The Number Ones

June 17, 2006

The Number Ones: Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (Feat. Wyclef Jean)

Stayed at #1:

2 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

Shakira’s voice slices right through you. She never radiates the kind of calm and control that we tend to expect from global pop stars. She doesn’t reassure. Even when she’s singing ballads, Shakira sounds like she’s living on a knife’s edge. When she was a kid, Shakira was rejected from her school choir; she later claimed that her teacher had said that she sang “like a goat.” In a way, that teacher was right. Shakira sings in a kind of urgent, unhinged animalistic gargle-yip. But the teacher was wrong that this was a problem. Instead, Shakira’s utterly bonkers intonation and her almost cartoonish sexiness combine to make her a singular pop-music figure, a one of one.

For a while now, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to come up with another singer who sounds anything like Shakira. The best I can do is Alanis Morissette, another former child star who crashed her way onto the American pop scene in a big way. This is not an original insight. Shakira has faced this comparison many times. She and Alanis share a strangulated intensity, a wild abandon that can turn a relatively conventional song into something otherworldly. Indeed, Shakira started out making fiery, personal alt-rock, and plenty within the press referred to her as a Latin answer to Alanis. When Shakira started making music in English, things changed, but her voice did not.

Despite her huge cultural footprint, Shakira has only topped the Billboard Hot 100 once, and she did it with a song that couldn’t really sound less like Alanis. Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” is flirty party music that translates a few different Latin genres into something that Americans could grasp. “Hips Don’t Lie” is also a rewritten version of a song that Wyclef Jean recorded for the forgotten soundtrack of a forgotten movie. At that point, Wyclef was years past his peak, and the song had already failed to make a dent in the cultural consciousness. But that song, when reworked and combined with Shakira’s howl, became a summertime radio juggernaut.

Globally, Shakira was a huge deal long before “Hips Don’t Lie.” She was a huge deal long before she even learned to write lyrics in English. Shakira remains a huge deal today, and she’s spent most of her career singing in her native language. In the Spanish-speaking world, Shakira is famous as a sharp, sophisticated songwriter with a gift for arch wordplay. That lyrical deftness doesn’t generally come through in Shakira’s English-language music, though she still invents combinations of words that would occur to nobody else. Still, Shakira is most at home when singing and writing in Spanish. Just a couple of weeks ago, Shakira crashed her way into the Hot 100’s top 10 for the first time in a decade and a half, and she did it with a freestyled Spanish-language diss track about her ex. “Hips Don’t Lie” is in English, but it works as a statement about pan-Caribbean unity through partying. It’s also a statement about Shakira’s hips. How could it not be huge?

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, the daughter of a Colombian mother and a Lebanese father, comes from the Colombian city of Barranquilla. (When Shakira was born, Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” was the #1 song in America. I can’t find any info on what was at #1 in Colombia that day.) Shakira’s father owned a jewelry store, and he often took her out to Lebanese restaurants, where she caught the performing bug and started belly dancing at the age of four. Around the same time, Shakira also started writing poetry. A local theater director thought Shakira had talent, and she helped her out, setting up an audition with an exec from Sony Columbia. Shakira auditioned for that exec in a hotel lobby, and she later signed with the label. Shakira’s debut album Magia came out in 1991, when she was 14 years old.

Shakira’s first two albums were conventional, melodramatic, ballad-heavy pop music. They sold very little, and Shakira has essentially disowned them; you can’t find either of them on streaming services. But things turned around for Shakira when she wrote and recorded a spirited rock song called “¿Dónde Estás Corazón?” for a 1994 compilation. The track took off in Colombia, and it opened up a new lane for her. On her third album, 1995’s Pies Descalzos, Shakira moved in an alt-rock singer-songwriter direction, and something clicked.

Three singles from Pies Descalzos went top-10 on the Billboard Latin chart, and the album eventually went platinum. Shakira toured North and South America, and Gloria Estefan’s husband Emilio signed on as Shakira’s manager. Emilio Estefan also served as executive producer on Shakira’s next album, 1998’s Dónde Están Los Ladrones?. That album also went platinum, and two of its singles made it to #1 on the Latin chart. At this point, Shakira was a full-on phenomenon. She won a Grammy, taped an MTV Unplugged special, and performed on the first-ever Latin Grammys. Her thumping, sitar-driven dance-pop jam “Ojos Asi” became a hit across Europe. Amidst the Latin pop explosion of 1999, it was practically inevitable that someone would get Shakira to record an English-language pop album.

Gloria Estefan, someone who’s been in this column a couple of times, convinced Shakira that she should try translating the songs on Dónde Están Los Ladrones? into English. Shakira worked on some translations, but she was getting more and more comfortable writing in English — something that she achieved partly by studying Walt Whitman poems and Leonard Cohen songs. So Shakira decided to make a whole new album in English, and that became her big 2001 crossover move Laundry Service.

The music on Laundry Service, like Shakira’s Spanish-language music, didn’t fit into any particular genre. Shakira could work traditional instruments, like Andean pan flutes, into grand, triumphant pop songs that whooped and sparkled. Shakira’s lyrics sometimes came off weird and ungainly, but they were also endearing: “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don’t confuse them with mountains.” MTV couldn’t resist the newly blonde Shakira, and her first English language single “Whenever, Wherever” topped charts around the world and peaked at #6 in the US. (It’s an 8.)

Shakira’s “Underneath Your Clothes” video opens with an American journalist asking Shakira what it’s like to cross over and sing in English. She responds in Spanish, and he doesn’t understand a word of it. The message was simple enough: Shakira might be singing in a different language, but ain’t a damn thing changed. The existence of a song like “Underneath Your Clothes,” which is way more Sheryl Crow than Ricky Martin, only reinforces that point. (“Underneath Your Clothes” peaked at #9. It’s a 6.) Laundry Service went quadruple platinum, but Shakira wasn’t interested in moving over to English full-time. Instead, she wrote 60 more songs and whittled them down to her next two LPs, the Spanish-language Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 and the English Oral Fixation, Vol. 2.

2005’s Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 came first, and it adjusted Shakira’s style to a changing landscape. Reggaeton, the Spanish-language dancehall offshoot, began with the Panamanian MC El General in the late ’80s, but it truly took hold in Puerto Rico. By the early ’00s, reggaeton was huge across Latin America, and it was making inroads in the US. The Puerto Rican superstar Daddy Yankee, an artist who will eventually appear in this column, crossed over into the upper reaches of the Hot 100 with a pair of reggaeton anthems, 2004’s “Gasolina” and 2005’s “Rompe.” For her Spanish-language single “La Tortura,” Shakira teamed up with the Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz and used a more pop-friendly version of the reggaeton dembow beat. “La Tortura” made it to #23 in America at a time when Spanish-language singles rarely did that well, and Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 went platinum.

Shakira’s English-language follow-up Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 didn’t do so well at first. Shakira worked with Avril Lavigne’s songwriting team the Matrix on lead single “Don’t Bother,” a fairly generic piece of synthy pop-rock that bricked pretty hard, only making it to #42. The album mostly fit into that kind of nebulous rock-adjacent sound. “Hips Don’t Lie” wasn’t on the album until a reissued version came out a few months later.

Shakira’s people had approached Wyclef Jean, the former Fugees member who co-wrote and co-produced Santana’s 2000 chart-topper “Maria Maria,” about remixing “La Tortura.” Wyclef had a better idea. He had a song that had gone nowhere, and he thought it could be a hit for Shakira. In 2004, Wyclef briefly reunited with the other two Fugees, and they released one single that went nowhere. Years later, Wyclef’s fellow Fugee Pras Michel told Us Weekly that “Hips Don’t Lie” was originally supposed to be a Fugees record but that former Number Ones artist Lauryn Hill “didn’t like it.” Pras says that the Fugees reunion fell apart that day. (The Fugees’ highest-charting single as a group, 1996’s “Fu-Gee-La,” peaked at #29. As a solo artist, Wyclef got to #7 with 1997’s “Gone Till November.” That one is a 10.)

So Wyclef’s song never became a Fugees track. Instead, Wyclef recorded “Dance Like This” with Claudette Ortiz, a former member of the New Jersey trio City High. (City High’s one big hit, 2002’s “What Would You Do?,” peaked at #8. It’s an 8.) “Dance Like This” appeared on the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, an absolute flop of a reboot attempt that came out in 2004 and promptly disappeared. In the vaguest possible sense, you could say that “Hips Don’t Lie” is the second #1 hit from a Dirty Dancing movie, following “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” In its original form, however, “Dance Like This” went nowhere. So Wyclef pitched the song to Shakira, and Shakira rewrote it.

“Dance Like This” is basically just the rough-draft version of “Hips Don’t Lie.” Both songs have the same structure. The awkward Wyclef raps are the same. The samples are the same, too. Wyclef took the regal horn-burst from “Amores Como El Nuestro,” a 1992 song from the Puerto Rican salsa singer Jerry Rivera. Thanks to that sample, Omar Alfanno, the Panamanian songwriter behind “Amores Como El Nuestro,” got songwriting credit for “Hips Don’t Lie” along with Wyclef, Shakira, Wyclef’s regular collaborator Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis, and Wyclef collaborator LaTavia Parker.

You didn’t have to know the Jerry Rivera song to recognize that looped-up horn-blast; producer KNS had used it as the intro for Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’ 1997 Bronx rap anthem “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby).” Wyclef didn’t have anything to do with producing “Deja Vu,” but he’s in the song’s video, introducing it as “the national anthem of the world.” (“Deja Vu” peaked at #9. It’s an 8.)

Shakira definitely brings a lot to “Hips Don’t Lie.” For one thing, there’s the title. Shakira has said that “Hips Don’t Lie” gets its name from an expression that she’d use in the studio. If Shakira was working on a dance song in the studio, she’d tell her collaborators when the track wasn’t up to snuff: “Hey, do you see my hips moving? No? This is not working. My hips don’t lie.” “Hips Don’t Lie” also has a more pronounced reggaeton beat than “Dance Like This”; the drums hit a lot harder. And “Hips Don’t Lie” has Shakira’s feral-cat voice, which turns a fairly generic quasi-Latin pastiche into something that utterly refuses to be ignored.

On “Hips Don’t Lie,” Shakira almost sounds like she’s possessed. Wyclef opens “Hips Don’t Lie” by repeating Shakira’s name a bunch of times — “Shakira, Shakira” is its own kind of hook — before offering some clumsy first-grade Spanish. The song is supposed to be a flirtation, a conversation between two people who see each other dancing and who found themselves almost mystically drawn together. Wyclef and Shakira don’t exactly have on-record chemistry, but Shakira just rips into the track; in her voice, the phrase “I’m on tonight” becomes “Aaaawwwmmm aawuun to-naaaaght.” Some of Shakira’s lyrics are beautifully deranged, too: “Oh boy, I can see your body moving — half animal, half man/ I don’t, don’t really know what I’m doing, but you seem to have a plan.” Suddenly, I’m slightly concerned that nobody has ever referred to me as “half animal, half man.”

There’s a cool sense of solidarity at work on “Hips Don’t Lie” — a Haitian-born rapper sampling a Puerto Rican salsa song, welding it to a reggaeton beat, and teaming up with a Colombian singer. Wyclef at least alludes to American oppression: “Why the CIA wanna watch us?/ It’s the Colombians and Haitians/ I ain’t guilty, it’s a musical transaction.” And there’s a fun party spirit — the massed voices, the constant pleas for “no fighting.” (That’s a nice trick, since it conjures up the kind of charged atmosphere where there might be fighting.)

The success of “Hips Don’t Lie” definitely owed a lot to its video, where director Diane Martel did her best to summon the feeling of a Colombian Carnival on a Los Angeles set. The video has a fun atmosphere, and it’s also got Wyclef doing a synchronized backflip with some backup dancers, which is cool. But more importantly, it has Shakira just looking outrageously hot. Real-life human beings simply don’t look like that. Shakira goes hard on belly-dancing moves throughout the video, but she also acts like a total goofball weirdo — doing a claw-hand robot for a couple of seconds, pointing at her ass while singing about the signs of her body. There’s something so appealing about Shakira looking like a superhuman vision while occasionally acting like a drunk aunt at a wedding. I like it.

“Hips Don’t Lie” is a fun song that’s nowhere near pop-classic status. It’s a lot lighter and fluffier than the best songs from both Shakira and Wyclef. It doesn’t have the hard momentum of actual reggaeton, and it doesn’t have as much personality as plenty of other Shakira songs. “Hips Don’t Lie” also became a victim of overplay; radio went hard on that song. But “Hips Don’t Lie” has kept some strange appeal; my daughter, three years away from being born when “Hips Don’t Lie” topped the charts, plays that song constantly.

“Hips Don’t Lie” basically marked the end of Wyclef Jean’s hitmaking run. A year later, Wyclef got to #12 with his own single, the Wu-Tang-quoting Akon/Niia/Lil Wayne collab “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill).” He hasn’t been back on the Hot 100 since. Even when Wyclef got Shakira to guest on his 2007 track “King And Queen,” the song didn’t go anywhere. Wyclef had started the Haitian-relief charity Yéle in 2000, and it raised a ton of money after the 2010 earthquake devastated his homeland, but the charity was then hit with all sorts of corruption and mismanagement allegations. Wyclef also attempted to run for president of Haiti in 2010, but the country’s government said he hadn’t spent enough time in the country. Wyclef’s last big initiative was a 2021 Fugees reunion tour, which fell apart after one show.

Shakira had one huge hit soon after “Hips Don’t Lie.” In 2007, Shakira and Beyoncé made it to #3 with their duet “Beautiful Liar.” (It’s a 7.) The video, where the two singers basically hump a wall, made a big impression on me. In 2009, Shakira followed Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 with the English-language album She Wolf, and she got to #11 with the truly loony title track. The next year, Shakira sang the World Cup anthem “Waka Waka (This Time For Africa),” which was a huge hit around the world but which only made it to #32 in the US.

On the set of the “Waka Waka” video, Shakira met Gerard Piqué, a Spanish soccer star 10 years younger than her. The two were together for the next decade, and they had a couple of kids. Shakira spent most of the next decade recording in Spanish. During that stretch, Shakira remained visible in the US. She spent a season as a coach on The Voice. She recorded “Try Everything,” the theme song for the Disney movie Zootopia, which got a whole lot of burn in my house. (Good song. Peaked at #63.) Shakira got to #15 with the 2014 Rihanna duet “Can’t Remember To Forget You,” and she and Jennifer Lopez played a very fun Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2020. But the Shakira songs that put up the biggest numbers around the planet were Spanish-language tracks like the 2016 Maluma collab “Chantaje,” which only made it to #51 in the US.

The past few years of Shakira new stories have been pretty chaotic. In 2021, for instance, Shakira said that she’d been attacked by wild boars in Barcelona and that nobody helped her when the boars tried to steal her purse. Last year, Shakira and Gerard Piqué broke up, and the Spanish government went after her, seeking an eight-year prison sentence for tax fraud. Shakira denies the charges; the disagreement is whether Shakira actually lived in Spain while not paying taxes between 2012 and 2014. These aren’t the kinds of stories that we usually hear about stable, active pop stars. Right now, though, Shakira is currently using all those narratives — all of them except the one about the boars, anyway — to fuel a massive comeback hit.

A few weeks ago, Shakira and the Argentine producer Bizarrap posted a video called “BZRP Music Sessions #53.” Over Bizarrap’s thumping EDM beat, Shakira goes off on her ex Gerard Piqué in Spanish: “I’m too good for you, and that’s why you’re with someone just like you… You traded a Ferrari for a Twingo/ You traded a Rolex for a Casio.” The video went mega-viral, and the song debuted at #9 on on the Hot 100, giving the 45-year-old Shakira her first top-10 hit in 15 years. (It’s an 8.) I’m glad Shakira is back in the zeitgeist. Things are more fun when she’s around.

GRADE: 6/10

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BONUS BEATS: Here’s the obnoxiously ironic “Hips Don’t Lie” cover that the Fray recorded for a BBC radio session in 2007:

(The Fray’s highest-charting single, 2006’s “How To Save A Life,” peaked at #3. It’s a 4.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the experimental dance version of “Hips Don’t Lie” that Arca released in 2014:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Smoke DZA, Vado, and Nyemiah Supreme rapping over a “Hips Don’t Lie” sample on DZA’s 2019 track “Rosetta Stone”:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s French Montana rapping over a “Hips Don’t Lie” sample in the video for his 2021 track “FWMGAB”:

(French Montana’s highest-charting single, the 2017 Swae Lee collab “Unforgettable,” peaked at #3. It’s a 5.)

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. All the attraction, the tension. Don’t you see, baby? This book is perfection. Buy it here.

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