Shakira's Tongue Provides a Cultural Lesson

People missed the significance of her 'tongue thing' during halftime show
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2020 11:40 AM CST
Updated Feb 8, 2020 1:00 PM CST

At one point during her Super Bowl halftime performance, Shakira looked straight into a TV camera and got the world talking about her tongue. Watch it here. The musical moment quickly became, in the words of CNN, the meme of the night. But many of those initial memes didn't seem to understand what Shakira was doing. Coverage:

  • The jokes: Many compared the warbling noise she made to that of SpongeBob SquarePants, as seen here. Mashable rounds up other common reactions on Twitter, including a comparison to turkeys (here).
  • The name: Shakira's move quickly became referred to as the "tongue thing"—but generally by people who weren't clued in to its cultural significance, note the Washington Post and ETOnline. The singer is of Lebanese-Colombian heritage, and that "tongue thing" is more formally known as a zaghrouta, which the Post describes as a "traditional Arabic expression of joy and celebration." A post at Arab America explains the "ululation" is "a form of a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound representing trills of joy. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied by a rapid back and forth movement of the tongue."

  • The pushback: "Hey guys? Your ignorance is showing," wrote one user on Twitter when the initial jokes surfaced. "Shakira's 'tongue flicking' is a cultural reference to Barranquilla's Carnaval and a celebration of Colombia's culture." Another along those lines: "[D]ebated whether to chime in, but so many disrespectful memes," wrote another user. "Shakira wasn't just being funny with the 'tongue thing.' [W]hat she did is called a zaghrouta, an Arabic tradition used to express joy, excitement, celebration. [T]ypically heard at weddings."
  • Another nod: Shakira was celebrating her heritage, notes Billboard. "In addition to the zaghrouta, Shak honored her Colombian heritage by dancing Champeta and Mapalé, two popular Afro-Colombian dances."
  • Making history: Shakira herself hasn't commented specifically on the moment, but she and Jennifer Lopez have won rave reviews for their halftime show, the first to feature two Latina singers. It was the "best birthday gift," tweeted Shakira, who turned 43 on Sunday. "We Latinos climbed Kilimanjaro and made history tonight and we couldn't have done it without all of you!"
  • Empowering: At USA Today, Hanna Yasharoff notes that some critics called the performers' racy outfits inappropriate in the MeToo era. Yasharoff feels the opposite. The MeToo movement "is about exposing wrongdoing and allowing victims to take back power," she writes. "What better way to honor that than putting women in the driver's seat? In the debate over whether something is empowering or objectifying, it's important to check who holds the power. Lopez and Shakira did nothing Sunday night if not command power." At ages 50 and 43, no less.
(Lopez made a statement of her own.)

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