Why Shakira deserves to win MTV's Video Vanguard Award 2023

The Colombian singer has been one of pop music's most innovative artists for decades

Shakira will receive the Video Vanguard Award at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards. AP
Powered by automated translation

Shakira will be the star of the hour at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, where she will become the first South American music artist to receive the prestigious Video Vanguard Award.

Bestowed upon artists and music video directors for a career deemed as making “a profound impact” on music and popular culture, the Colombian singer joins the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, George Michael and Jennifer Lopez in receiving the honour.

The move also cements Shakira’s underappreciated standing as one of most innovative pop stars of her time.

Here's how she reached the top of her game.

1. She is a fusion queen

Before Shakira’s emergence, multiculturalism in popular music was often confined to the odd crossover success of a world music album – examples include Paul Simon’s South African music exploration in Graceland (1986) and Carlos Santana’s Latin and western rock hybrid of 2004’s Supernatural.

From the onset of her career, Shakira fused various styles, genres and languages into her work.

This not only resulted in exuberant hits embraced from South America to South Africa, but allowed her to develop her own lane within a pop scene which, at the time, was dominated by strong female talent, including Beyonce, Britney Spears and Madonna.

An early example of Shakira's approach is Ojos Asi, a track where her Lebanese heritage is at the forefront.

Translated from Spanish to Eyes Like Yours, the 1998 single begins with a distinctive Middle Eastern melody and instrumentation, such as the oud and the percussion instrument darbuka, before segueing into rhythmic Latin pop-track.

That nod to the Middle East is not tokenistic, as Shakira seamlessly sings in Arabic and Spanish throughout the piece, showcasing the historic relationship between both cultures.

In songs such as Hips Don't Lie and La Tortura, Shakira digs deep into other aspects of her background, by weaving in the sounds of Colombia's native dance genre cumbia with its steady tempo and percussive basslines.

For the 2010 Fifa World Cup anthem Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), South African instruments such as booming horns of the vuvuzela and a sample of Cameroonian song Zamina mina (Zangalewa) are expertly woven with Latin-inspired percussion for a global hit.

It may sound effortless, but it underscores Shakira's deft understanding of how music is a universal language.

2. She is a keen collaborator

While the blockbuster success of Luis Fonsi’s 2017 hit Despacito helped open doors for a new generation of crossover Latin American artists, such as Maluma and Karol G, it was Shakira who laid down much of the groundwork.

Pioneering Latin American pop stars Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin may have been on the scene before Shakira arrived, but their careers pale in comparison to the sustained success of the latter.

What drives that triumph is how Shakira’s biggest singles tap into her distinctive talents.

A song such as 2001's Whenever, Wherever is the complete package.

Once again, there is that wonderful fusion of Western and Middle Eastern popular music – the latter represented through ethereal oud riffs, the vocal trilling and belly dance.

Shakira's hits also underlines her ear for a savvy collaboration.

Her career is full of interesting and versatile partnerships, from big names such as Beyonce (Beautiful Liar) and Rihanna (Can't Remember to Forget You) to Argentine rock singer Gustavo Cerati (No) and Mexican accordionist Ramon Ayala on Tu Seras Mi Baby.

3. She has some brilliant music videos

The Colombian singer's songs are often accompanied by engrossing videos, making her a worthy winner of the Video Vanguard Award.

Some are joyful displays of her dancing prowess – Hips Don't Lie and Whenever, Wherever – while others tackle important issues such as domestic violence (La Tortura) and environmental conservation (Empire).

4. Her records speak for themselves

The Video Vanguard Award is the MTV Awards' version of a lifetime achievement gong – which Shakira has earned with her lengthy list of accomplishments over the years.

These include being one of the bestselling female Latin artists with about 100 million albums sold, as well reportedly having the bestselling album by a Latin female artist with 2001's Laundry Service.

Other feats include breaking the YouTube record this year for the most viewed Latin song in 24 hours.

The song in question is the savage break-up track BZRP Music Sessions #53 with Argentinian producer and DJ Bizarrap that amassed more than 63 million streams within a day.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 7:20 AM