Jennifer Lopez doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed when it comes to music: “I am dance, I am pop, I am R&B, I am hip-hop, I am Latin, I am Jenny From The Block. But I am also ‘Jenny From Rodeo Drive’.”
In the course of one recent week, Jennifer Lopez was honoured with a Billboard Icon Award, her single First Love became the most-added song on pop radio, she played to a sold-out crowd in Anaheim, California in the United States, and wrapped another season as an American Idol judge.
In other words, it was business as usual for the multi-platinum singer known as J.Lo, who has multiple films and a TV series in the works, fragrances, countless endorsement deals, a TV and film production company and part ownership in a cable network. It’s an insane juggling act that makes multitasker Jay Z look like a slacker.
“I think because I do a lot of different things, I don’t get credit for being great at one thing like some people are,” Lopez, 44, said of her mixed-medium career. “Somebody once told me, ‘One of the best things is when people underestimate you, because then you can always surprise them’.”
And that she’s done. After a couple of bumpy years in the late 2000s that saw her stock in music and films fall, Lopez tried her hand as an Idol judge. The pay-off was big. Her comeback album, 2011’s Love?, had a top five debut (a feat she hadn’t done since 2005); its lead single, On The Floor, was her highest debut, and the video became one of the most-watched.
A.K.A., her follow-up album that was released last month, is what Lopez wants to talk about now. “It’s very surreal. You feel like you started yesterday. Believe it or not, (the time) just goes,” she said, snapping her fingers for emphasis from inside the dressing room of a West Hollywood sound stage.
Like previous efforts, the new album shows Lopez’s wide-ranging tastes, but A.K.A. also showcases a singer better adept at balancing her pop and hip-hop roots. She zips from the dancey title track to the breezy electro-pop of the Max Martin-produced First Love to sticky hip-hop offerings such as Acting Like That and I Luh Ya Papi to torch ballads.
“I did a couple of dance records and people want me to do a dance album. Or they think I should go back to being Jenny From The Block,” she laughs. “I am dance, I am pop, I am R&B, I am hip-hop, I am Latin, I am Jenny From The Block. But I am also Jenny From Rodeo Drive. It was about embracing all those things musically, everything about me emotionally, and putting that into lyrics and sound for this album.”
Lounging barefoot in a leather armchair, the singer-actress-dancer and mum looked relaxed despite her whirlwind schedule and a brewing controversy over the FIFA-commissioned World Cup anthem We Are One (Ole Ola). It was recorded largely in English and Spanish with Cuban-American rapper Pitbull and Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitte (with hardly any Portuguese for a song touting the Brazil-hosted matches, thus part of the outcry from Brazilians who felt the Bronx-born Puerto Rican Lopez and Pitbull were unfit).
If Lopez is stressed out by any of this, she doesn’t let it show. She looks as radiant and warm as she does in that judge’s chair – and makes eating pizza look almost glamorous.
Fifteen years after launching her music career, Lopez has sold more than 80 million records globally and is still the only performer to have a No.1 album and film the same week.
A.K.A. is her first offering on Capitol Records after years of label shifts (Lopez departed Island Def Jam after Love?; before that, she parted ways with Sony/Epic). The new album also comes at a time when Lopez is yet again the subject of tabloid headlines.
Recent criticism about the World Cup anthem was exacerbated by reports that she had abruptly pulled out of the opening ceremony days before the kick-off in São Paulo (reps for the singer called the cancellation reports “premature” and said the singer was set to appear).
Two years ago, the singer went through a highly publicised divorce from singer Marc Anthony. And reports of her split with Casper Smart, her choreographer boyfriend of over two years (he was once her backup dancer), are currently dominating tabloid sites. Smart was present during the interview, sweetly kissing Lopez and bringing her food before driving her to the airport.
Love and all its splendour – and peril – is a major lyrical touchstone on Lopez’s new album. “I’m so done with pleasing you / I’m so over needing you / All this space just gave me room so I could fly,” she sings on So Good. In conversation, she’s also forthcoming about the subject.
“These last four years, I felt like I really had to look at myself. One of the things I realised was I had to love myself a little bit more,” said Lopez, who lives in Los Angeles. “That was a huge lesson for me. My kids (she and Anthony had twins in 2008) taught me that. They teach you a sort of unconditional kind of love and what it should feel like. It’s very selfless and pure.
“The breakup (of my marriage) just made me go make some real realisations about myself. When you get to the point of loving yourself … you start going, ‘OK, well, who am I?’ Myself happens to be many things. Do I love all those parts? The good parts, the messy parts. And when I said that, so many things happened for this album.”
Lopez is eager to get back on the road. After 2012’s well-received and high-grossing Dance Again World Tour (her first), she’s hoping to support the new album with another trek. Whether she can depend on her oft-crammed schedule, which includes Idol.
Also on her plate? Several films slated for next year, including the thriller The Boy Next Door, the indie drama Lila & Eve and the animated family film Home. There’s also Shades Of Blue, an NBC drama she’s attached to produce and star in. It received a 13-episode order for the 2015-16 season. “It’s a great role for me, but again, it’s logistics,” she says. “Can we make it work for all of the things I have going on in my life?”
Lopez also wrote her first book, True Love, due out in October. Initially, a photo diary of the year she toured, the book morphed “into a real story of that transitional, transformative time” in her personal life.
“I’m nervous about it, I’ll be honest. It’s soul-baring. There’s a different strength to me than there was from my first album. I’m the same girl, I’m the same person, but I’m stronger now. I’ve grown up, and I like to think I’m a little bit better now,” she says before breaking into laughter. “But you don’t have to analyse it. Just enjoy the music.” — Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services