In a new Browbeat feature, Slate critics Jody Rosen and Jonah Weiner discuss a recent pop song that has caught their attention. This week, they take on the new single from Shakira.
Jody Rosen : Hi, Jonah. Coming to you live from a cafe in brownstone Brooklyn where, needless to say, some sad-sack indie balladeer is whimpering away on the hi-fi. Hardly optimal conditions for contemplating Shakira's gale-force pop, but I'll do my best.
I'll say right up front that I'm pretty bummed out by "Give It Up to Me," a collaboration with Timbaland, who wrote and produced, and Lil Wayne, who raps a bit. Look, the song is catchy. Nice beat—Timbaland in fine form. Wayne phones in his rhymes but is, as always, endearing.
What depresses me is how un-Shakira—almost anti-Shakira—the song is. I gather "Give It Up to Me" was cobbled together by Epic Records execs who were freaked out about the prospects of Shakira's forthcoming album after the lead single, " She Wolf ," tanked. I've heard the album (also called She Wolf ), and it's terrific, one of my favorite records of the year. It's Shakira's most blatant overture to Anglo-American audiences—most of the tracks were produced by the Neptunes, with their usual flair for club-pop catchiness. But Shakira co-wrote all the songs, and stamped them with her irrepressible kookiness. She's the weirdest pop diva out there. Take "She Wolf." It's a neo-disco barn-burner about a gal on the prowl at a bar: the same territory, more or less, as "Give It Up to Me." But "She Wolf" is crammed with allusions to Greek mythology and lyrics about coffee machines. Shakira howls like a werewolf; she sings the word "lycanthropy"!
Compare that wackiness with the new song. "Give It Up to Me" is drearily generic—it sounds like a Nelly Furtado song. Now, I happen to like Nelly Furtado, but personality is not her strong suit. Seems to me Timbaland (and Epic) are doing the near impossible here: making Shakira boring.
Jonah Weiner : Awooo, Jody. This song does come off as a weak follow-up to "She Wolf." Thematically, it makes for a nice counterpart, because it introduces a new ravenous appetite to match the She Wolf's: That of Lil Wayne, who has nicknamed himself not just the Rapper Eater but the Pussy Monster (in homage to the Cookie Monster)—these two are hungry. But you're right: "Give It Up To Me" isn't the feast you'd hope for. I like the Timbaland beat, even though I feel I've heard that exact drum track in another song of his. But whatever; it's a great drum track. Wayne's toss-away rhymes delight me as always—just the way he chuckles off a line like, "My flow is a dog, down boy." Remember those boom times when we could expect four Lil Wayne cameos a day?
I guess what ultimately irks me is the same thing that irks you: Shakira's idiosyncrasies, so abundant in the first single (between the odd quasi-malaprops about coffee machines and being a student of the moon) are drained here. Part-and-parcel with that, her assertiveness is drained, and the gender parity is unconvincingly askew: She sounds like the one who gets chewed up and spit out. I guess Shakira has played with themes of submissiveness before, but I suspect that if I, by some fabric-of-time-and-space-rending miracle, found myself in a bedroom with her, I'd be the one who wound up "in a cage," as she envisions herself here.
J.R. : No offense, but I'm not sure I want to contemplate a Shakira-Weiner coupling—or the apocalyptic scenario that would produce such a coupling. I'm trying to eat breakfast here.
You're right about the drum track. Very close to " Promiscuous ," is it not? Timbaland's pretty serious about this Nelly Furtado-ization program. The song does make a couple of perfunctory concessions to Shakira's musical personality, at least. I'm thinking of the orientalist turn the melody takes at the 1:48 mark ("Hey, can we go by walking/ Or do you prefer to fly/ All of the roads are open/ In your mind")—a staple of Shakira’s music. (She’s a Columbian of Lebanese extraction.) But there are 11 songs on the She Wolf album better than this one. And the She Wolf album has 12 songs.
J.W. : Right. That Eastern-scaled interlude aside (a relic of the " Get Ur Freak On " and " Big Pimpin' "-era Timbaland, in a way), the song seems a bit cynical, color-by-numbers in the appeal it’s making to the American pop market. And, to be clear: I'm sure neither of us cares if a song is color-by-numbers and cynical, so long as it still works. This one feels perfunctory, unconvincing, dull. Who could have expected that? Shakira is one weird pop diva, as you write, and she's not the only weirdo here. Both Lil Wayne and Timbaland have highly bizarre ideas about what pop can sound like. This song isn't worthy of them.