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Shakira’s Super Bowl halftime performance sparks memes and a much-needed history lesson

During the halftime show, Shakira let out a seemingly strange cry that the internet turned into a meme. But it’s actually a beautiful Arabic expression.

Shakira’s Super Bowl halftime performance sparks memes and a much-needed history lesson
[Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images]

The Super Bowl Latin-infused halftime show represented Puerto Rico with Jennifer Lopez and Bad Bunny, and Colombia with Shakira and J Balvin.

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But for a very brief but meaningful moment, there was another country present on stage: Lebanon.

During Shakira’s opening set, she looked straight into the camera and let out a vocal cry that instantly became a meme.

While most people were quick to make jokes, as the internet so often is at the ready to do, there were some who thankfully put Shakira’s seemingly peculiar ululation into context. That high-pitched warble is referred to as zaghrouta, a traditional Arabic expression of happy emotions. According to Arab America:

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The origin of “Zaghareet” [pl.] or Ululation dates back to the pre-Islamic era, as it was a traditional ritual of idolatry practiced collectively by women asking the idols for relief, mercy, rain . . . etc. In addition to drumbeats, they also used ululation to stimulate excitement on battlefields.

Shakira’s father was born in New York City to Lebanese parents and later emigrated to Colombia where she was born. But he didn’t leave his roots behind: Shakira’s name is actually Arabic for “grateful” or “full of grace.”

So the fact that she took even the briefest of moments on a massive stage like the Super Bowl halftime show to honor not only her Latin roots but Arabic as well was quite powerful.

It’s not all jokes, internet.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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