Shakira is half-Lebanese and half-Colombian, and her frizzy, unbrushed hair has bad roots. Her clothes look like they’ve been gnawed by wild animals and her belly-dance hip-shake gyration thing is so alarming it bypasses sexy and goes straight to primal. But unlike most half-naked diva skanks, she actually rocks a stage, stomping and kicking like a pony, nearly headbanging when she whips her hair, and forgoing a headset for a mike stand tied with scarves, which she flings around a la Steven Tyler. More importantly, Shakira insists on holding the reins to her career. After four albums, three Grammys, and ten years of cultivating fans all over the planet, she released her first English-language record, Laundry Service, in 2001. She wrote and produced almost all the material, used live musicians, and kept the electronic enhancement to a minimum. Though she intended the disc to rock like Led Zeppelin, it’s pretty much a watered-down pastiche of pop music genres: soft psychedelia, wedding reception disco, and even a little neo-new wave, all teased with pan flute and drizzled with Latina-Arab syrup. But her earthy vim somewhat redeems the puniness of the music. Shakira’s vocals tend to follow the song rhythmically, and she’s melodic in a Macy-Alanis-Sinead sort of way–charmingly weird and borderline annoying. Her lyrics are similarly all over the place. In her hit “Whenever, Wherever,” she references her “small and humble” titties and her mother’s strong legs in the same breath; in “The One” she sings about shaving her legs, going to church, and buying thongs. But two lines from “Ready for the Good Times” seem to sum up her ideas about life and stardom: “I don’t wanna look at fashion magazines / While someone does my nails.” That’s a rare attitude in a Top 40 gal. And while Britney and Christina named their tours “Dream Within a Dream” and “A Double Dose of Girl” respectively, Shakira calls hers “Tour of the Mongoose”–how could you not love her just for that? Saturday, January 18, 7:30 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison; 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Firooz Zahedi.