Girl Crush: Shakira

There are only so many women in this world who are known by one name only, and Shakira is one of them. She’s a Colombian superstar and her music is instantly recognizable, even though it blends varied genres from folk to rock to pop to electronic with Latin and Middle Eastern influences.

Born in 1977, Shakira began writing and performing at an early age and she released her first album in 1991, when she was just thirteen. However she didn’t find widespread success until 1996, with her album Pies Descalzos, which she helped write and produce. The album was certified platinum, and Shakira followed it up with a Latin American tour.

Shakira began building a non-Spanish-speaking fan base with the release of ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones? in September 1998. The album, which would ultimately sell 10 million copies, spawned eight singles (out of 11 tracks) and won Shakira her first Latin Grammys. Because of increased exposure outside of Latin America (plus the crossover success of other Latin artists), Shakira released her first English album in 2001, Laundry Service. It became the best-selling album of 2002, with 13 million copies sold worldwide.

Following another concert tour, Shakira took a break until 2005, when she released two new albums: Fijación Oral Volumen 1 and Oral Fixation Volume 2. Both were critical and commercial successes, and you probably remember two of her biggest hits:”La Tortura” and “Hips Don’t Lie”. In fact “Hips Don’t Lie”- a collaboration with Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean- was the biggest hit of the biggest hit of the decade, breaking many records. She even performed the song at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final. Shakira also embarked on an international tour- and I got to see her in concert!

Her most recent album, She-Wolf, came out last year. This year, she recorded the official song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”. It’s become her latest mega-hit, and she’ll be kicking off another world tour this fall.

Let’s not forget though that Shakira is more than a beautiful and talented singer-songwriter and dancer. She’s fluent in three languages and it has been reported she has an I.Q. of 140. So the girl has a brain too. But that probably wouldn’t mean as much if Shakira didn’t devote herself to charitable causes. Back in 1997 she founded her Pies Desclazos Foundation, which helps poor and impoverished children in her native Colombia, a country that has struggled with civil war and drug trafficking for generations. The organization’s main focus is to aid children through education and nutrition. Shakira is also a co-founder of the ALAS Foundation, a non-profit which aims to help kids throughout Latin America. She has worked with many other humanitarian organizations outside of Latin America, traveling and speaking on their behalf. Shakira has been honored by the United Nations and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Shakira? Which of her songs are your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

~ Sarah

P.S. Check out Shakira’s YouTube channel here.

Girl Crush: Natalie Portman

Portman in the Jan. 2010 Issue of Marie Claire

I’m glad to announce the return of Girl Crush, a weekly feature in which I discuss a leading lady in show business: talented, admirable, and successful. And for the record this series isn’t meant to objectify women, but to empower them.

Natalie Portman at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

When I was catching up on STAR WARS a couple weeks ago, it reminded me of just how awesome Miss Natalie Portman is. The first time I saw her on-screen in Episode I: The Phantom Menace as Queen Amidala, the ruler of Naboo. Even though that movie was cringe-worthy (JarJar Binks anyone?), Padmé Amidala quickly emerged as a capable leader and a take-charge heroine. In Episodes II and III, Padmé  further developed into a smart and strong woman.

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Portman as Queen Amidala

Padmé wasn’t Portman’s first role. The Israeli-American actress, born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem, made her film debut at the age of 13 in The Professional. Since then, she has appeared in over twenty films, and nearly always to much critical acclaim. For her 2004 film Closer- in which she co-starred alongside Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Julia Roberts- Portman was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Besides her role in the STAR WARS franchise, Portman is also known for portraying Evey Hammond in the dystopian thriller V for Vendetta. She famously shaved her head for the role, showing true commitment to her craft. Natalie also played Sam, Zach Braff’s love interest in Garden State. Sam’s quirkiness set her apart from most of Portman’s characters. She is usually portrays smart and mature women, which isn’t surprising when you consider Portman attended Harvard University, graduating with a degree in psychology.

Portman is more than brains and talent. She’s a vegan and is a supporter of animal rights. In the past, Portman has campaigned for Democratic politicians. She also works tirelessly for the Foundation for International Community Assistance, which provides microloans to women in the Third World so they can build small businesses to support themselves. This all shows that she does more than lend her celebrity status to a cause- she actually acts on it.

Right now, Natalie Portman is one of Hollywood’s elite young actresses, but she remains an enigma. She effortlessly radiates beauty and class.She’s managed to stay private and focus on her career, in an ambitious but unpretentious manner. It’s only a matter of time before she becomes one of film’s brightest stars.

What do you think? Do you love Natalie Portman? Do you have any suggestions for an upcoming Girl Crush?

~ Sarah

Girl Crush: Elizabeth Banks

Elizabeth Banks at the 2009 Golden Globes

You might not know her name, but if you have a taste for comedy then you should recognize Elizabeth Banks. She was born in Massachusetts in 1974 and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. (Banks and Tina Fey single-handedly prove that you can brains, beauty, and a sense of humor.) After bit parts in movies like Spider-Man, Catch Me If You Can, and Seabiscuit, Banks’ breakout role was in the 2005 hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Since then, Banks has appeared in numerous movies, including Invincible; Definitely, Maybe; Zack and Miri Make a Porno; and Role Models. She also had a guest stint on Scrubs. Banks has mastered the role of the spunky and bubbly girlfriend. She has shown her strengths as a dramatic actress in the biopic W., in which she played former First Lady Laura Bush, and the upcoming The Next Three Days, opposite Russell Crowe.

The reason I’m currently obsessed with Elizabeth Banks? Her guest role on one of my favorite shows, 30 Rock. She was originally slated to appear in four episodes this season, but she has already appeared nine times and by the looks of the season finale (which I finally finished watching on Hulu) she’ll be back. Banks plays Avery Jessup, one of Jack Donaghy’s (Alec Baldwin) many girlfriends. Avery, who is a conservative talk show host, stands out from the other female characters on the show. Jenna is dramatic, Cerie is sweet but shallow, and Liz is, well, Liz, but Avery is strong, smart, and confident. Banks is a great addition to 30 Rock, even if it’s just a guest stint.

So basically, Elizabeth Banks is pretty awesome. She’s talented, hilarious, and sexy. She’s one of today’s most promising actresses, and I can’t wait to see her career skyrocket.

What do you think? Do you love Elizabeth Banks too?

~ Sarah