Jennifer Lopez 2024
Photo: Norman Jean Roy / Red Umbrella PR

Jennifer Lopez’s Music Industry Fairytale ‘This Is Me…Now’

Jennifer Lopez tells the story of new-old love through languid R&B-style pop, her signature. However, she fails to achieve the electricity of early hits.

This Is Me…Now
Jennifer Lopez
Nuoyrican / BMG
16 February 2024

The best moment of Jennifer Lopez‘s ninth studio album, This Is Me…Now, comes at the end when backing vocals eclipse the chorus of “The Greatest Love Story Never Told”. Although these vocals do not add any lyrical nuance to the song’s seemingly vague, given the context and hyper-specific storyline, they speak to Lopez’s ability to elevate an otherwise lukewarm pop song. The line “Twenty years ago / Feels like time has frozen” fades long after the listener has correlated that period to Lopez’s relationship with actor Ben Affleck, rekindled in 2021 after a near-20-year hiatus. 

As this line becomes quieter, Lopez proclaims, “All this time, never told a soul…this is love, baby.” Although, lyrically, these lines may scan as the most cliche on an album with pockets of nuance (even if that nuance is achieved through self-reference), they serve as a heartfelt capstone to the record’s message. Through the firmness of her vocal delivery, Lopez communicates the agony and triumph of rediscovering true love after 20 years apart. However, the clarity of this sentiment begs the question: what is the purpose of the 12 tracks leading up to that moment, which seek to communicate the same message? 

Throughout This Is Me…Now, Jennifer Lopez tells the story of new-old love through languid R&B style pop, her signature. However, she fails to achieve the electricity of early hits like “Jenny from the Block” and “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”. This disparity may be attributable to the different writers Lopez currently works with. Many of the tracks feel like a patchwork quilt of hooks, none able to emerge from the downtempo cage of the trap-inspired production that, if removed, would allow their pop potential to spring forth. 

The opener, “This Is Me…Now”, avoids this fate through a bridge sequence that offers a quick succession of punchlines: “Ain’t nothin’ change you know paps going crazy / Beep-beep pull up in that black Bugazzi.” However, the delivery of the titular line in the chorus brings the song to a halt as it comes sandwiched between an upbeat pre and post-chorus, feeling like a manufactured opportunity to announce the song’s title. While the callback to 2002’s This Is Me…Then, Lopez’ second studio LP might feel like a central purpose of This Is Me…Now, moments such as the bridge of the title track achieve the album’s nostalgic goals, commenting not only on the continuity of true love but the persistence of the celebrity gossip machine 20 years later. 

Amidst the fad of reboots and sequels that emerged in the late 2010s and continues into the 2020s, This Is Me…Now, as a title, unites the project’s existence as a musical entity with its existence as a product of pop culture. Jennifer Lopez pokes fun at her image as a serial monogomist in the music video for the single “Can’t Get Enough”, marrying multiple grooms throughout it while guests place bets on the length of each union. This self-awareness gives credibility to the record’s focus on newfound love, which already has a wobbly narrative that relies on a listener’s knowledge of early 2000s pop culture to convey a complete understanding of the story. However, the “Can’t Get Enough” music video redeems this weakness of the album by framing its central theme of newfound love not only as a concrete storyline but as an exercise in branding, in which Lopez uses humor to challenge a listener’s understanding of her image and shatter the stigma around divorce. 

While it would be presumptuous to assume that Lopez’s reunion with Affleck results from the current reboot trend, the pop star has a habit of marrying her life and art. In 2021, Lopez starred in the movie Marry Me, about a singer who marries a crowd member at one of her concerts after discovering her husband’s infidelity. To Rolling Stone, Lopez talked about relating to the movie’s protagonist: “What does it feel like when it all falls apart, and you go home, and you’re on the TV, and they’re making fun of you?” In This Is Me…Now and Marry Me, Lopez displays her ability to plant nuggets of autobiography across various media. She also capitalizes on a strategy common in the current climate of celebrity, where fame becomes a topic of discussion that artists must engage with to justify their outsized presence in public life. 

Instead of breaking new ground or forging a new aspect of her persona, This Is Me…Now, through its title, capitalizes on what already exists. Jennifer Lopez’s reunion with Affleck creates a convenient empowerment narrative in which her journey of self-discovery leads to true love. While this writer doesn’t doubt the truth of that narrative, its nuance doesn’t shine through on the new album, which, as a whole, is a collection of love songs that essentially say being in love is great. 

An exception is “Broken Like Me”, where Lopez provides detail regarding the journey that led to her current state of romantic bliss, saying, “Next one was young didn’t last very long/dysfunctional fun…” alluding to her on-and-off relationship with dancer Casper Smart from 2011-2016. This moment provides dimension to This Is Me…Now by transcending the narrative of Lopez’s love life readily available to the public. The song also implies that Lopez ended the relationship with Smart partly out of obligation to her children, giving credence to the idea that she had to make sacrifices before she was ready to settle down into a more meaningful and lasting relationship. 

Speaking of her reunion with Affleck, Jennifer Lopez told Vogue, “Self-love is really about boundaries. Learning what you’re comfortable with and putting up the boundaries, not being afraid of the consequences.” In a statement released after calling off her initial engagement to Affleck in 2004, the couple cited “excessive media attention” as a factor in their decision. In 2021, Affleck claimed that the press was about 50% responsible for their breakup. Their reunification has been an exercise in boundaries – learning what works for each other and how to prevent media attention from infiltrating their relationship. Talking to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Lopez said neither she nor Affleck was “mature enough” in 2004 for their relationship to work. 

The title of This Is Me…Now, as a companion to This Is Me…Then, does most of the work of implying the love described in the earlier album survived. However, beneath the surface, another story lurks. Any celebrity must make sacrifices to live in the public eye. That Lopez and Affleck were right for each other all along may have been what split them up. With two burgeoning public careers, the pressure it takes to maintain an image may have meant that neither party could also be the version of themselves that they had to be for each other: to do so would have been another act of emotional labor. 

In that context, the story of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez is not just one of self-discovery or unrequited love but also one in which two motivated people choose to define their sense of self through their careers. Although this choice may seem selfish, preserving their individuality allowed them to meet with their compatibility intact twenty years later. While Lopez bemoans press attention throughout This Is Me…Now, the storyline of her relationship embodies that contract that all celebrities must make with the press. 

This Is Me…Now reprises both an album title and a song title. “Dear Ben, Pt II” fades into the record’s background: another trap-inspired confession of love that doesn’t reveal anything unique about the subject or the singer. The clickbait-worthy title appears to be given to the track retroactively to fit the album’s motif of nostalgia. 

The original “Dear Ben” succeeded through Jennifer Lopez’s earnest vocal performance over modest acoustic production, which included minor chords, evoking a bittersweet feeling. Its sequel lacks authenticity, weighed down by a combination of production that works against the title’s implication of balladry and a hook that rhymes “ring” with “sing”, setting up another line that mentions a “caller ID”. Although Lopez succeeds in updating her brand of Latin-infused pop with a narrative for the 2020s, some references just don’t age well.

RATING 7 / 10