For the first time since the late 2000s, I made it a point to tune into the Super Bowl halftime show live.
I was worried that, like last year's show, it would be mining songs from the previous vulnerable phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, the early 2000s, since both Shakira and Jennifer Lopez have songs going back that far (unlike Lady Gaga and other recent performers). But in a sign of the changing of the cycle into the restless warm-up phase, Shakira played a set list that was evenly spread out between vulnerable, warm-up, and manic phases.
The closest song to where we are in the cycle was "Hips Don't Lie," from an album released during the first year of a warm-up phase (2005). If she had left that one out, it would have signaled our still being reluctant to leave the emo-phase cocoon. But it looks like the changing of phases is right on schedule. Especially compared to the most emo of all Super Bowl halftime shows last year, where Maroon 5 left out all their bouncy hits from the late 2000s and early 2010s.
But enough about that aspect of the performance. What really struck me was the periods that she did leave out -- namely, anything before her crossover into the US market (except for a brief passage from "Ojos Asi"). I assume that's standard for her tours, but for the Super Bowl halftime, you've got a far broader captive audience than your existing fan-base. Plus, you probably won't get to play to such a large audience again -- don't you want to survey the whole of your musical career, to memorialize it?
The usual story about her crossover plays up the angle of "selling out" -- but that is wrong because her two big albums in the Latin American market, during the late 1990s, were both released by major labels. It's not that she went from indie to corporate, but that she changed from ethnically nondescript to an ethnic persona -- primarily a Latina, and secondarily a Lebanese (as shown by her doing a zalghouta, or ululation, during the halftime show).
That also relates to her sexual persona, which was already present during her Latin American market period, but was not specifically a "Latina hottie" persona. She was the hot rocker chick -- no connotation about her race or ethnicity, but the sub-culture she belonged to (alternative rock, girls who had funky hair, wore leather pants, etc.).
She was like a mix between Alanis Morissette of that time, and Charli XCX during the early 2010s (who did not play up her half-Indian background). Wild and extraverted, but with a tender and introspective side as well, that made it impossible to dismiss her as just another wild-child slut who you would pump-and-dump in real life. Anxious attachment style, bordering at times on clingy, rather than an aloof alpha queen bee or a maneater. A very distinctive and infectious personality.
They also wrote songs with a vocabulary higher than a middle-schooler's, use of figurative devices, wordplay, and so on. It made her sound more mature and singer-songwriter-y. When they turned her image into a Latina sex bomb, there was no need to make her sound poetic. Not to mention that in her native language, there's a broader and deeper range of emotional delivery than in English, which she picked up during her 20s.
Once in the US market, she has an exotic sex appeal, which plays her up as so much more carnal than the Puritanical natives. But earlier among her Latin American audience, she was not cast as an almost primitive carnal creature -- rather, a modern babe with a curvaceous ripe bod, a baby doll face, and a dark waterfall of hair.
To the limited extent that she performed an ethnic persona in that period, it was not Latin but Arabic / Middle Eastern / Lebanese, as shown in the song and video for "Ojos Asi". Near Eastern culture is exotic to Latin Americans, while any of the Latin cultures themselves would clearly not be. Still, it was really only that one song that tapped into her Levantine exotitude, and overall she had no specific ethnicity or exotic angle to her recorded music or stage presence.
Shakira thus underwent a Latina-fication of her persona (and somewhat a Leb-ification), not a corporatization. The battle over who "owns" her is not between indie fans and mainstream fans, but members of different ethnic groups -- is it Hispanics, or Lebanese / broader Middle Easterners? After that belly dance and zalghouta before a global audience, the Middle Easterners are staking their claim to her cultural territory.
This development is similar to the Afro-ization of Prince, which I covered when he died in 2016. Everyone was acting like he was a "black musician" who belonged to "black people" and whom only "black commentators" could discuss -- rather than a New Wave / rock god who belonged to Americans in general. That was such a shock to see at the time -- I don't recall that process in place in 2007 when he played the Super Bowl halftime show, where he went out of his way to make it non-racial rather than black-themed.
I first covered the ethnic nature of Shakira's crossover way back in 2007. I'm nothing if not consistent and loyal in my musical tastes. I first got turned on to her in 1999 by a Spanish class presentation, downloaded a bunch of her Latin American songs during college, and never got into her crossover stuff. (I do love "Hips Don't Lie" in a dance club setting, though, where it remained a staple well into the 2010s).
The main points and predictions of that post seem to hold up over a decade later. White people use ethnic-branded music as woke virtue signaling, and the quality of woke-branded culture is far lower than what would have been produced by those ethnic groups back in their own more homogeneous countries where they don't have to pander to the demand for exotitude. And this trend has not aided in cultural assimilation of immigrants, but has only led to their tribal boosterism where they stake a claim on some major cultural figure as their own, and every other group has to submit an application to them in order to enjoy it, discuss it, or do literally anything with it.
So, let's conclude with a look back at Shakira's music and persona when she was catering to her own people's market. Unfortunately all the YouTube videos I embedded in that ancient post have since disappeared. Here's the best I can reconstruct it. There are official music videos with better sound/visual quality, but I want to highlight her stage presence to emphasize that she was not a Latina sex bomb, but a hot alterna-rocker chick (of no particular ethnicity).
I included an English version of "Inevitable" because it was performed on the Rosie O'Donnell Show before a US audience in the late '90s, and it shows that her persona was still the same as it was in Latin America at that time. No pandering to "Latina sex bomb exotitude" just because the audience was American.
"Pies Descalzos, Suenos Blancos"
"Moscas en la Casa"