Does Crossing Over Mean Selling Out?

Yesterday, I wrote on my blog about my disappointment in Shakira’s new style. I don’t want to put Shakira into a category of “sell-outs” because I think she does a lot of great philanthropic work with her money and fame. But taking a look at her new stuff, I scratch my head and think what the hell is going on here?!

For those who aren’t aware, Shakira has been making music for quite a while now. As a Spanish artist, she was sort of straddling the worlds of rock and pop, but she didn’t overdo the pop thing in her style. The focus was on her music. And, damn, did she make the most of that. What I love the most about Shakira’s Spanish work is that she pushed people’s buttons and made them think about the uncomfortable things. For example, one of my favorite songs is about a teenage couple who have premarital sex and end up pregnant.

When she crossed over, there was a shift in her material. Songs were a bit simpler, not as controversial, etc. I totally get that artists who cross over need to be careful about their marketability. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed and they don’t want to fail. They need to stay true to their fans to a certain extent, but need to appeal to regular Joe Schmoe and Jill Schmill. There are compromises to be made, themes to hold back on, a certain settling of your artistic style and whatnot. Certainly, you can’t simply translate your song about teenage pregnancy and expect it to be a hit.

I also understand art and music and get that people evolve. People get in touch with their sexuality and want to talk about that. People get into relationships or break up with old partners and want to tap into those feelings of excitement, hurt, freedom, release, whatever. I’m not one to usually think of an artist as “selling out” — I try to look at it as evolving. Yeah, possibly motivated by money. But we all have to eat.

But, ARG, this new Shakira just does not fly with me. The Laundry Service album was not as good as her Spanish-language albums, IMO. But whatever, it was what it was — some of it was catchy, some of it was still good. I think she tried to be involved in the song-writing as much as she could so the lyrics were not as deep as usual, but it’s cool.

Since then, it’s been downhill. With the exception of a catchy tune here and there, I have no idea what to make of her new stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I shake my ass like nobody’s business when Hips Don’t Lie comes on… I mean, seriously, if you don’t feel the urge to move when that song comes on, you need to check your pulse.

I guess I’m just trying to get a sense of what other people think. So far the comments on my blog post, my gchat, twitter, etc. seem to be people agreeing that they don’t like or don’t get her new image and style. This weird Shakira-meets-Beyonce style is just boggling my mind.

More than just her image… I don’t like the new music itself. I used to listen to a Shakira song and start bawling mid-way through from the raw emotion. (Inevitable is still my favorite song to sing along to.) I can’t think of one song since the Dónde Están los Ladrones album that has made me react similarly. I would describe her Spanish music as undoubtedly feminist; does anybody describe her English music that way?

But somebody out there must be buying her stuff… Is it you?!

What do you all make of this?

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32 comments for “Does Crossing Over Mean Selling Out?

  1. RMJ
    August 6, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I remember a friend telling me that she was more like Alanis Morrisette in Colombia. Is that correct?

  2. August 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Yes, RMJ, that’s a good comparison actually. She was self-reflective and wrote/sang a lot about love and relationships, but also commented on society. Some of her other songs are about beauty ideals, questioning religion, becoming independent, problems with Latino culture, etc.

  3. August 6, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    No, Shakira is not a sellout. Anyone who uses the word sellout to describe Shakira or any of her comtemporaries has no idea of what that word means.

    Sell-out is a term used solely for progressive rock musicians who releases an album full of pop material. Like what Genesis did in 1978 when they released …And Then There Were Three. Before …And Then There Were Three, there was at least one song on every album from Trespass to Wind and Wuthering had at least one song that was true to their musical style.

  4. August 6, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Like you, Sally, I’m a long-time Shakira lover who discovered her Spanish-language albums and was a little disappointed in her cross-over (but also loved Hips Don’t Lie). But… gah, wtf was up with that video and song? Shakira is a ridiculous dancer, but that was like deranged Ice Capades meets Caveman Yoga. Sexy videos don’t really bother me — I am also a huge Beyonce fan, ridiculousness and all — but this was just confusing.

  5. Geri
    August 6, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Videos like this do bother me. I’m a long time Shakira fan, and I don’t understand why she needs to do videos like this. She is an awesome artist, a great dancer and very sexy woman no matter what she wears – but this video just doesn’t seem like her, it’s too overt, it’s trying too hard. I’d love to know the rationale behind this video. (I can’t comment on the song as I had to watch without volume!)

  6. musician222
    August 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Your right when you say Shakira was more of a rock artist back in the day, i am latin and the music we listen in our countries is not as electro-pop as music in the states, but what have always caracterized Shakira is that she always stays updated in music, even tries to set new standards and i think that’s what she is trying to do, i think she went for a fun, new dancable record and still trying to make it different, weird and it’s actually a pretty catchy song that definatley catches your attention, She is not a sell out at all, i mean only Shakira can howl in a song and make it work.

  7. August 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    It’s Shakira’s career, no? And, as a woman, she is allowed choice, no?

  8. August 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    …who was trying to take away Shakira’s career choices?

  9. greg
    August 6, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    really, no one is taking her choice away, but when fans see a noticeable shift in her music to something more commercial and mainstream, we are not allowed to critique her choice?

  10. August 6, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Shakira is a ridiculous dancer, but that was like deranged Ice Capades meets Caveman Yoga.
    LMFAO! Good description, Jill!

    musician, I definitely agree with you that only Shakira can howl like that and make it work. The howling is actually the only thing about the song I actually like.

    Like I said in my post, I don’t usually like to use the term sell-out because it doesn’t always accurately describe the scenario. I also don’t want to put Shakira in that box because there’s no indication that she is some money-lover trying to cash in on her success. That’s why I mention her philanthropy work (which I’ll hyperlink now – forgot to do that when I wrote the post).

    In this case, I do think that there has always been an experimental side to Shakira and her work. And I think that her knack for pushing buttons is part of what’s driving her to do this. I mean, sure, she’s not singing about abortion or anything, but she’s certainly making us question sexuality and the representation of women and whatnot.

    I guess I just wish she would jump out and yell SURPRISE or something and that she’s really making a statement on how sucky pop music is right now lol.

    And, damn, I wish I could like the song too. It is just so annoying to me!

  11. August 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Oh, Marcy Webb — what Jill and greg said. Shakira has the right to do whatever she wants — as a woman, as an artist (art is all subjective, after all), as a human being. If this is the direction she wants to go in b/c that is what her gut and artistic expression is telling her, cool. If this is the direction she wants to go in b/c she is actually some money-obsessed person, also cool. She can do whatever she wants. But we also have the right to observe and comment on it.

  12. August 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    @ Jill, @greg, @Frau Sally Benz:

    By all means: critique away. :) My comment was in no way designed to impinge on your rights to critique in a free and open marketplace of ideas.

  13. nahui
    August 6, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I remember listening to Pies descalzos and ¿Dónde están los ladrones? when I was in middle school in the late nineties (not coincidentally this was MTV Latino América’s most hip, interesting and artistically concerned period). I found her music revealing and impassioning, a Spanish language version of the english language music I was getting into at the time, mostly Alanis and Lilith Fair fare.
    And like Alanis and Lilith Fair, looking back it wasn’t that feminist. I’d call it so only inasmuch as it describes female experience (which it does, and well). But other than that I remember mostly vague unspecified attacks against hypocrisy in society. And that unintended pregnancy song, for example, is at least implicitly critical of abortion (“this rotten city where one kills what one doesn’t want”). Aterciopelados does it better.

    Spanish also has a long history of politically charged pop that makes it very very hard to be a rockist, so it isn’t the shift towards less guitars that bothers me. The new lyrics are shallower, but not that unforgiveably so.
    It’s not even that she’s now making massive amounts of money by selling sex appeal and a hot body, a choice I think may not only be valid, but genius, if you make it consciously and remain in control of yourself (think Madonna). What bothers me is something else. She presented herself to girls all over Latin America as an alternative to the Madonna avenue to success, and she said that she would never use it. Except now she does.

  14. August 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    I discovered Shakira before she was popular in the states (same with Ricky Martin) and I enjoy her Spanish-language music a LOT more than her English stuff (same with Ricky Martin, heh). It seems to suit her voice more. Anyway, I can’t watch that video, but it could be an attempt to stay relevant in mainstream music. Or maybe she just wants to mix things up. Who knows? I haven’t heard a popular song by Shakira in a while (besides Hips Don’t Lie), so it could very well be the former.

  15. Tom Foolery
    August 6, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t have a strong opinion on Shakira’s transition from Spanish-language to English. Just to play Devil’s Advocate, here, though: Is it possible that the perception of a downward trend in the quality of her work among English-speaking fans is the result of exoticism? I’ve never heard an English speaker espouse the opinion that a foreign artist’s work in English is better than their work in their native language.

  16. Kai
    August 6, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    The video’s definitely a little over the top to the point of distracting from the music but some of those lo-fi 70s and 80s dance textures are pretty funky and will be sure to bounce many club crowds for the rest of summer.

  17. shah8
    August 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I don’t know…I never had found much appeal to Shakira. However, I think going more pop is just fine. The multilingual singers that I know and love, say Susheela Raman and Rokia Traore both have done outstanding versions of pop stuff. Susheela Raman has endured quite a bit of controversy that’s pretty similar to Shakira.

    It’s all good, I say. If the musician is good, well, the new stuff might be sellout to you, but not to me, maybe.

  18. mama mia
    August 6, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Here is an interesting quote from Liz Phair about when she was accused of selling out (an interesting perspective from an artist):

    “It has taken me five years to even understand what the hell was up their asses about it. The way I look at music is that if there’s an artist I like who changes their style, I ignore it. But people really attacked me personally. I think part of it was misogynistic. Slowly, after speaking with many people, I also kind of figured out that my career was based on word-of mouth. I was raised up by the people. It was so much about each person picking up the record and giving it to a friend, putting their reps on the line and boding me “Indie Queen.” They felt a sort of ownership. I didn’t realize [changing my sound] would be hurtful to them.

    My other theory is that people nowadays rely way too much on their musical and movie tastes as a way to assert their identities. Seriously, you let music dictate your life to an extent that you get that upset because somebody made a pop record? I’m like, get a fucking identity. “

  19. August 6, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    nahui, I would agree with you that there are others out there who do it better, as with the Aterciopelados (although I don’t even know how fair it is to make that comparison — it’s slightly apples to oranges). But I still think I would consider Shakira’s early music feminist. I think that just as there is a wide spectrum of feminists, there is a wide spectrum of feminist music. But, it is still music, which is subjective as I mentioned earlier.

    Tom Foolery, this is an interesting point you make:
    I’ve never heard an English speaker espouse the opinion that a foreign artist’s work in English is better than their work in their native language.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of a great number of artists that have been able to successfully cross over from any language into English. There have been a lot who I can think were initially successful, but they don’t have as much staying power in English as they might have had in Spanish.

    I think one person I have in mind as being able to move smoothly between one language and another is Gloria Estefan.

  20. August 6, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    mama mia, thanks for that quote! I was thinking of using Liz Phair as an example when it came to confronting selling out, but I wanted to stay more in the crossing over angle to spare all of you a 1500-word essay about all of this.

    I think there is a certain level of misogyny in some of the criticism aimed at women artists who are thought to sell out. Liz Phair is a good example, Jewel also comes to mind, even Alanis when she stopped yelling and got a bit more lovey dovey in So Called Chaos. Funnily enough, I rather enjoy Liz Phair more after supposedly selling out, same with Alanis (not so much with Jewel though…).

    Does anybody else have other examples of artists selling out and/or crossing over?

  21. mama mia
    August 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm
  22. mlb
    August 7, 2009 at 1:52 am

    I think Shakira’s spanish album fijacion oral was her best album to date. It was so rich musically, so diverse, the lyrics had improved from her previous work and the range of her voice was definitely at its best!
    I know shakira’s music ever since her donde estan los ladrones, and I was in love with her rock/pop “world” music.
    However my tastes in music varied, I’m now still into rock music but I’m more and more inclined to listen to electronic bands. So if I was a song writer, I would have experienced the same shift in music style as Shakira is.
    No selling out here.
    Fans have long been disapointed by their favourite artist’s genre shift, one noticeble shift was radiohead’s, from the bends to Ok computer, and then to Kid A. Fans were scratching their heads when they couldn’t hear guitars in a song or hear proper lyrics from Thom Yorke.
    Still no selling out here.

  23. shah8
    August 7, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Lila Downs is the only one I can think of off-hand who makes both good english and spanish tracks for a long time.

  24. Sid
    August 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    As for other artists selling out/crossing over, Nelly Furtado also comes to mind.


    “Like you, Sally, I’m a long-time Shakira lover who discovered her Spanish-language albums and was a little disappointed in her cross-over”

    You’re fluent in Spanish?

  25. August 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Sadly, no, I am not. But back when I started listening to Shakira (we’re talking 10 years ago), I had pretty good Spanish conversational skills — my vocabularly wasn’t exhaustive, but otherwise I could hold my own. These days my Spanish is pretty pathetic. But “work on it” is on my to-do list…

  26. August 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Nelly Furtado is a good example Sid.

    And Jill I didn’t know that! Tienes que practicar.

  27. Oky
    August 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I like it she looks hot & she rocked the new video –
    but she is full of surprises. Every new album has something different
    and she keeps every one moving. Sure
    she changed i listen to her music when i was young
    like the song “Ojos Asi” & “Ciega soldomuda”-
    but shes qrown up now soo we qotta qo with it


  28. júlia
    August 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Hey all, wanted to add my two cents: (1) I agree that her music in Spanish is much better than her music in English (and I speak Spanish fluently). (2) To the author and others — for the purposes of clarification, she is not a “Spanish” artist; she is Colombian. Saying she’s a “Spanish artist” means she is from Spain.

  29. August 7, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    júlia, you caught me making the same mistake I hate when others make. I actually kept going back and forth to figure out if it was necessary to say Spanish-language artist as opposed to English-language music, but that seemed too wordy. Alas, I should have trusted my gut over mere convenience. Thanks for calling me out though!

  30. Elisabeth
    August 9, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Sell-out or not, what I find the most problematic about this video is the sexualization and dehumanization of a woman of color by portraying her as a sexual animal that needs to be kept in a cage? I realize the name of the song is “She Wolf” but couldn’t the video have been done in a way that doesn’t contribute to harmful stereotypes about women of color?
    In the “making of the video” clip, the director, Jake Nava, says that, “the story of the video is about Shakira getting in touch with her inner she wolf which I think is the predatory sexuality that lurks in every woman.” First of all, I have issues with the claim that every woman has a predatory sexuality lurking inside. Secondly, if you want to show how she’s “getting in touch with her inner she wolf” maybe she shouldn’t be in captivity.

  31. August 9, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Well, I don’t know about ‘selling out’. The other folks who commented on changes to musical styles alienating fanbase are more on target, IMO. I mean, you like a band or a singer because of their style, their sound; change that and you practically have a new band or singer.

    I’m listening to ¿Dónde están los ladrones? right now. (The song; not the whole album.) That rock sound (as well as the hot horns on a lot of the other songs) appeals to me waaay more than the disco inferno of the new song.

    Another issue brought up by commenters on one of the YouTube postings is a little more bothersome. Anyone noticed how Anglo she looks in the vid? If it’s her choice to try out a new look, okay, but it makes me suspicious when paired with the new sound. Just compare the cover of Ladrones to the cover of the new single.

    Well, whatever. Abi gezunt.

  32. William
    August 10, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I’ve always found accusations of “sell-out” to be obnoxious. Unless you personally know the person producing the music you simply cannot make that assertion. “Sell-out” is one of those terms that will always end up being applied to an artist at some point as they become more visible. Its usually applied by people who liked the music when it was lesser known and they could feel superior to people who hadn’t yet heard of it. Its a phrase that comes out of the commoditization of art and it implies that somehow the music you used to love (or the future work you expected to love) has somehow lost some of the value it once held for you in the process of being loved by others. Calling an artist a sell-out is asserting a kind of ownership over their work and an expectation for how they will behave and perform.

    The other folks who commented on changes to musical styles alienating fanbase are more on target, IMO. I mean, you like a band or a singer because of their style, their sound; change that and you practically have a new band or singer.

    An artist has no obligation to their fanbase. They aren’t required to smile for three shows a night and play their old standards until they die on a toilet from drug addiction and pure self loathing after a long stretch making a manager with a fake title rich and a constant stream of tourists looking for nostalgia happy. Artists exist to produce art, and the best of them do so for reasons that have virtually nothing to do with the people who will end up witnessing it. People change their sound because they want to, because the contexts of their lives demand that change, because they were bored, because they had a new idea, because they wanted to stretch. Calling that change a sell-out, or objecting to it because you liked the old sound, shows a startling sense of entitlement.

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