[29 July 2014]
“You don’t know me now / oh you don’t know me now” is the last line you hear in the chorus of the title track for Jennifer Lopez’s album A.K.A. And that’s really the irony: Jennifer Lopez (or JLo if you prefer) has always bared herself so much it’s impossible not to know who she is. The singer, actor, and American Idol judge seems to know exactly what to do in order to cater to everybody. She’s somehow managed to be a Latin superstar without really sticking to musical sounds and genres that her ex-husband, Marc Antony, embrace. It’s been great for her career, with many people even deciding to dub her a pioneer of Latin stars crossing over to pop, hip-hop, and R&B. I mean, who would dub hits like “Jenny From the Block” and “Get Right” Latin hits? Exactly.
However, this creative peak for Jennifer seemed to fade dramatically when she decided to make the brief, yet horrendous change to Latin music. We all remember the album nobody bought. Since then, she’s had a really hard time reaching the heights she last achieved on Rebirth. There may have been fleeting moments of her return: the major hit “On the Floor” and her recent performance on the World Cup Ceremony may launch her back into the spotlight, but album sales do not lie. None of her albums, starting with Brave, have managed to go platinum in the States, let alone do better anywhere else. And who can forget the fact that she sold about 33,000 copies of this album?
This is why I feel sorry for her, because she pushes some boundaries on this album, the main one being her voice. We know she isn’t Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson, but she’s always managed to sound bearable. However, someone must have nudged her to take some singing lessons because she is trying to push her vocal limits, although they show every time she decides to give it her all. Take, for example, the Latin-inspired ballad “Let It Be Me”. The lyrics may be rather cheesy and there may not be a big finish, but you must applaud her vocal delivery, which easily counts as some of her best to date, although I picture Toni Braxton singing this with much more poise.
There are actual moments of brilliance due to the fact that she pushes herself vocally. The fact that the production is almost bare helps display her vocals even more, with nothing but a few sweeping strings and a Fruity-Loops sounding (yes, that’s not a typo) Spanish guitar running through it. But it isn’t the only ballad on the album, which is a complete shame because it’s the only ballad that does her justice. “Never Satisfied” is completely and utterly terrible for several reasons. First of all, everyone can tell this is a Rihanna demo. Even if it isn’t, I can only picture Rihanna having a hit with this. Plus, Lopez cannot seem to pull off needy very well. Rather she sounds contrived, even annoyed.
“Emotions” doesn’t sound any better, and it showcases Jennifer Lopez needing Auto-Tune badly. After hearing her barely singing the lower notes correctly or in time and then coming across lyrics like this (“Someone took my emotions / I feel good ‘cos I / Don’t feel bad”), I practically gave up on this track twice before hearing it through. And then I came across the production, which then reminded me of the point I made earlier about songs like these being demos for a certain someone. Do you need three guesses? The worst of the ballads features Auto-Tune and Rick Ross. He clearly sounds more interested than she is. And as for the Auto-Tune nobody should be surprised. The lyrics sound like they were written by a 15-year-old (“Im’ma always hold it down for ya / Look at how I move around for ya”) and the production is typical hip-hop fodder trying to sound haunting.
The mid-tempo and dance tracks are a slightly better fare, although they don’t hold out much hope either. “Acting Like That: sees JLo outshined by Iggy Azalea. JLo’s delivery is rather spare. While she sounds perfectly fine she never exudes sexy or confident. On the other hand, Iggy seems a lot more comfortable on the track. The title track doesn’t disappoint, with Jennifer presenting a dubstep-lite track that sees her team up with T.I. He doesn’t impress as much as he annoys, but he still delivers a solid verse. Miss Lopez doesn’t ever try to outdo him, but she has enough fun on the track and makes it an easy one to karaoke along to.
The best song on the album, though, has to be “First Love”. She happens to strike gold with a track that sounds like an updated demo of a hit made for Britney Spears. That doesn’t mean Jenny fails to put her own stamp on the track. She makes it her own and sounds alive for the first time in a long time. Had this been 15 years ago, this would’ve been a huge hit. Now, it just sounds like a song pulled from a greatest hits album. The ‘JLo’ stamp doesn’t last long, as she’s declaring her love for her Papi with French Montana on a track that doesn’t do justice for either. Montana clearly runs out of steam within the first 20 seconds of popping up on the track and Jennifer sounds like she’s trying too hard. To make matters worse, the production is clunky and it makes me think that the song was intended for another singer (Think Lumidee, if you remember her.)
The last song on the album, “Booty” inspires very little hope that she will ever get out of the I-must-stop-teaming-up-with-Pitbull phase of her career. As usual, she doesn’t have the edginess to pull the vocals off, but Pitbull adds any flavour Jennifer should have injected. He may come up with anything new, but it at least helps the production, which is some of the best production on the album due to Diplo’s hand in it. It’s dance-ability helps lift JLo’s lackluster and plain vocals.
All in all, the album is far from solid. Rather it’s a bunch of recycled ideas abandoned by other artists that have found their way to Jennifer Lopez. It’s not a great album at all, even by her standards. And no, they have never been very high. The main issue isn’t her voice or her choice of collaborators. It’s the simply the end result. Fifteen years into their careers, Mariah Carey and Madonna both released albums that gave them a bonafide hit as well as a multi-platinum selling album. I won’t deny that JLo can achieve an album of that level, but if this is what her fans get after supporting her for 15 years, she’ll be facing the same predicament that Britney faced with Britney Jean: a poor album due to poor production and song writing, poor sales and poor vocal delivery. Jennifer Lopez may have done a Britney and released a strong contender for the worst pop album of the year.