Words like "phenomenon" and "unique" are easy to use, but it's a whole lot harder to actually be those things. Yet nine albums into her recording career, Shakira is well worthy of both accolades - and many more.
Just look at the numbers. Shakira's debut album as a 14-year-old, Magia, might have shifted only 1,200 copies in her native Colombia, but the eight albums she's made since have sold a combined total of more than 70 million records. She saw her 2006 hit, Hips Don't Lie, reach number one in an incredible 55 countries. The video for Waka Waka, Shakira's official anthem for the 2010 World Cup has been viewed online well over 500 million times (making it one of YouTube's most-watched videos ever). Plus, she's won countless major awards and gathered vast armies of online fans, with 50 million on Facebook and 16 million on Twitter. And those fans are not just virtual, more than 2 million of them turned out to watch Shakira's stunning Sun Comes Out world tour in 2010/11.
But it goes beyond the numbers too. Where so many choose to play it safe, Shakira is a gloriously adventurous and unpredictable pop star who can comfortably straddle genres, inspired by an insatiable passion for music that takes in everything from Leonard Cohen to AC/DC, Mercedes Sosa to Skrillex. She's made rock records and dance records, romantic records and merengue records, all successful and all held together by the common thread of that powerful voice and that confidence to take risks and explore new directions.
Shakira is also a pop star with both a brain and a conscience. Her compassionate side is most obvious in the remarkable work of her Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) Foundation, which she started at the age of 18 and which has now opened its sixth school. The foundation currently provides education and nutrition to over six thousand impoverished children in Colombia and is expanding its work to other countries, including newly launched projects in Haiti and South Africa.
Shakira has also become a leading advocate for Education and Early Childhood Development, proving herself to be as adept at making compelling speeches to world leaders or to the students at Oxford University as she is performing to tens of thousands of fans at her shows. She is a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and, in October 2011, President Obama appointed her to the Presidents Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
Now, in Spring 2012, with her star truly shining as brightly as it ever has, Shakira finds herself back in one of her favourite places: the recording studio. It's not yet clear what direction that tenth album will take or what surprises it will deliver. But one thing is for sure, when it emerges, you can bet your last dime it'll be worth hearing.