Shakira isn’t known for her love of Roman literature, but today, sitting in a Manhattan restaurant, the hip-shaking international superstar is keen to discuss the Latin poet Ovid. This turns out to be more stimulating than it might sound. ”I recently read his The Art of Love,” says the 32-year-old singer, whose 2006 single ”Hips Don’t Lie” remains one of the most played songs in pop-radio history. ”He said women are really women after 35. That’s when they are really worth it sexually. I’m not 35 yet, but I’m warming up the engines!”
Sure enough, Shakira seems close to overheating in the steamy video for her recent hit ”She Wolf” as she writhes inside a golden cage, among other gymnastic maneuvers. That song’s slinky vibe sets the tone for her electro-infused new album, which is also called She Wolf and finally comes out Nov. 23 after a long wait. What took so long? A late-breaking collaboration with Timbaland and Lil Wayne, ”Give It Up to Me,” caused a holdup. And the singer’s perfectionism was a factor; Shakira says she spent a full month just mixing the title track. ”Sometimes I have 30 versions of the same song. I have commitment issues! You have to be compulsive, I guess. That’s why I take so long between albums. I’m like Halley’s comet,” she jokes. ”Every four years I try to make an appearance.” On the occasion of this zoom-by, Shakira fills us in on her love for Matt Damon, what it was like on stage when Kanye West bum-rushed Taylor Swift, and why the Spice Girls just might hold the key to happiness.
EW: The ”She Wolf” video is nuts. How did it come about?
The sequence in the cage was an improvisation. They hit play, and I was possessed by the spirit of the She Wolf, I guess. That was my happy place, that cage.
EW: Your fiancé [Antonio de la Rúa, the son of a former Argentinean president] was on set?
When he saw me with my flesh-toned leotard bodysuit, he was like, ”Are you going to wear a scarf at least?” He did not expect that one at all.
EW: Did you get to keep the cage?
Yeah, we own it. I don’t have it at home. [Laughs] No, no, no! It’s in some warehouse. I have a feeling I may use it some other time. But not in that context…
EW: I didn’t say anything!
I read minds.
EW: The opening shots of the video had a Twilight feel.
I had seen it when we did the video, but not when I made the song. I played it for [Epic president] Amanda Ghost, and she was like, ”Have you watched Twilight?” I went, ”What is that?” She explained to me the whole concept and how cute the main guy was. So I was of course very intrigued to see this mythical, magical character.
EW: And did he live up to your expectations?
Yeah, he did, I have to confess. I like British men.
EW: You’re just saying that because I’m British.
Yeah. [Laughs] Well, I like men in general. Too bad I’m [getting] married.
EW: You certainly seem to like Matt Damon. On the album you sing, ”Is there a prince in this fable/For a small-town girl like me?/The good ones are gone or not able/And Matt Damon’s not meant for me.” What’s up with that?
I know Matt and his wife. We have friends in common. I hope she’s not mad at this. [Laughs] He’s one of those good men. He’s really something: a terrific actor, really handsome, and also very intelligent and socially aware. Since I was referring to L.A., I thought Matt is the exception to many of the men who are around, who are very preoccupied with themselves.
EW: Did you warn him about the song?
No, no, no. Maybe I should send an apologetic note to the wife and say, ”Hey, I’m taken too, don’t worry.”
EW: Speaking of apologies, you presented the award to Taylor Swift at the VMAs just before Kanye stormed the stage. What was going through your head while you stood there?
At first I was kind of spaced out. I wasn’t really paying attention. I noticed he’d jumped on stage and I thought he was saying something actually nice, so I kept smiling. Then I noticed that the faces in the crowd started changing. They started to cringe. I realized what he was saying, and it was terribly uncomfortable. We all left the stage, and everyone was so pissed backstage. There was no chance to speak to Taylor. But everyone was very much in solidarity with her.
EW: You met President Obama when you played at his inauguration. What was that like?
I’ve met many politicians in my life, and they always seem a little distracted. But with Obama, it was completely different. He gives every person his focused, undivided attention. We talked about Latin America, education. He also mentioned to me, ”I read somewhere that you were going to UCLA to study.” Can you believe that? Where does he have space in his hard disk [for] this little piece of information about me? I felt like the most important person in the world.
You did, in fact, take a history class at UCLA two years ago.
It was fun. I never had the opportunity to go to university during my younger years. I wanted to experience the student’s life. So I took a course at UCLA, and I attended classes with a cap and baggy pants and a huge backpack with all my books. I pretty much looked like a boy.
EW: I find that hard to believe. No one knew who you were?
No. I had this classmate I made friends with who was like, ”You look like Shakira.” I was like, ”No, my name is Isabel.” [Ed. note: The singer’s full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll.]
EW: You seem like someone who does exactly what she wants.
I feel that sometimes we think we’re doing what we want, but we’re just pleasing other people. Sometimes we’re not as in touch as we should be with what we really, really want. ”What we really, really want.” [Laughs] The Spice Girls were right!
It’s interesting to talk to someone who quotes both Ovid and the Spice Girls.
But there’s something really profound about that phrase: ”Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” And so I am asking myself that question lately. I’m trying to ask Shakira what she really desires.