Shakira has demolished the ‘scorned woman’ cliché (and helped us forget the tax stuff)
For most of this millennium, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll has been famous for three things: her mane of hair, her truth-telling hips and, of course, her voice (which shifts registers so rapidly that it has been likened to yodelling). And now, more than 30 years into her career, the “Queen of Latin Music” can add a few more things to the list: strawberry jam, receiving the “Latin Woman of the Year” award at the inaugural Latin Women in Music gala this weekend, and alleged tax evasion!
Shakira has had quite the year. Last September, a judge in Spain ruled that she must stand trial over accusations of tax fraud. This came after she was named in the Paradise Papers in 2017, and then subsequently had her finances investigated by Spanish authorities. The Spanish government eventually charged Shakira with defrauding the country of €14.5m in taxes between 2012 and 2014. Shakira’s defence team filed an appeal to try and stop the trial, but they lost. If they had accepted the plea and paid the money, the prosecution would have reduced the prison sentence they called for, but that would have essentially been an admittance of guilt. Instead, Shakira and her defence decided to try and prove her innocence, and consequently the prosecutor asked the judge for an eight-year prison sentence over six alleged tax fraud crimes. Headlines and tweeters the world over asked the same question: hang on, is Shakira going to jail?
If a jail term hanging over her head wasn’t enough to be getting on with – her trial date remains pending – Shakira was last year also embroiled in a messy split from her partner of 11 years and the father of her sons, former FC Barcelona star Gerard Piqué. Over the summer and into autumn, as tabloids toggled between stories about Shakira’s relationship breakdown and her legal woes, it looked like she might have officially entered a Rough Patch. Her record sales weren’t touching those of the early Noughties – when tracks like “Whenever, Wherever” and “Underneath Your Clothes” topped the international charts – and now she was single and awaiting trial. It appeared as if Shakira may have prematurely reached the late stage of fame that so many other stars have been swallowed by, when the gold rush ends, boom time slips into financial disaster, and romance transforms into acrimony.
Then one particularly sticky story about a jar of strawberry jam switched Shakira’s internet-inflected reputation from “possible criminal” to “sleuth extraordinaire” practically overnight. The jammy tale appeared to have originated in December 2022 at an outlet called Show News Today, which wrote that a Spanish TV programme had claimed Shakira returned from a trip to find that someone had eaten her strawberry jam. So far, so banal – but according to the showbiz news outlet, Gerard Piqué was known to despise jam. Apparently so did their kids. And so, by a process of elimination, Shakira came to the conclusion that Piqué must be getting frisky with a sweet-toothed lady behind her back – a woman she’d now caught, ahem, red-handed. Lo and behold, not long after Shakira and Piqué’s split was announced to the public, the retired footballer also went public with his new girlfriend, Clara Chia Marti, in the most modern of ways – with an Instagram official hard launch. In the pic Piqué shared in January, he is snuggling into the locks of the 24-year-old, who, commenters were quick to point out, bore a striking resemblance to his multi-platinum ex.
The jam story may have been too good to be true, but it stuck – people quickly declared that Shakira’s hips may not lie, but the father of her children most certainly did. Worse still, it seemed he’d swapped out the Queen of Latin Music for a younger model. And so Shakira took on a new role: the scorned woman.
As a long-standing trope with distinctly misogynistic overtones, traditionally the “scorned woman” is everything the “sex symbol” is not. This doesn’t mean the scorned woman isn’t hot – indeed, she is often heavily sexualised. However, crucially, she is also threatening. The sex symbol is alluring; the scorned woman is angry. The sex symbol caters to the male gaze; the scorned woman terrifies it. At its crux, the scorned women trope relies on the idea that women are either attractive or unhinged, and the line between the two is both thin and totally dependent on their male partner being faithful to them. Just think of Glenn Close at the start of Fatal Attraction versus when she’s boiling bunnies. Watch out fellas, if you ditch her, she’ll go crazy!
In the aftermath of jam-gate, it seemed as if Shakira might be throwing herself headfirst into this trope, and it’s essential, man-scaring fury. As Piqué cosied up with a woman half her age, Shakira supposedly propped up on her balcony a “life-sized witch doll” to scowl down on the nearby home of her former mother-in-law. On Valentine’s Day, she posted a TikTok singing along to SZA’s “Kill Bill”: “I might kill my ex, not the best idea/ His new girlfriend’s next, how’d I get here?/ I might kill my ex, I still love him though/ Rather be in jail than alone”. It would take some serious media illiteracy, though, not to see the video as tongue-in-cheek. It’s all a performance, Shakira seemed to be declaring. I’m angry, sure, but I’m not going to let my anger break me. Because that’s one of the problems with the scorned woman trope – it usually all comes back to bite her in the end. She’s the one destroyed by her emotions, or the one dead in the bathtub. That’s no place for a pop princess.
Instead of wallowing or going on a murderous spree, Shakira seems to have opted for humour and the time-worn trick of showing your s****y ex how much of a fool they’ve been to let you go. There’s even been a diss track. Teaming up with Argentinian DJ Bizarrap, Shakira released “Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol 53” – a song that gets under the skin of the scorned woman trope and turns it inside out. “You left me as a neighbour to the mother-in-law,” Shakira sings in Spanish. “The press at my door, and the debt at the Treasury/ You thought you’d hurt me, but you made me stronger/ Women don’t cry anymore, women cash in”.
Nodding to her 2009 hit “She Wolf”, which she recorded the year before meeting Piqué, Shakira continues: “Sorry baby, I should have thrown you out a while ago/ A she-wolf like me is not for rookies/ A she-wolf like me is not for guys like you”. Then, in maybe the best set of lyrics this year – certainly the most savage, anyway – Shakira proclaims, “I’m worth twice a 22-year-old/ You traded a Ferrari for a Twingo/ You traded a Rolex for a Casio”. She even manages a dig at her gym-obsessed ex’s mental capabilities, before uttering the immortal words: “No hard feelings, baby, I wish you the best with my supposed replacement.” Ouch. When Piqué was asked on Barcelona’s RAC1 radio station if he had heard the song, he responded simply: “Yes, obviously. I don’t want to talk about it.” Music to the scorned woman’s ears!
Like all superstars, celebrities and goddesses, Shakira has always been more of a symbol than a human being. She is an icon, after all, and the role of the icon is to serve as a medium – they help mere mortals channel complex belief systems and fantasies. And now, through Shakira, people can live out the ultimate revenge fantasy. Not the one popularised by Hollywood blockbusters, which sees the wronged party hunt down those that wronged them, wreaking violent havoc in their wake (though Shakira’s lyrics clearly do stem from rage, and explicitly say they aim “to mortify” Piqué). Rather, this is the revenge fantasy where the one who was betrayed and brought low will rise again, stronger and more powerful than before. In this sense, Shakira truly is the patron saint of scorned women everywhere – transcending and overturning the trope to give “crazy bitches” everywhere a long-overdue dose of gratification. “I feel I’m enough,” she said in an interview on the Mexican programme En Punto con Enrique Acevedo, “and I think when a woman faces challenges in life, they come back stronger. You learn to see your flaws, to embrace your vulnerability and express that pain you might be feeling.”
Which brings us to this weekend, with Shakira taking home the “Latin Woman of the Year” award. Meanwhile, Piqué has reportedly requested a reduction in the time he’s been allotted to spend with his kids – from 10 days to “five or six days a month”. Sometimes fantasy and reality overlap. And if Shakira does go to jail, maybe the world will get a track that goes equally hard as the one with Bizarrap… even if it takes her eight or so years to get back in the studio.