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Shakira walks into a luxurious upstairs suite at Miami Beach’s Villa Casa Casuarina — the former Versace mansion — wearing high-waisted jeans, a loose T-shirt and a baseball cap pushed low over her forehead, her hair pulled back in a tangle of dirty-blonde braids. Far from cameras, her face is practically devoid of makeup save for mascara, and her eyes are wide over prominent cheekbones. Clear-skinned, barely over 5 feet tall in her sneakers, she looks young and almost fragile — a far cry from the powerful, wrathful woman she has played in her recent, hugely successful songs and music videos.
“I’m still in a reflective period,” she says pensively. “I’m still exorcising some demons. The last I have left,” she adds with a hearty laugh.
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Billboard Latin Music Week returns to Miami on Oct. 2-6. Shakira will participate in an exclusive superstar Q&A. Get tickets here.
One of the most recognizable and celebrated stars on the planet, Shakira is also notoriously meticulous, a perfectionist known for leaving little to chance. But in the past 14 months, the 46-year-old has thrown convention, expectations and her own personal brand of allure-driven celebrity to the wind following her infamous split from Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué, her partner of over a decade and the father of her two children, Milán, 10, and Sasha, 8. Covered ruthlessly by Spanish tabloids, the separation amid allegations of infidelity on Piqué’s part was immortalized when Shakira recorded “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53” with Argentine DJ Bizarrap, an incendiary track in which she made a proclamation that became a global feminist mantra: “Women don’t cry; we make money.” The song hit No. 2 on the Billboard Global 200.
But lost amid the tabloid coverage, the four Guinness World Records that “Sessions” set and multiple Billboard milestones (including becoming the first female vocalist to debut in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with a Spanish-language track) was the fact that between motherhood and marital bliss in Barcelona, it had been nearly a decade since Shakira had achieved anywhere near the success she has had in the past year; her last No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart was “Chantaje,” with Maluma, back in 2016.
This year, she has already landed two No. 1s on the ranking: “Sessions” and “TQG,” with Karol G. (Both also reached the Hot 100’s top 10, and “TQG” topped the Billboard Global 200.) And in the past 12 months, she has placed six hits on the chart, all of them alluding to her separation and the range of emotions it has generated, from intense rage to deep sorrow to faint hope.
However torturous the process of setting those emotions to music has been, the result is that the now-single mother of two is once again one of the world’s hottest artists in any language, with 2024 plans for a new album and a global tour, respectively her first since 2017’s El Dorado and its corresponding 2018 trek.
The irony of the most tumultuous period of her personal life fueling a mid-career renaissance isn’t lost on Shakira.
“I feel like a cat with more than nine lives; whenever I think I can’t get any better, I suddenly get a second wind,” she says. “I’ve gone through several stages: denial, anger, pain, frustration, anger again, pain again. Now I’m in a survival stage. Like, just get your head above water. And it’s a reflection stage. And a stage of working very hard and when I have time with my children, really spend it with them.”
Shakira has always been remarkably eloquent, both in her native Spanish and in the English she learned as an adult when she crossed over into mainstream pop. In conversation, she bounces between languages almost reflexively as she searches for just the right word, bilingually expressing a wicked, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor — and a sincerity that’s startling for such a scrutinized artist.
At the villa, she settles cross-legged into a big, blue armchair. She asks for black coffee; it has been a long night at the studio, followed by an early morning getting the kids ready for school. She has a craving for chocolates, and soon, a tray is delivered loaded with a variety of bars and bonbons. She goes for the latter and eats one with relish, then another. She chats freely about children, life and loss, laughing often and pausing to take a call from Sasha, who is in his first week of school after the summer break and at a friend’s house.
“My love, remember to pick up your plate, wash your hands and say thank you after eating,” Shakira reminds him. She sounds like a regular mom — highlighting the earthiness that has won the oft-barefoot performer so many fans.
“Attaining success is of course complicated, but far more complex is maintaining it through time. Shakira has demonstrated in a thousand ways that she belongs to this very select group. Every time she releases a song or an album, her shadow is again gigantic,” says Sony Music Latin Iberia chairman/CEO Afo Verde, a confidante who has worked very closely with Shakira through the years, particularly since May, when the Colombian star relocated from Barcelona to Miami.
Since then, she has been spending most days at 5020, Sony’s state-of-the-art recording studios and rehearsal space in Miami, working with a steady flow of creatives that includes top producer-songwriter Edgar Barrera, who has collaborated with Maluma, Peso Pluma and Grupo Frontera, among others.
“Of all the artists I’ve worked with, she’s the most perfectionist, the most meticulous,” says Barrera, who worked on several songs with her, including “Clandestino,” with Maluma. “She knows exactly what she wants and what she doesn’t want. She’ll request things like a change of frequency in a kick. After working with her, I understand why she’s where she’s at and why she has been at No. 1 so many times.”
For Verde, Shakira’s proximity has helped him support her creative process in a way that has hugely accelerated her output. “She’s one of those few cases in the world who, despite the passage of time, continues to work with the same excitement, quality, respect and attention to detail as she did in the beginning. She works with whoever makes sense for her artistic pursuit. She doesn’t care if they’re established or up and coming. For her, art comes first.”
Case in point: Fuerza Regida, the Southern California Mexican quintet that has scored five Hot 100 entries in the past year with its brash, homegrown take on norteño music but remains far from a household name. When Shakira’s team reached out to lead singer JOP in July to ask if he was interested in collaborating on the recently released “El Jefe” with her, the 26-year-old got on a flight to Miami the next day without having heard a note of the proposed track.
“It’s Shakira! Do you understand what I mean?” JOP says. “There isn’t anything else to say. I grew up listening to Shakira, and after all the challenges to reach where I am now, to collaborate with one of the greatest artists in the world… It’s crazy! It had me mind-blowed.”
In May, Billboard honored Shakira as its first ever Latin Woman of the Year; in July, Premios Juventud gave her its Agent of Change Award; and on Sept. 12, she received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, where she also performed a dazzling, 10-minute medley of hits.
Still, she admits, for the past seven years, she has been sidetracked by family matters and life in Barcelona, far from music industry action. That changed a little over a year ago, when she split with Piqué and began cathartically pouring her heart into her songs. Several milestones followed in quick succession. “Te Felicito,” with Rauw Alejandro, reached No. 10 on Hot Latin Songs and No. 67 on the Hot 100 in May and June of 2022, respectively; in November, “Monotonía,” with Ozuna (its video shows Shakira’s heart literally torn from her body and squished by a shoe on the sidewalk), climbed to No. 3 on Hot Latin Songs; and earlier this year, “Sessions” and “TQG” surged in popularity.
Suddenly, Shakira was no longer a distant celebrity, but one of the most streamed stars on the planet. (At press time, she was Spotify’s most streamed Latin woman artist ever.)
Simultaneously, Shakira — who essentially pioneered the concept of global touring in the Latin realm and made history when she co-headlined the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show with Jennifer Lopez — revived conversations about hitting the road. While details remain under wraps, her upcoming tour, says WME music partner Keith Sarkisian, will include arena and stadium shows in nearly two dozen countries across Latin America, North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East.
“Shakira has established herself as a remarkable and influential artist over the past 20-plus years,” says Live Nation Entertainment CEO/president Michael Rapino, whose relationship with the singer dates back to her 2007 Oral Fixation tour. “She has grown a massive global fan base through her captivating performances and unique blend of pop, rock, Latin and world influences. We can’t wait to see her on stages around the world for her biggest tour yet.”
Shakira agrees. “I think this will be the tour of my life. I’m very excited. Just think, I had my foot on the brakes. Now I’m pressing on the accelerator — hard.”
First order of the day: Are the kids happy in school?
They’re doing very well. They love it. In Barcelona, they carried the weight of being “the children of…,” and the media situation was hard on them. We had paparazzi at our doorstep every single day. Here, they’re normal children who enjoy normalcy, which is what school should be: a safe haven where they can be themselves. And because they’re sociable and pretty open, it was easy for them to adapt.
Have you adapted?
I’m still in the process! (Laughs.) I’ve lost a bit of my mental plasticity with time. The last time I lived here, I was 21 or so. Miami has changed. There wasn’t as much traffic before.
Do you still enjoy driving?
Yes. I still drive myself. I drive a total soccer mom car: a Toyota Sienna. Not sexy at all. There are no sexy cars in my house. The only sexy thing in my house is me. (Laughs.)
I’ve seen you going out a lot. I didn’t know you were such a social butterfly.
Me either! I didn’t know it because I really was lazy about going out [before]. My favorite outfit is my PJs. But my kids are big Miami Heat fans. Milán is a fan of all sports. So I have to take him to all the baseball games, all the basketball games, all the hockey games. Never in my life have I gone to so many sporting events. And then, when they’re with their dad, I work from morning to night, and then I have a margarita with my friends.
Did your lifestyle change dramatically over the last year?
Dramatically. Aside from the fact that it’s been a drama, the time I have with my children, [I] really spend it with them. For example, this summer, the time they spent with me, I devoted entirely to them. I didn’t work, and they didn’t go to camp. They went to Camp Shakira. If I can only have them half the time, I’m going to make the most out of my half.
How does this affect your music?
Now that I spent a week in Los Angeles, for example, I put in everything: studio, work, meetings, work, work, work, work until late, then meet up with my girlfriends that I haven’t seen in a while and go out at night like in the old days. (Laughs.) I put everything, leisure and pleasure, in the same week but very compacted because then I have to come back and be a mom again, the head of the household, and then I can’t do anything because I have the children with me all the time. As far as the music, it still comes from a very reflective place.
But the upside to all you’ve been through seems to be that you’ve produced some of your most successful music in years. Would you agree?
Well, the thing is, I was dedicated to him. To the family, to him. It was very difficult for me to attend to my professional career while in Barcelona. It was complicated logistically to get a collaborator there. I had to wait for agendas to coincide or for someone to deign to come. I couldn’t leave my children and just go somewhere to make music outside my house. It was hard to maintain the rhythm. Sometimes I had ideas I couldn’t lock down. Right now, I have an idea and I can immediately collaborate with whomever I want to. Something inescapable about Miami, Los Angeles, the U.S. in general is I have the logistical and technical support, the resources, the tools, the people. Living in Spain, all that was on hold.
I hadn’t thought about it that way…
That’s why my career was a third priority. The last time I released an album was six years ago. Now I can release music at a faster clip, although sometimes I think being a single mom and the rhythm of a pop star aren’t compatible. I have to put my kids to bed, go to the recording studio; everything is uphill. When you don’t have a husband who can stay home with the kids, it’s constant juggling because I like to be a present mom and I need to be there every moment with my children: take them to school, have breakfast with them, take them to play dates. And aside from that, I have to make money.
It’s so complicated to be a working mom — we’re taught we can do everything, but something always suffers. What do you think?
I haven’t been to the gym in a year. Well, I’ve gone a couple of times. I don’t know how long it’s been since I got a massage. I have torticollis! Something’s got to give. My neck. My traps. That’s what gives. It’s hard to do everything.
Before all this happened, were you concerned about releasing new music, or were you happy in your Barcelona state of mind?
My priority was my home, my family. I believed in “till death do us part.” I believed that dream, and I had that dream for myself, for my children. My parents have been together, I don’t know, 50 years, and they love each other like the first day, with a love that’s unique and unrepeatable. So I know it’s possible. My mom doesn’t leave my [sick] father’s side. They still kiss on the mouth. And it has always been my example. It’s what I wanted for myself and my children, but it didn’t happen. If life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade. That’s what I’m doing: making lemonade.
Tell me about your upcoming singles. You’ve been collaborating with all Latin artists lately. Is that a calculated decision?
It has all been very organic. I’m coming out with something in September and maybe in November. The new single is a collab with Fuerza Regida. It’s a Mexican ska, and it sounds very fresh, very original, very punk in a way. It has tons of energy. The song is called “El Jefe” [“The Boss”], and it’s about abuse of power. We had the song and thought, “Oy, who could we get for this?,” and we thought of Fuerza Regida. JOP’s voice is very special. We wrote him, and he flew in the following day from Los Angeles and we recorded it in three days.
[Regarding “TQG” with Karol G], Karol is going through a good moment, plus we were both going through [public breakups] that have a common denominator. That inspired the song, which we both worked on. It was a project I believed in from the onset, and that’s why I invested so much time in it.
This was a highly anticipated and very successful collaboration. Would you say you devoted more time and resources to “TQG” than other recent singles?
Well, the Ozuna video [for “Monotonía”] was also my idea. Most videos I end up co-directing, co-writing, even designing the objects with the art department. I really get involved all the way because I feel the audiovisual world [also] expresses a very oneiric side and connects with the song from the subconscious. It allows the subconscious to speak. When I’m making a video, I close my eyes and dream.
With that in mind, why have a siren in your new music video for “Copa Vacía” with Manuel Turizo?
Because the siren is a symbol that represents that part of me that was abducted and taken from a world where she belongs to a world where she doesn’t belong. A world she had to make enormous sacrifice to be in. A world where perhaps she lacked oxygen. But in the end, she returns to the sea because it’s her destiny, just like I returned to Miami. (Laughs.) This siren was first abducted and then, for love, is next to this man, captive and locked up in a way. Sacrificing her own well-being and what is natural for her for love. And then she ends up thrown in the trash and surrounded by rats.
Right? And I don’t know if you knew this, but there are real rats around me in the video. Because believe me, I’m still surrounded by rats. But every time less and less. That has been a big part of what I’ve been doing this past year: cleaning the house, exterminating the rats.
But your music returned. That’s the silver lining.
There’s always a silver lining. Life always manages to compensate somehow. In one year, I lost what I loved most, the person I most trusted, my best friend: my father. He has lost many of his neurological functions as a result of the accident he had in Barcelona [a fall in June 2022]. And he went to Barcelona precisely to console me, to support me at the time of my separation. I thought, “How can so many things happen to me in a year?” But that’s life.
From there, my music has also taken new flight, and I suppose that’s the way life compensates. You subtract on one end and add on the other. It’s pure mathematics. In my ninth life, I’ll tell you what the total is. Sometimes I think happiness isn’t for everyone. Happiness is a luxury, a commodity. Some people are born to be happy, and some people are born to do things, serve the community. I don’t know.
Are you happy now?
It’s a very short question for a very long answer. I don’t think everyone has access to happiness. It’s reserved for a very select number of people, and I can’t say I’m part of the club at this moment. There are moments of happiness, distraction, moments of reflection. There are also still moments of nostalgia, and my music right now feeds off that cocktail.
You obviously didn’t plan any of this. You weren’t looking for a No. 1, but for a creative outlet, correct?
Exactly. I was trying to work out and understand my emotions in search of a catharsis.
In 2021, you sold the music publishing rights to your catalog of 145 songs at the time to Hipgnosis. Why?
I’m very friendly with Merck [Mercuriadis]. He’s a musicology expert who knows my catalog intimately from the very first song I wrote when I was 8 years old. I know my compositions are in the best hands with him as the custodian for them, and I’m very happy. They’re doing a really good job. If you sell your catalog, you want to know it’s to someone who values your music and knows about music.
Are you at all worried about artificial intelligence?
I was shown how I sound with AI. But I don’t think they got it right yet. I don’t hear myself there. The letter E, for example, sounds like my voice, but not the other four vowels. I think it’s going to be hard for AI to imitate me. And I have bigger fish to fry right now. My biggest concern is figuring out how Milán can practice American football, soccer and baseball in the same week.
I know you’re planning to tour next year, and I saw photos of you at Beyoncé’s tour. It looked like you were having fun.
Oh, no. I was working! (Laughs.) I definitely can’t tour with as many trucks as Beyoncé, but I was taking notes.
Something I’ve always loved about your tours is that they are pretty much all you. That you don’t need…
So much stuff? In a way, I wanted to prove to myself that I could support the entire weight of a show. In fact, many of my tours had no dancers and a limited production. In the [2002-03] Tour of the Mongoose, which was one of my most successful tours, with the biggest production, I traveled with that serpent that rose at the beginning of the show, remember? That serpent cost $1 million and, transporting the serpent, several million more. When the tour ended, my manager asked for his commission, and I said, “Aha, and how much did I make from the tour?” He said, “No, you lost $6 million. Didn’t you want to travel with that cobra?” You live and learn.
Putting a tour together is fun, but it’s a great effort and you have to put everything on the balance and decide what the fans really want to hear, what songs you want to hear and how much production you want. In the end, the more production you have, the higher the ticket price. I want the tickets to be affordable. But to me, the most important thing is the repertoire. That’s why I think [my next tour] will be the tour of a lifetime, because I have so many songs.
Do you think that in five years, when you look back, you’ll see this moment in a more positive light?
Like a blessing in disguise? I think that nothing can compensate for the pain of destroying a family. Of course, I have to keep going for my children’s sake; that’s my greatest motivation. But my biggest dream, more than collecting platinum albums and Grammys, was to raise my sons with their father. Overcome obstacles and grow old together. I know I’m not getting that now.
What did you learn about yourself in this process that surprised you?
My strength. I thought I was much weaker. I used to crumble before the stupidest problems. I’d create a drama because I chipped my tooth or that kind of stuff. But maturing, going through truly difficult things, gives you a sense of perspective and empathy. You learn how to value the good moments and how not to amplify the bad ones.
Before, when I didn’t have real problems, I was a true drama queen. I remember one time, Gerard bought me a diamond ring because I chipped a tooth on The Voice and I was crying so much. I was inconsolable. I was also pregnant, so I was highly hormonal. Now I chip a tooth, and it doesn’t go beyond being a little inconvenience that you fix with a visit to the dentist. I wouldn’t cry over it for two days in a row like I used to back in the day when I used to be happy.
At a time when there seems to be no taboos left in Latin music in terms of content and image, do you think a lot about what you want to say or portray in your music?
I’ve always been very conscious of the fact that what a public person expresses or says has an echo and an impact over others. And I am convinced that we have to serve the community through our work and help the world become a better place. As a woman, I feel I have a responsibility. I also think music is a tool, a platform for validation as a woman and to validate my own ideas, but there isn’t a calculated intent behind what I do. But I do understand the responsibility that comes with what I have and with being a public person and being able to do music for such a long time and reach several generations. I know little girls see me, go to my concerts, listen to my music. That’s always in the back of my head.
“Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53” generated a lot of controversy. People were divided over whether you should have spoken out. Was that a difficult decision?
When I did that session, people on my team were saying, “Please change this. Don’t even think about coming out with those lyrics.” And I said, “Why not?” I’m not a diplomat in the United Nations. I’m an artist, and I have the right to work on my emotions through my music. It’s my catharsis and my therapy, but it’s also the therapy of many people. I know I’m the voice of many people, and I’m not being pretentious, just realistic. I lend my voice to many women who maybe also wanted to say the same things I said and perhaps haven’t had the validation to do so. I think songs like the Bizarrap session or like the one I did with Karol have given many women strength, self-empowerment, self-confidence and also the backing to express and say what they need to say.
And without the need to be vulgar or graphic?
No, but going straight to the jugular. I don’t know how to go anywhere else.
Michelle Yeoh, who is 61 years old, won the Academy Award for best actress this year. In her speech, she said, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.” Ours is a very ageist industry. What do you think of those words?
When the year started and I got that first No. 1, then the other, back-to-back, I thought, “This can’t be happening to me at 46 years old.” It was so exciting to break the mold or reinvent the paradigms, and also, because that’s how you change things. I feel I have more energy now than at many other times in my life. Now the studio is one of my happy places. In the past, it wasn’t so much like that. There were moments where I had a love/hate relationship. There was a bit of a fear factor in the studio, at the prospect of being before a blank canvas. But now, when I’m about to start a song, my feelings are more of anticipation. Maybe because I’m not such a control freak as I used to be?
I’ve let go a lot! I still control, but I’m not a freak. Who doesn’t like control in a way? You want to realize your vision. But I’ve let go a lot. If I were to chip my tooth now, I’d probably spill a tear or two, but I wouldn’t cry the whole day.
Shakira will sit down for an exlcusive Q&A during Latin Music Week. Click here to register.
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