If current sales forecasts are to be believed, Jennifer Lopez — AKA J.Lo, AKA Jenny From The Block, AKA Lola — is about to have one of the most depressingly low debuts for a pop diva in 2014.
It’s a damn shame, too.
J.Lo is underrated — one of the most underrated pop divas, in fact. While she may not have the vocal chops of Mariah or Beyoncé (or even Ariana Grande, let’s keep it 100), she’s still the epitome of a pop star: She’s an incredible performer. Her dance moves are phenomenal. She’s got undeniable X factor (although she’s on American Idol). She brings the spectacle and glamour of a pop diva. And, of course, she’s got the songs.
She’s always had the songs: From “If You Had My Love” to “Waiting For Tonight” to “Play” to “Jenny From The Block” to “Get Right” to “Do It Well” to “On The Floor” to “I Luh Ya Papi,” J.Lo’s been supplying jams (16 Top 10 hits!) for over 15 years — to varying degrees of popularity (#JusticeForLouboutins). She’s had 3 #1 records. And last month, she was made the first-ever female recipient of Billboard’s Icon Award.
Accordingly, Jennifer feeling pretty confident on her latest studio album, the follow-up to 2011’s LOVE?. Scratch that: A.K.A. is cocky as fuck, and as #unapologetic as RiRi and her nipples.
“Baddest bitch in the world right here,” La Lopez declares across tripping hi-hats and muted synths on “Acting Like That,” a murky, downtempo trap-inspired cut with Iggy Azalea.
You see, Miss Jenny’s got nothing left to prove — she said so herself to Billboard — and the record certainly feels like a celebration of that sheer fucklessness.
“Can you hear me now? This is not the girl you used to know,” she cautions on “A.K.A.” — the opening urban trap-pop declaration and title track. The song plays like a braggy sister to Britney Jean‘s own T.I.-assisted “Tik Tik Boom,” full of bad girl brags and thumping bass. “Can’t figure me out! You don’t know me now!”
See, she’s not the same girl — err, wait. But isn’t she?
The campaign started off on a weak foot (and, let’s be real, pretty much ended that way) by kicking off with a return to roots of sort in January, “Same Girl”, an limp urban banger that saw Jenny returning the block for the umpteenth time. She’s real! Or haven’t you heard by now? “Girls,” a DJ Mustard-produced club bumper, came immediately after. It was better, but dead on arrival.
And then, a true revelation came in Spring: J.Lo’s papi lovin’ “I Luh Ya Papi” arrived in March. Gold! Letting go of her “tougher” first few efforts (and also proper diction), the song’s weird, warbly synths and swoon-filled chorus had Jennifer flaunting deez legz, taking power showers and patting her weave in a true anthem for papi lovers worldwide: “I luh ya papi, I luh ya, luh ya, luh ya papi!” (The soap sud-drenched, papi-filled visual didn’t hurt, either.)
She brought the pop even harder two months later with “First Love,” a sparkling summer jam crafted by the King Of Swede-Pop himself, Max Martin. There was plenty to luh here: The aching chorus (“…’Cause if you were first, baby there wouldn’t have been no second, third or fourth luh!”), the disco diva background coos (“Oooo-OOOOO!“), and oh, that bridge! Live performances, like the one during the Idol finale, were equipped with fiery, hair flip-heavy dance breakdowns that proved the 44-year-old mother of two could perform circles around pop tarts half her age. (Not that it ever translated to sales, unfortunately.)
The cockiness of A.K.A. extends right through to her vocal delivery — to occasionally disastrous proportions: “Emotions,” a R&B ballad crafted by longtime collaborator Cory Rooney, is frankly a bit too ambitious for Jenny’s limited range. “Someone took my emoooottttiiioooons!” she strains, like a drunk karaoke singer trying desperately to hit that one note. She sounds so, so bad…and yet, it’s endearing. A little, at least.
“Never Satisfied,” too, takes Jenny into ballad territory — rock-tinged power balladry, specifically. (Sure, why not?) “I’ve been tossing and turning, all this hunger is burning/I need something to feed my soul,” she declares before a thunderous, arena-sized chorus. “I’m never satisfied!” And “Let It Be Me” — her Como Ama una Mujer moment of the album — suddenly swerves into over-the-top off-off-Broadway dramatics. “If you ever meet your last breath, let me be the last word you said,” she pleads on the Harmony Samuels-helmed, Spanish guitar-led ballad. The last two minutes are, at least, a vocal moment of redemption, as Jenny’s voice rises: “Until the clouds fall out of the sky and the snow falls down in July…let it be me!” she dramatically belts. At least she found those emotions.
Elsewhere, the confidence allows her to soar: “So Good,” a thumping electro-R&B midtempo kiss-off, is exactly what the title suggests. “I’m still so good over you,” J.Lo cries above a shimmering synth soundscape — an understated highlight of the album, without a doubt.
The Detail-produced, Rick Ross-assisted slow burn “Worry No More” is another standout, like a 2014 version of J.Lo’s Ja Rule-assisted urban smashes in the early ’00’s. “Do anything that you can to make me feel so protected/I don’t wanna worry no more,” Jennifer cries out above a tripping hip-hop beat.
The set rounds off with the roundest rump of all — and a true point of pride: “Booty,” a bubblin’, bangin’ and thoroughly twerk-friendly ode to dat ass. With Diplo (of “Bubble Butt” legend) and Pitbull (of bulge fame) at her disposal, she’s in good hands — hands that are rather familiar with a good donk. “Throw up ya hands if ya love a big booty!” J.Lo announces before the marching beat comes creeping in. “Big, big booty…” It’s a bit Major Lazer, a bit LMFAO — and all but impossible to resist (as all big booties generally are). All hail the booty!
While the standard edition of A.K.A. ends with “Booty,” the deluxe edition of the record is pretty crucial. Why? Because things are about to get gay. Like, rill gay: It’s time for “Tens.” It’s all about “Tens.”
“Tens” exists at the intersection of embarrassing and fierce; an endlessly quotable, struttable nod to ballroom culture a la Paris Is Burning, calling out femmes, legends and glam queens alike. “Eating the runway, serving the runway, marching the runway!” Jenny merrily declares above a hard,s tinging synth beat. “Don’t be sha-day/Be a lay-day!” Jenny giving love to the queens? Okurrrrr!
Like a cross between Christina Aguilera‘s “Vanity” and an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, J.Lo’s serving Queen Diva Bitch realness…and she just keeps GOING. “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, BITCH!” (That’s the best part.) There’s even a hint of Brit Brit‘s “Work Bitch” — to which she throws some playful shade: “We don’t work bitch — we serve bitch!” she sasses. (This after Brit Brit’s sweet words about you! How COULD you, Jenny?!)
On the one hand, this one’s going down big at the clurb — especially on Amateur Drag Night. On the other, is this not just outright pandering? Doesn’t she sound sort of awkward name-dropping Ninja and LaBeija? And embarrassing? Oh, whatever. She’s living — and so shall we. “I turnt it, right?” Jenny giggles in the song’s final seconds. Sure. Shante, you stay!
As far as top-notch pop is concerned, however, there’s no need to look any further than “Expertease (Ready Set Go).” It’s an instant smash, penned by Pop’s Most In-Demand Songwriter© Sia. (SHOCKING.) The track has a subtle tribal element — a bit like a cross between Rih’s “Rude Boy” and Kylie‘s own Sia tease “Sexercize.” It’s playful, sexy, and unbelievably catchy from start to finish: “Come on baby, ready set go!/I want to go boy against girl,” Jenny tempts. “Let me show my expertise/I’m an expertease!” A win for Sia, yet again.
The name A.K.A. sort of hits Jenny’s album squarely on the head: It’s an ego-filled title — very “I think you already know my name,” as one Lotus Legend once proclaimed.
But the name A.K.A. also applies in the sense of an identity crisis. “I don’t know her,” as another diva once famously shaded La Lopez. Why? Because the album as a whole, from angst-filled rock balladry to swoon-y Max Martin Swede-pop to fierce runway camp to brag-filled trap, makes little to no sense as a body of work. And that’s fine, of course! Just inconsistent, like a pick ‘n’ mix.
A.K.A. is campy, cocky fun in time for summer — and all but destined to be overlooked, sadly. Tens across the board? Not quite. But when it works, it serves.
A.K.A. was released on June 17. (iTunes)