Death Metal Underground

Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie”

January 9, 2014 –

shakira_feat_wyclef_jean-hips_dont_lie

Every now and then, even the most cynical of metal writers loses a bet.

We who toil in darkness and expect no reward because we consider pop music to be the incoherent rantings of a egomaniac egalitarian society gone amok, despite our misgivings, must sometimes venture to the above-ground world to see what the majority listen to.

It’s first important to note that it’s not clear if the majority actually listen to this. If an album sells ten million copies in the US, it’s considered huge, even though 29 out of 30 people did not buy it. I suppose that’s the problem of pluralities: make enough noise and it seems like everyone agrees with you.

The bet in question involved “the best-selling song of the new century,” which according to group graffiti wall Wikipedia is Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie.”

For me, this is a confrontation with a mass culture that I gratefully abandoned years ago and avoid whenever possible. I see it as bringing out the worst in humanity by appealing to our animal impulses and the lowest common denominator thoughts in our minds. It is like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Or a speeding ticket. It is everything bad, distilled into an appealing package. I shudder at the thought.

Nevertheless, I am ready. Green tea topped off, fully loaded shotgun in the corner, pencils sharpened, and I crank this thing up on the stereo. (It’s too late to contemplate suicide. Besides, people would assume it had been inspired by some emo-indie “depressive black metal.”)

While we listen, follow along with the lyrics. I’ve annotated where structural changes occur and what is basically the song at the heart of this song.

SPOKEN:
Ladies up in here tonight
No fighting, no fighting
We got the refugees up in here
No fighting, no fighting

Shakira, Shakira

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man wants to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection

REGGAE-ISH:
Hey Girl, I can see your body moving
And it’s driving me crazy
And I didn’t have the slightest idea
Until I saw you dancing

And when you walk up on the dance floor
Nobody cannot ignore the way you move your body, girl
And everything so unexpected – the way you right and left it
So you can keep on shaking it

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel you boy
Come on lets go, real slow
Don’t you see baby asi es perfecto

Oh I know I am on tonight my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection
Shakira, Shakira

A CAPELLA INTERLUDE:
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
My will and self restraint
Have come to fail now, fail now
See, I am doing what I can, but I can’t so you know
That’s a bit too hard to explain

SPANISH MUSIC:
Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

Oh baby when you talk like that
You know you got me hypnotized
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

FLAMENCO-ISH INTERLUDE:
Senorita, feel the conga, let me see you move like you come from Colombia

Mira en Barranquilla se baila así, say it!
Mira en Barranquilla se baila así

SPOKEN:
Yeah
She’s so sexy every man’s fantasy a refugee like me back with the Fugees from a 3rd world country
I go back like when ‘pac carried crates for Humpty Humpty
I need a whole club dizzy
Why the CIA wanna watch us?
Colombians and Haitians
I ain’t guilty, it’s a musical transaction
No more do we snatch ropes
Refugees run the seas ’cause we own our own boats

FEMALE SINGING:
I’m on tonight, my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel you boy
Come on let’s go, real slow
Baby, like this is perfecto

Oh, you know I am on tonight and my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
The attraction, the tension
Baby, like this is perfection

SPOKEN:
No fighting
No fighting

The core of this song is the section outlined in dark red, which constitutes either a verse and a chorus or a two-part chorus serving as a verse and a chorus in contrast to the spoken or rhythmic parts of this song. The rapped and spoken parts serve as a foil to this, repeating the essential rhythms that are used to express its melody, but never delivering the final punch of the full hook.

And that’s what it is, in a nutshell: the song is pure hook. The first part of the chorus is a sort of invocation by supplementing the rhythm of the percussion which sets up the phrase for the melody to come; the second half of the chorus delivers the real hook, stepping outside the regular rhythm of the previous half while simultaneously expanding its tonal range, creating a sensation of free fall. Even within this dual melody however the fundamental dichotomy of the song between rhythmic shuffle and vocal melody exists, because both halves end in essentially monochromatic rhythmic expressions that dampen the harmonic expectation created earlier in the phrase.

Twice during the song these choruses are delivered back-to-back in male and female vocals, forming a duet within a song. These occur on either side of the middle break. If I had to call a genre behind this song I’d say Motown, especially in the disconnected melody that plays on its earlier parts with rhythm to dampen and a long drop to intensify, but with deliberate flavorings of Spanish-influenced music. One part of Jean’s performance is a reggae passage that re-uses some notes from the pre-chorus, and much of the rest is rapping — the non-metal world’s equivalent of E-string noodling. The a cappella interlude plays up the heritage of jazz-based music with what is simultaneously a rhythmic breakdown and complement to the earlier reggae-inspired interlude. This allows the song to transition to sampled Spanish/flamenco-ish music, then transfer directly to repetition en route to its finale, which is a reprise of the first duet.

All in all, not as brutally simplistic as most pop, but simplistic in a different way. There isn’t really much going on here other than a repeated duet to which separating passages have been added, and each of those plays on what the vocalist is known for. Further, while the melody grows in an internal dialogue between the two parts of the chorus, the first half is fairly linear and the second gains its power from violating the order set up by the first. This shows the “call-response” pattern of early rock expanded as if it were an ideology, first in the melody, second in the duets, finally in the interplay between two halves of song interrupted each by an interlude. It’s a clever way of folding the song in on itself by adding variation without having to actually develop the melody or rhythm, which remains nearly constant throughout, which would add actual complexity.

Let’s take a look at the live experience next.

What strikes me most about this live event is how they must have a staff of people to pull this off… then again, their vocals do sound awfully well produced. Lip-synced? I don’t know, but it might be the only way to ensure quality control with such a complex production. What gets me is how the event itself is of self-announced importance, and the people in the audience instead of seeing themselves as purchasers see themselves as participants. They dance, they sing the lyrics, they pose like the stars onstage. One young woman even appears to be having an emotional moment. This reconnects to what I fear about mass culture: it appeals through the ego, but turns you into a zombie.

Interesting also is how speech, dance and music are merged in this presentation. Wyclef Jean performs a lengthy rapped/spoken section of the song that appears to introduce political topics, citing some kind of pacifism, refugee status, the CIA and Tupac Shakur not to mention some kind of Colombian-Haitian friendship pact. “Ebony and Ivory” for a new generation? While performer Shakira spends some of this video doing the robot dance she puts far more time into showing off her belly-dancing skills and the kind of dance you might see in an urban club late at night.

The official music video also presents a number of dimensions for analysis. First is that it seems most mainstream songs are not really love songs per se, but attraction songs. This song feels like it’s set in your typical bar, but it’s an idealized interaction where the man and woman are offering up sexual attraction to one another. For his part, the lyrics emphasize conscious desire; for hers, the desire is unconscious and she doesn’t expect to be heard but to have her body movements analyzed. If this were any species but humans we’d call it a mating ritual.

The setting in a club is sort of like the idealized commercial dream of a place where you can buy sex and importance, and the intense focus that this song creates on performance and the people acting out the dream conveys importance more than anything else. It is as if the world were pushed aside, and the significance of these moments to the listener took over. It is like a participation fantasy, designed to create focus through the attention of others and then project the listener into it.

One trope that repeats in the lyrics is that of not being in control. These people are not consciously making decisions; they are drawn to them, pushed into them, and communicate them through unconscious desires and bodily responses. This is like the idea of “falling in love” amplified many times, where people do not make choices but react to impulses. This feeling is echoed in the audience, who are swept up in the impulse, but do not control the choices made ( “my hips don’t lie / And I am starting to feel it’s right” is the ultimate statement of ex post facto decision making). They are living through a vicarious existence, following the script another has concocted, presumably because it delivers what they wish they had in their lives. It is as if the ultimate extension of individualism is to abolish the individual in the mass activity, where snapping your fingers at the same time that everyone else does constitutes self-expression.

And now, thankfully, I can take this thing off the speakers and go back to some death metal. It isn’t relentlessly catchy or sexual like “Hips Don’t Lie,” but it has more internal development and emphasizes a sense of connection to something bigger than the individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, of course, it totally rips.