Berlitz might not agree, but it seems that the Spanish word for prodigy is Shakira. She signed her first record deal at 13, and within a decade had sold nearly 10 million albums worldwide and had even earned the gushing praise of Nobel-Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (”One Hundred Years of Solitude”), who wrote: ”No one can sing or dance like [Shakira]… with such an innocent sensuality, one that seems to be of her own invention.”
But it wasn’t until her breakout performance at last fall’s Latin Grammy Awards that the 24-year-old Colombian superstar made a big impression in the U.S. That’s all changing quickly. Last month Shakira released her first English-language album, ”Laundry Service,” which surprised many observers by selling more than 200,000 copies in its first week, finishing just behind Britney Spears’ ”Britney,” and soon going platinum. Because fans will have to wait until the fall of 2002 to see Shakira’s world tour, EW.com caught up with the ”TRL” fave to discuss her hit record, her new look as a blond, and her paparazzi-packed engagement to Antonio de la Rua, the son of Argentina’s president.
Your album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard chart. Were you surprised it finished that high?
Very surprised! I had to look at the chart three times to convince myself that it was true! [laughs] I’m an optimistic person, so I thought I would do well — but not THAT well.
Does it bother you to be compared to Britney, Madonna, or Alanis Morissette?
When a new artist appears, there’s a tendency of trying to associate that artist with something familiar. People are a little confused because they find similarities in my style to Alanis Morissette, but they think I’m under Britney’s wig! [laughs] Eventually I’m going to earn my own place, so for now I can accept it as part of a natural process.
You joke about being under Britney’s wig — is that because you went from brunette to blond?
I decided to become a blonde because I wanted a change. I’m human, after all. When I saw myself in the mirror I wanted to see something different. Many people think I became blond because I wanted to be more appealing for American audiences, but it’s not true! [Laughs] It would be a much better [marketing] strategy at this moment to be brunette — because everybody is blonde now.
But why not a redhead? There’s a big opening now that Tiffany has faded from the music scene.
I love red hair! I loved being a redhead [when I was younger], but it was not practical. I lived near the ocean, and every time I would go to the beach it would fade so quickly. I swear the water I was swimming in would become pink. It was embarrassing.
”Laundry Service” is filled with hopeful love songs, while some of your past albums were angrier. Any reason?
For a long time my songs were written from another place — in Spanish we have a word which means the opposite of love but is not exactly hate. How do you say this in English? dislove? Let’s make up a new word: dislove. So I used to write from the place of dislove, and now I write from the place of love. I have a better understanding of what love means and how important it is. You know how when something good happens to you you have this impulse of going out and sharing it with the world and wishing everyone could experience the same?
And that’s why you named your album ”Laundry Service”? Explain, please.
I went through a stage when I felt cleansed, renewed — thanks to love and music, which are like soap and water… So I highly recommend laundry service — not specifically my record, of course — but the idea of love and music improving your life. I know it sounds cheesy, but love is cheesy sometimes! [laughs]