J. Lo The Improbable: A Career Retrospective


Jennifer Lopez is on her tenth album in 15 years. It’s a funny thing to say, because J. Lo’s career always revolved around her being the improbable pop star, a gorgeous dancer turned bankable movie actress turned musician with light, lip-syncing pipes who ended up judging a singing competition and making millions. “If You Had My Love” was an unlikely No. 1 song. “Feeling So Good” is one of the best feel-good anthems ever (it’s written into the title!). J. Lo has walked the line between being very authentic, to the Bronx and to her Latin roots, and being overly trendy… and somehow pulling it off.

This brings us to “I Luh Ya Papi,” which a younger co-worker played in the office yesterday (and loves), while another older co-worker called it a “gimmick” and “Really?? ‘Papi’?? Who’s still talking like that??” (I’m just the messenger.) Musically, not much has changed for J. Lo, who’s 44, impossibly.

The hook:
I luh ya papi, I luh ya papi
I luh ya luh ya luh ya papi
I luh ya papi
I luh ya luh ya luh ya papi
I luh ya papi
I luh ya luh ya luh ya papi
Yeah that [Ed note: Not that’s] my papi
I luh ya luh ya luh ya papi

“I Luh Ya Papi” (featuring French Montana) is another stab at staying young (it helps that she still looks the part; the co-worker who loves it called the song “an anthem for cougars”). The album where it originates from hits on June 17 and features both adult acts (Maxwell, Robin Thicke) and young faces (Tyga and Chris Brown, who J. Lo funnily called “a very talented boy” even though he’s 24).

The song isn’t surprising. This is an artist who at 33, co-wrote “All I Have,” which featured lines like, “I’m bouncing, and I’m out, son” and “I got this thing on lock.” It went No. 1. Most of her best songs are hip-pop ones that require only light vocal input. Most of those feature a rapper and, not coincidentally, are her highest charting singles: “All I Have” (LL Cool J), “Jenny From The Block,” “I’m Gonna Be Alright” (Nas), “Ain’t It Funny” (Ja Rule), “Get Right” (Fabolous), “I’m Real” (Ja Rule).

So “I Luh Ya Papi” might grow on you. It’s listenable.

J. Lo’s openly tried to maintain proximity to her past life and her past neighborhood. It’s not hard to believe she’s relatively the same person, but it’s interesting how she’s kept reinforcing her identity in songs (“I’m Real,” “Jenny From the Block”) and album titles (1999’s On The 6, named after the childhood train she took, and the grammatically weird This Is Me…Then in 2002)* and interviews.

In 2003, she told VIBE: “What people don’t realize is I’m gonna stay who I am no matter what neighborhood I live in. I’m still David and Lupe’s daughter, still grew up in Castle Hill in the Bronx. People may be like, ‘Why she always gotta say it, always reminding us.’ But you know what? Saying it aloud grounds me.”

In 2014, she told Pop Crush: “What I realized is that I just always have to be me. If I’m approaching something creatively, I have to be who I am… I’m the same girl that I always was, while I’ve evolved and I’ve grown and I have more experience. And I have to put that into this album – and I think I really did.”

Like Janet Jackson or George Clooney, J. Lo has chosen to be generally inaccessible in a very accessible era. She’s on Twitter and Instagram, but mostly as a promotional tool. She doesn’t tweet a barrage of intimate or inappropriate thoughts like other pop “divas.” Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj won’t let us not see her breasts be great. Mariah’s embraced her diva persona so much that you could see her starring in a reality show or hosting a talk show and being all gaudy and ridiculous in a good way. Even Beyonce has flashed her side- and under boobs to the world in music video form and elected the most visual social mediums (Instagram and Tumblr) as her most visible vehicles.

On the other hand, J. Lo was on front street before celebrity TMI became a thing and reached its tipping point. Maybe she’s tired of it. From her relationship with Puffy to Chris Judd to Ben Affleck to Marc Anthony, she’s written her emotions into her music: “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” covered her then on-again, off-again boyfriend Puffy’s use of material things as a substitute for affection; and Ben Affleck gets to have “Dear Ben” for the rest of his life, all of which added an appeal to J. Lo that’s maybe missing this time around (though she says the new album was inspired by her divorce from Marc Anthony) because there’s no salaciousness surrounding her love life. No one cares about Casper.

But who could forget how Jennifer and Ben Affleck were part of the celebrity couple media storm (would there be a KimYe without a Bennifer). J. Lo helped made it even more public during the Gigli era, singing “Baby, I Love U!”* and co-starring with Ben on a yacht in the music video for “Jenny From The Block.” You probably don’t remember the post-Affleck albums Rebirth, Brave and Love?* for a reason.

Suffice to say, reading old J. Lo interviews is fascinating.

In 1999, she told VIBE: “You can’t let people in that much, because what do you have left for you?”

But in 2003, she opened up and addressed tracking Puffy down in hotel rooms to try to catch him cheating: “After my first divorce, I wasn’t trying to be exclusive with anybody, but Puff came at me hard. He said he looked at me and fell in love and made me love him, too. We started a very tumultuous affair, because it was the first time I was with somebody who wasn’t faithful… He’d say he was going to a club for a couple of hours and then never come back that night.”

Anyway, “I Luh Ya Papi.” If Irv Gotti and co. can come back and remix this song and make it a hit, then maybe J. Lo has another reign in her. Because by far, my favorite J. Lo is the Murder-Inc.-Remix era J. Lo, during which I performed Ja Rule’s verse on the “I’m Real (Remix)” while doing karaoke for the first time. If “I Luh Ya Papi” and the guest features are any indication, the new album will stay in that always iffy trendy lane, where she loves to be. She’s wearing a version of her famous Grammy gown in the music video. She does the Nae Nae. —Clover Hope (@clovito)

The 2:23 mark below:

*Obsessed with unnecessary punctuation marks much?