Aguilera refused to change her last name; Rubio sang about female power ahead of her time; Thalia connected with the LGBTQ+ community.
Back in 2000, Latin music was dominated not by male reggaeton stars, but by female Latin pop. And that was largely thanks to the women who released the biggest albums of the year. Former Timbiriche bandmates Thalia and Paulina Rubio, Mexico's reinvention queens, turned out fresh sounds and looks for their albums Arrasando and Paulina respectively. Christina Aguilera was able to embrace her Ecuadorian roots and dominate both the pop and Latin music worlds with Mi Reflejo, her first (and only) Spanish language album. And Colombian superstar Shakira put her raw talent on display with her MTV Unplugged album.
In a series of exclusive interviews with Billboard, Thalia, Rubio, and Aguilera looked back on their groundbreaking sets from 2000 and their legacy today.
THALIA - Arrasando (April 25, 2000)
The cover of Thalia's Arrasando featured a rosy close-up shot of the singer sweetly biting her nail. "'Arrasando' was the name of the one of the songs I wrote at the time," Thalía says today. "The chorus was super powerful. It was like, 'Let's just be positive. Let's take advantage of everything. Let's arrasar con la vida. Let's take it all in.' I knew immediately that would be the name of the album."
Thalía took risks on Arrasando that paid off, like rapping on the title track. "It was easy and organic," she says of spitting those empowering lines. "It was like a train of thought, flowing from one idea to another." Like "Arrasando” itself, the album took on a prominently techno sound that is best reflected in the stunning "Regresa a Mí.” "There's an element of this lost world of fleeting love that captures the listener," Thalía says. "That track is atmospheric, nostalgic, and it's one of the strongest on the album. Today, it's an anthem."
The soaring ballad "Entre El Mar y Una Estrella," penned by Mexican songwriter Marco Flores, became Thalía's first No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. "I remember I was screaming and crying from being super excited," Thalía says of that memory. "I was like, 'Wow! What a blessing.' I was looking for a different way to portray Latin music," she says. "When [Flores] called us to the studio and we heard it, it was magical and timeless. It's a classic like the Lion King. It was exactly what I was looking for. It's one of those songs that everyone knows and loves: the kids, la mamá, el papá, la abuelita."
Arrasando peaked at No. 1 on the Latin Pop Albums chart and No. 4 on the Top Latin Albums charts and also consolidated Thalia’s popularity with the LGBTQ+ community.
"They have always been supportive of my career since the beginning. I've stayed true to my message in my fashion, my statements, and my music: to be yourself, to love yourself, to not be afraid to put yourself out there no matter who judges you, and to believe in yourself no matter the obstacles in the way. Arrasando consolidated that message and strengthened my relationship with the community. I'm very proud of this album."
PAULINA RUBIO - Paulina (May 23, 2000)
The black and white cover of Rubio's self-titled Paulina featured the singer with her golden tresses flowing down her back. After breaking away from her longtime label EMI, the album was her first release with Universal Music Latin.
"Recording Paulina was a long process of two years," Rubio says. "I felt very safe and supported by my label at the time. The album definitely marks a before and after in my career."
The diverse Paulina was packed with anthems. "I wanted to convey a message of freedom of expression and sing songs that reflected me at the time," Rubio says. "There was 'woman power' with 'Yo No Soy Esa Mujer,' a ranchera hip-hop song like 'El Último Adiós,' and a sexy side with 'Sexi Dance.' I felt very connected to all my songs. That album was a mix of sounds that were innovative for that time."
At the helm of most of the album was Colombian producer and songwriter Estéfano. "We understood each other very well from the beginning," Rubio says. "I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and express and Estéfano was a great guide in helping me develop and define that sound." Their greatest collaboration is Rubio's club classic "Y Yo Sigo Aquí."
"That song was born in my search of that dance-pop sound," she says. "I wanted to make this song a party anthem." Mission accomplished.
Rubio enlisted her famous friends to contribute to the "romantic" side of Paulina. "It was my lifelong dream to collaborate with Juan Gabriel whom I always admired," she says of the Mexican legend behind "Cancún y Yo." "He was my friend and mentor. As a fan of his music and lyrics, I always wanted to learn from him. He wrote that song for Quintana Roo."
Her breathy ballad "Tal Vez, Quizás" was penned by another Mexican great. "Recording that song by el maestro Armando Manzanero has been one of the greatest privileges of my life," Rubio says.
Paulina peaked at No. 1 on both the Top Latin Albums and Latin Pop Albums charts. The biggest album of Rubio's career went on to become the best-selling Latin album of 2001 in the U.S. "It's an honor that I remember very humbly two decades later," she says of that memory. "It has been very enriching to see how after 20 years, Paulina and its songs continue to impact the lives of so many people."
CHRISTINA AGUILERA - Mi Reflejo (Sept. 12, 2000)
Mi Reflejo was Aguilera's first, and only, Spanish language album.
"I remember when I was first coming up, there was a big debate around me on changing my last name because all the businessmen around me thought it was too long, too complicated, and too ethnic," she says. "'Christina Agee' was an option, but that clearly wasn’t going to fly. I was dead set against the idea and I wanted to represent who I really was. Being Latina, it is a part of my heritage and who I am."
"There was another time in my childhood when I was being asked to legally change my name to my stepfather’s to be legally adopted and I was again dead set against it," Aguilera adds. "I've been fighting for my last name my whole life."
She lived up to that last name, recording Spanish versions of her hits like "Genie in a Bottle" and "Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You)." "I was excited to bring a new life to [these songs] and reinvent some things," she says. "I was allowed to create and express new ad libs and vocal runs that I wasn’t given the freedom to do on the original record. Everything sounds better in Spanish. Let's be honest."
What Aguilera enjoyed the most about Mi Reflejo was the new songs she recorded for the album like the heartbreaking "Pero Me Acuerdo de Ti."
"I recorded [the album] in Miami with Rudy Pérez, who really took me under his wing," Aguilera says. "He helped coach me when I was unsure. He didn't cage me into a specific stereotype, introducing me to classic boleros like 'Contigo En La Distancia,' which I still include in my setlists and love singing to this day."
Before going big with "Despacito," Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi featured on Aguilera's "Si No Te Hubiera Conocido." "I was taken with his vocal ability, talent, and charm," she says.
Mi Reflejo peaked at No. 1 on both the Top Latin Albums and Latin Pop Albums charts. "It was a beautiful thing to experience success in different markets and have a diverse fan base that grew in appreciating who I am," Aguilera says. "I am very proud of my Latin Grammy [for Best Female Pop Vocal Album] in honor of that album. My message, as in all my music, stands for being fearless to explore who you are. It's never too late to open a new door. Although it's scary to dive into territory that isn't your first language, it still doesn't erase who I am and how I want to express myself in all aspects of what intrigues and inspires me."
As for that next Latin music album from Aguilera, she's ready to be more personal with it. "I am getting back to my roots and exploring who I am now as a grown woman who doesn’t have to cover my own English material in Spanish, but as a woman who can draw from my own personal experiences and express that with honesty," she says. "Having survived decades in this business, I am proud to tell the truth about what that means to me."