That Viral Super Bowl Shakira Meme Is a Bad Look, Guys

(Photo: Getty Images)

The Super Bowl LIV halftime show, which featured performances by musical icons Shakira and Jennifer Lopez this year, was major in so many ways. JLo pulled out a huge cape with the American flag on one side and the Puerto Rican flag on the other! Shakira played the drums like a badass! They both danced their asses off! No doubt, it was a moment of representation for Latinx people, especially Latina women, and female entertainers over 40 (Shakira is 43, Lopez is 50). The not-so-great part? The Shakira meme that came out of it.

People’s reactions to one part of Shakira’s performance got pretty out of hand. As the Grammy-winning singer started performing her classic “Hips Don’t Lie,” she stuck her tongue out toward one of the cameras and let out a cry.

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Many were quick to pounce, asking what the Shakira “tongue thing” was; countless Shakira memes soon followed. Shakira was compared to a turkey pardoned on Thanksgiving and a toddler who doesn’t want to get ready for bed, among other things.

Who doesn’t love a good-natured meme? Well, as many others on Twitter quickly pointed out, it seems the Shakira memes were—perhaps unintentionally—culturally insensitive; Shakira’s “tongue thing” was in fact likely one of the musician’s many tributes to her Colombian-Lebanese heritage. “Quit the stupid jokes,” said one person. “This is called zaghrouta (a.k.a. ululation in English). It is a joyful sound Arabic speakers make when cheering & celebrating.” Others connected Shakira’s “tongue flicking” to the Carnaval de Barranquilla, which is held in Colombia.

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A lecturer at the University of California Berkeley told the Washington Post that zaghrouta has a “long-standing cultural presence” in places like Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, where Shakira’s father is from. “It definitely has a long history without putting a particular date to it,” he said. “So much so that no wedding or celebration would be complete without having a zaghrouta expression taking place.”

Lots of folks were thrilled to see Shakira and JLo celebrating their cultural roots on one of the biggest stages in America. As more people of colour use their platforms to showcase their heritage, hopefully we (i.e. Twitter) can learn to start thinking before poking fun.

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