Years ago, Shakira sent me a golden bookmark. Her career was just getting started, and I had written a glowing review covering one of her concerts. Like many other music journalists, I was completely taken by her talent and charisma, the power of her voice and the luminous energy emanating from the stage as she belly danced to “Ojos así,” a tribute to her Lebanese roots. A couple of weeks later, I received her gift and a phone call thanking me for my words.
I remembered the bookmark late last year, when the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles asked me to guest curate an exhibit devoted to the most famous Colombian singer of all time. I accepted without hesitation, eager to design a museum experience that offered a multifaceted view of her artistry. I’ve always been annoyed by the mainstream’s tendency to underestimate beautiful women who sing pop songs as lightweight stars. If there was anything I knew about Shakira before embarking on this adventure, it was that her artistic vision is much more profound and complex than one would initially assume.
From the beginning, we envisioned an exhibit that would be truly interactive — a minimalist experience, with high contrasts and memorable details. The bilingual “Shakira, Shakira: The Grammy Museum Experience,” open to the public through February 2024, ended up being much more than that.
The first element I proposed was the creation of an interactive map. Revisiting Shakira’s discography, I realized that, both as a singer and a songwriter, she has explored every single genre of popular music: from merengue, reggaetón and bossa nova to French chanson, Arabic pop and bhangra. Far from engaging in cultural appropriation, Shakira tackled these creative forays with respect, teaming up with local specialists so that the songs would remain faithful to the original genres.
The final iteration of the map occupies three walls, focusing on Colombia, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. It includes screens equipped with headphones so that visitors can listen to the referenced songs and watch music videos.
In the main hall, just before opening night, the exhibit’s designer added a lovely touch: a row of blue artificial butterflies hanging from the ceiling, swaying softly. The butterflies are a clear tribute to Shakira’s Colombian roots — right out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel — and this subtle effect transported me to South America, which is also my place of origin.
Featuring Shakira’s lyrics was also essential. We picked “La Tortura,” “Vuelve” and “Whenever, Wherever” to illustrate the dizzying array of historic and biblical references, as well as her poetic style. Nor could we leave out her dancing. To add an interactive element, we came up with a TikTok challenge offering a small, brightly lit stage where visitors can take a video of themselves trying some of the singer’s infamous choreographies.
Yet, with all the progress we were making putting together our ideas, there was a small matter still pending: We had yet to obtain artifacts from Shakira’s team. Days went by and we waited for an invitation to travel to Barcelona and hand pick treasures from her personal collection.