Monday, March 24th, 2014

Shakira – Empire

Another ballad? Oh wait. We like this one…


Iain Mew: The stars and the universe, making love like gorillas.

David Moore: Ambushed by emotion 2014: I’m like, “new Shakira song?” And she’s like, “take off all of your skin…” and I’m like…and she’s like “and the stars make love to the universe…” and I’m like… and she’s like, “And I’m like… and I’m like… AND I’M LIKE,” and I’m like…

Katherine St Asaph: It took me ages to figure out who the beginning reminds of; I think it’s Cat Dowling, if she ascended eight feet and dropped eight feet of dress train to sing the cliff-sized, vocoders-rappelling-over-strings chorus Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga both failed to put over. It is everything “Can’t Remember to Forget You” promised and thousands of acres more.

Alfred Soto: Reluctant to distinguish Shakira from the howling guitar, I assumed she was doubling it, Robert Plant style. The rest of this well-paced ballad boasts lyrics as addled as her vocals (“the stars make love to the un-ee-verse”). We need addled power ballads.

Anthony Easton: The piano is a delightful little note, and her voice is not nearly as uncontrolled as it could be, and the line about the stars making love to the universe is not nearly as wacky as previous hits, so I am just going to consider this a place holder until the next barn-burner arrives. A decent place holder, but a placeholder. 

Jonathan Bradley: The way her Tori Amos tones swoop around galacto-erotic lyrics suits me just fine. The kleig-light glare of the chorus less so: perhaps the stadium-sized featurelessness that went missing from Chris Martin’s repertoire has wound up in Shakira’s possession.

Scott Mildenhall: In some ways this could be a parody. It’s one of the few instances of a Shakira song with no writing credit for Shakira, and yet it bears what you might think are hallmarks of her. (Astral howling? Come on now.) In a way, she’s having her assumed idiosyncrasies rendered syncratic. Shakira is now An Idea. A good idea though at least, like all the intentional distortion (which barely stands out more than the glitch forty-five seconds in) and a chorus so vast and enveloping: large, but not loud.

Tara Hillegeist: Sometimes it’s the little things that make a song bigger than it is — “Empire” hits so many clippity-clopping trademarks of affirmative-pop that it all gets a little Pacific Rim; it’s tempting to call it feel-good-by-numbers, notwithstanding that the song to coin that phrase sounds nothing like “Empire” — but those blown-out “woo-ooh-ooh-ooh”s follow through on the promise of “and the stars make love to the universe” with such a big bang that it doesn’t much matter that the words mean so little on paper. They’re “Empire”‘s Hong Kong throwdown: this is the moneymaker, your brain rattled down to atoms of giddy-adolescent joy. It’s easy to imagine another world where this is the biggest hit on the radio, and that world sounds like so much fun, it’s easy to wish that world would be this one.

Brad Shoup: I submit pretty readily to heavily orchestrated, minor-key psychedelia. Shakira’s melody doesn’t step so much as ascend; it transmits a profoundly soothing loneliness. And that’s setting aside that shivering hoot of a hook, coming after a quotative “like.” It’s an exponential rendition of wonder, cheeky, and intimidating in succession.

David Sheffieck: Manages, via a slow-build that seems fully earned, to turn the lyric about the stars making love to the universe from ridiculous to compelling — with a post-chorus that I’m choosing to believe is a scientifically accurate sonic representation of that scenario.

Megan Harrington: I’m hesitant to call women embracing feminism in song a trend of 2014 because it denies a long history and diminishes the progress built over generations in favor of grouping a few topical women together for a slideshow. I also won’t call women singing about their orgasms a trend, but I will agree that this is shaping up to be a banner year. Beyonce’s “Blow” set a high bar, but Shakira jumps it. She’s so spectacularly bold with her metaphors that she’s almost pompous, but who doesn’t want to think of their body as the stars making love to the universe? The guttural “hooooo!” is, to be arch about it, the cherry on top. 

Reader average: [8.05] (18 votes)

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22 Responses to “Shakira – Empire”

  1. Thank God this stayed over a 7.

  2. Also, I’m glad I didn’t reference “Gorilla” by Bruno Mars cos Iain alluded to the animal. But I got similar vibes (big high-flown wordless hook in the chorus), even if I like this loads better as a song straight through.

  3. “all the intentional distortion”?
    I thought it was another casualty of the loudness war. (“Can’t Remember to Forget You” was also an example, and even worse: it’s not as bad with distortion but it’s a DR4. It appears the entry for that song was deleted on the database though so I can’t prove it. :/.)

  4. Do you mean you don’t think it’s intentional or just that you didn’t like it? It works for me in any case. The glitch is starting to bug me though. Even Shakira doesn’t sing like that.

    The ‘Gorilla’ comparison is really apt, but for me this has the crucial advantage of not being deathly boring.

  5. …both. I thought it was unintentional and I don’t like it.
    (I also agree that this is kind of like Gorilla but done right, in a sense, because aside from the distortion I think this is awesome.)

  6. The beginning is STILL BUGGING ME because I’m not convinced I got what it’s reminding me right. For a second or two she sounds EXACTLY like…….?

  7. i wish i could help you but i had the same problem, oh my god

    (not helping matters: it’s not cat dowling, i’ve never heard her.)

  8. The only thing I can think of (unfortunately) is Katy Perry’s verse from “E.T.” — that this is in no way a deal-breaker speaks volumes about this thing.

  9. For exactly two seconds she sounds like Miss Piggy, though. “AND I’M LIKE….HI-YA!” That this is a deal-MAKER speaks volumes about this thing.

  10. (I mean, it would be like Bjork covering “E.T.” and her VOICE certainly doesn’t sound like KP at all.)

  11. I think quite literally the first 2 seconds sounds like Julia of Angus & Julia Stone. Her solo material gives a similiar vibe, and Shakira uses that cracked tone a little bit. Not sure if you guys would’ve listened to her though…

  12. Also, distortion in “Empire” is not compression — it’s what EXPERTS IN MUSIC THEORY call a “fuzzy filter thing.”

  13. ^what dave said. the loudness war results in songs that are loud, yes, but the main effect is a lack of dynamics. unless it’s a really shitty engineer on the job, distortion that audible is definitely intentional. her voice is being run through some amp or distortion filter

  14. the loudness war is what ruins paramore’s self-titled and otherwise grand album from last year if you push it past a certain volume – all the sounds run together, because the dynamics are shit.

    this isn’t that, because the vox were pushed to specifically single that segment out with a fuzzy blowout, via means i defer to will’s greater expertise on determining, well before the song’s final master. there’s a reason i cited the go! team in my blurb, y’know – fun personal confession time, it wasn’t the velvet underground but the go! team who got to be the first band i heard using it in a way that really twigged me to that effect as a deliberate mood-creating tool at any volume, rather than an accidental side effect of me turning a song up too loud.

    (it was, however, the velvets who taught me to think of it as a kind of hymnal pose, an effed-up reaching for the ineffable, rather than simply “i like it because it makes me feel happy behind the eyes”.)

  15. Took me forever to place, but this reminds me so much of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.”

    Is that maybe what some of you are hearing? I also hear something by Fiona in this, particularly the opening, though I can’t place the particular song.


  17. Not Liz Fraser, no — but I JUST figured it out, it’s Rachel Smith. (On “Procedure” and “Clearing (Sheila’s Song),” specifically.)

  18. Ahh I see. I thought that the distortion on the verses was the result of compression and I was wrong. My reasoning came from how I thought there are some songs that do get distorted because they’re pushed so loud (for example Murder Me Rachel by the National is rather brutal and even if it was intended to sound lo-fi, it’s kind of difficult to listen to especially towards the end) Thank you guys for clarifying!

  19. (I know the distortion in the chorus is the “fuzzy filter thing”, as Dave eloquently pointed out.)

  20. I always thought she sounded like Regina Spektor at the beginning… the kind of nonsense lyrics and the cracked voice sound like a Regina Spektor thing.

  21. so sad that this is out of the top 10 of 2014…

  22. and I’m like, meh