and recorded "Hips Don't Lie," featuring Wyclef Jean - it landed at No. 1 on the Hot 100, sold 3.6 million tracks, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and helped drive album sales of 1.7 million. That explosive mix of Latin and urban sounds is a trick the Rihanna duet "Can't Remember to Forget You" - an outlier in context of the album's other tracks - was designed to repeat. Corson calls it "an event record. You get the two biggest stars in the world together and make a sexy, fun video. It was too good to pass."
The video, featuring the two women caressing each other and smoking cigars, was steamy enough that Shakira asked Pique for permission to shoot it.
"He's very territorial, and since he no longer lets me do videos with men, well, I have to do them with women," she says with a laugh. "It's more than implied in our relationship that I can't do videos like I used to. It's out of the question - which I like, by the way. I like that he protects his turf and he values me, in a way that the only person that he would ever let graze my thigh would be Rihanna."
But the heart of Shakira comes in its more melodic pop-rock tracks such as "23" and the second single "Empire," a gorgeous rock ballad that harks back to Shakira's earliest work. There also are tinges of reggae and dance, as found in "Dare," an uptempo club track.
Spanish versions of "Dare" and "Can't Remember to Forget You" also were recorded. Except for 2005's all-Spanish Fijacion Oral Vol. 1, every Shakira album since "Laundry Service" has been bilingual. "I feel very Colombian, very Latin, and at the same time I feel I've been a sponge and a student of different cultures," she says. "I've traveled the world since I was 18, and I think that's allowed me to have a global perception."
Balancing the English and Latin parts of her career clearly is crucial to Shakira. When she signed with Live Nation in 2008 - a deal valued at $70 million to $100 million that gives Live Nation a percentage of all of her revenue, including touring and sponsorship - the agreement was negotiated by Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino, who in 2010 brought in Jorge Ferradas to manage that joint venture, including overseeing Shakira's Latin markets worldwide. Ferradas had been on Shakira's management team and worked with her since his days as managing director of Sony Music Sur (which included Argentina, Chile and Uruguay).
'YOU CAN'T BUY LOYALTY'
Shakira maintains close ties with those who have helped drive her success, from executives at Sony Music Latin to producers (Luis Fernando Ochoa has worked on Pies Descalzos and on Shakira, for example) to members of her band, who have remained unchanged for more than a decade. "She's loyal," says her manager, Jay Brown, president of Roc Nation. "You can't buy loyalty. You gotta know where you came from to do anything. And she knows where she came from. And she makes sure that she caters to her roots."
Brown began working with Shakira at the suggestion of Rapino in 2012, after Shakira's relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Antonio de la Rua, ended. In a 2012 lawsuit seeking to recover damages of at least $100 million, de la Rua claimed he also was Shakira's business partner. The suit was dismissed by a Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2013.
|Shakira First Appeared in the March 15 Issue of Billboard -- Click Here to Get a Copy|
"My role wasn't to change but to help," says Brown, who negotiated sponsorship deals with T-Mobile, Crest and Target. "I came in to basically provide her with everything she needed that was essential to her career."
The Target partnership, which kicked off with a Shakira-Target spot that aired during the Grammys in January, gives the retailer an exclusive deluxe edition of the album with three Target-exclusive tracks. No numbers were provided, but typically, top-tier artists featured in custom commercials can receive as much as $7 million in media spend from the retailer.
Brown also negotiated the deal that brought Shakira to The Voice, which The Hollywood Reporter reported at $12 million a season, according to a source. "She was one of those huge international stars I had only seen from a distance," says fellow coach Shelton. But he and Shakira clicked so well that last year, she approached him for a collaboration.
"I told him I wanted to work with Nashville people," she says. "I was a little tired of L.A. I wanted people with another point of view, real people with roots with whom I feel comfortable working in the same room. And I told Blake I wanted to do a song that had the narrative of a country song, that was picturesque, that was a real song. But it also needed to suit me, because after all, I'm Colombian."
Shakira invited writer Hillary Lindsey and producer Mark Bright - who both have worked with Carrie Underwood, among others - to this very studio, and together they crafted "Medicine," a country song that's light enough on fiddle and steel guitar to work on pop radio.
"One thing is for someone like her to say she's going to do something and another is to do it," says Shelton. "And I'll be damned, a month and a half ago she wrote me and said, 'I wrote the song, and I want you to tell me what you think.' And I said: 'Gosh dang, you did exactly what you said you'd do. It sounds like a hit song.' And then she said, 'Well, do you want to sing on it?' I was honored to do it."
Adds Shakira, who had never dabbled in country: "I was so nervous. You have no idea. I was so scared he was going to say, 'No, Shakira. I love you, but no.'"
It's now close to 7 p.m., and an anxious assistant peeks in to remind Shakira that her studio is waiting, her engineer is waiting, her mixes are waiting. Milan also is waiting. On Feb. 24, Milan set foot in Colombia for the first time, picked up his Colombian passport and accompanied his mom to the school inauguration.
This might be what Shakira is most passionate about, now - being able to concretely effect change, entirely on her own terms.
"I was born and raised in Colombia, a country where there's a huge gap between rich and poor and where being born into poverty maybe means being condemned to it," she says. "There are very few opportunities to rebel against that cruel destiny. I felt education is the great opportunity that makes us all equal, that levels the playing field."
Funding for Pies Descalzos comes from different sources, including Shakira's own endorsement deals. To promote the cause, it helps that Shakira's social numbers are impressive: 24.1 million Twitter followers (among the top 15 in the world) and 83.8 million Facebook likes.
The new school, for example, Shakira's sixth, will benefit from a $500,000 donation from Oral-B and Crest 3D White, which made Shakira its global spokesperson in 2013 in its first-ever celebrity global partnership. The school will house more than 1,000 students, bringing the total number of Pies Descalzos students to nearly 7,000; they receive free education and meals while their families receive training and support.
"Many of them have graduated and gone to college," says Shakira. "To me that's the transforming power of education, which I haven't seen with anything else in my life. You have opportunities through music or soccer, but those are isolated cases. I may have a relative talent, but to survive in this industry, I've had to use my intelligence and my education. That's been essential."
I ask Shakira one last thing as she gets up from the couch.
Her best trait? "Perseverance."
Worst defect? "Perseverance," she replies with a chuckle.
Good-luck charm? "Ah, Milan. He's brought me such good luck."
I gather my things and make my way to the door. On the way out, I peek into the studio to say goodbye. Shakira, the perfectionist global star, isn't yet seated on her perch in front of the soundboard. But just outside, a youthful-looking woman in tight gray jeans and a plaid shirt holds a toddler in her arms and laughs out loud.
From a distance, she looks just like any other mom.