In the seventh season premiere of Will & Grace, Jennifer Lopez made a cameo as herself. When the show’s boozy libertine Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) described her brief marriage from the previous season as lasting 20 minutes, Jennifer Lopez responded with a deadpan, “And that’s short, right?” The joke was a crack on Lopez’s reputation for having many short-lived engagements, relationships, and marriages. The joke was similar to all of those wisecracks in the 1980s about Elizabeth Taylor’s habit of getting married.
Of course, the comparison between Lopez and Taylor is very apt. Like Taylor, Lopez is a Hollywood performer who has branched out into other endeavors and projects and someone whose personal life often overwhelmed her work. Though Lopez is a hard-working actress, singer, dancer, producer, and entrepreneur, she’s also a Celebrity with a capital C. The movies, the music, the perfume, the tabloid stories—they’re all mere shiny accessories to Lopez’s staggering fame. So, one could say that Jennifer Lopez was our generation’s Elizabeth Taylor. Not everyone will know the lyrics to her latest song, nor will everyone be able to recount the plot to her last film, but nearly everyone can recite the list of paramours Lopez had throughout her (very) public life. Thus, even though Jennifer Lopez is a performer, her fame has taken on a Kardashian-like quality, and she’s largely famous for just being famous.
By 2011, Lopez’s music career entered a plateau of sorts. She broke into the music industry with her 1999 album, On the 6, and enjoyed a string of hit singles, but by 2011, she was so overexposed—with a brand so diverse and ubiquitous—that the impact of her music seemed diluted and irrelevant. The songs stopped charting and her film career entered a period of some disappointing-to-middling successes. But, even if the commercial fortunes of her work dipped, her celebrity remained untouched. That year, she found a new way to market her brand: judging on American Idol. She joined the 10th season of the singing competition for a reported $12 million.
The exposure on American Idol paid off handsomely for Lopez because her single “On the Floor” reached the top ten, peaking at number three, and became her biggest hit in nearly a decade. Appearing on television weekly in front of audiences of over 20 million meant that her album Love? was gifted with a major promotional platform.
For a superstar as massive and cosseted as Jennifer Lopez, remaining current with new and hot pop is difficult. Despite her seeming humble background (this was the platinum-plated diva who assured her audiences that she was “Jenny from the Block”, after all), the gigantic celebrity that hangs over any Lopez project feels a bit like an albatross. For Love?’s production duties, Lopez hires an army of songwriters and producers who epitomized dance-pop circa 2011; RedOne, StarGate, C. “Tricky” Stewart, Nate “Danja” Hills, Terius “The Dream” Nash, and Lady Gaga are among the dozens of creatives who were drafted to remind audiences that Jennifer Lopez is a singer.
Despite the cast of hundreds that wrote and produced the record, Love? is a surprisingly coherent record of flashy, glittery dance-pop. Although she doesn’t possess the most distinct or powerful voice, she can fill out each tune like a well-designed Dior or Valentino. Far more important than knock-out vocals, to succeed in pop music, one needs swagger and attitude; Jennifer Lopez has that in spades.
In many ways, Love? feels a bit like a mid-90s album, not because the music sounds dated (though in 2021, it does bear a bit of a timestamp), but because it feels a bit nostalgic as she harkens back to a time in pop music when expensive albums fronted by dazzling divas were released to great fanfare. Madonna, Mariah, Whitney, and Janet would get the uberstar treatment: costly music videos, the best songwriters in town, and a Rolodex-full of hot producers to wrap these songs in a pretty bow. Really, Love? feels like an album that should’ve been released on CD and cassette.
The thing about a Jennifer Lopez album is that we’re not looking for deep, thoughtful lyrics or vocal pyrotechnics. Instead, what we want is a record full of fast songs to score our getting ready for a night on the town. (At the clubs, we’d be listening to the remixes.) The recipe for a successful Jennifer Lopez is catchy hooks, hummable melodies, pretty vocals, and some neat guest turns by a rapper or two. Love? doesn’t disappoint; It’s a shiny work of pop art that works to Lopez’s strengths—mainly, her mega-wattage charisma.
“On the Floor” is the archetypal Lopez single. It’s a thick and buzzy song with a bouncy beat, swirling synths, and electropop flourishes that place Lopez into 2011 pop radio. It’s a sturdy blend of dance, EDM, house, and a soupcon of Latin pop, too (there are elements of the 1989 hit “Lambada” weaved and threaded into the song). Lopez is joined by rapper Pitbull, a performer who matches her when it comes to pop bluster. Because Lopez is credited with popularizing the trend of pairing a rapper with a crooning girl singer, “On the Floor” is a standout track.
The other collaboration on Love?—“I’m Into You”—pairs our superstar with Lil’ Wayne. Though not as successful as “On the Floor” (it just missed the top 40), it’s an insanely catchy electro-R&B club banger that has an engaging performance by Lopez and Lil’ Wayne is a witty partner in crime.
Though Lopez’s star was still blinding in 2011, Lady Gaga was a major player as well, so coupling the two women together is inspired (not to mention a canny way to guarantee that gay guys will buy the album). “Invading My Mind” is the kind of Ibiza-destined tune that Lopez excels at; in fact, it’s reminiscent of her classic “Waiting for Tonight”. Lady Gaga (along with five other names, including Lopez herself) produces the track, and it sounds like a B-side from one of her own singles. There’s a revving synth, roaring like a Mac Truck and an exhilarating pounding beat, along with gaudy, glowstick luster. The lyrics? Not important because the chorus is singable, and Lopez delivers them with the kind of to-the-floor euphoria of the best of millennial disco music. The other Gaga collaboration is “Hypnotico”, which sounds far more like a Lady Gaga song (it’s just weird, eccentric enough, and the staccato chanting of the song’s title sounds a bit like “Poker Face”).
On a high-octane album like Love? ballads would feel out of place and out of step. Plus, ballads aren’t necessarily Jennifer Lopez’s most shining moments. Still, Love? has some rather low-key moments when the strobe lights are lowered. The mid-tempo “Until It Beats No More” is hopeful and spirited—and there are some good moments when Lopez gets to hit some impressive notes. Also, the sorta-title track, “(What Is) Love?”, is a subdued electro-pop that has an appealing, rueful tone with some witty lyrics (I mean, according to Lopez, musicians make the worst blind dates); it makes sense that the song works as a story as it’s the theme to Lopez’s 2010 rom-com, The Back-Up Plan, and it feels like the plot of a romantic comedy.
After Love?, Lopez released a greatest hits album in 2012 and her next studio LP, A.K.A., in 2014, as well as a clutch of non-album singles (including the Meghan Trainor-penned feminist bop “Ain’t Your Mama”). Yet, like many multi-hyphenated Hollywood superstars, she allowed for her music career to take a backseat to her film career, earning critical acclaim (and Oscar buzz) for her supporting turn in the 2019 crime drama Hustlers. Her empire — which, alongside film, music, and TV production, includes fashion, jewelry design, publishing, and philanthropy — is still expanding. As proven with Love?, pop music is just one facet of a truly remarkable Renaissance woman.