First of all, Jennifer Lopez's apartment looks exactly as you'd imagined, a penthouse in the sky replete with tasteful floral arrangements, flickering Le Labo candles, and sofas in shades of ecru, cream, and white that, while cozy, appear remarkably unsullied by the debris of human life. The most surprising thing about the place is the location: It's smack in the middle of a busy part of Manhattan, and yet, at the same time, it's very private. Looking out from her terrace, you can see thousands of people bustling about, but no one can see you.
This was where Lopez was sitting on a recent Sunday. She had just finished working out, because of course she had, and was sipping a cappuccino in makeup-less splendor. That's when a late-season bee, perhaps mistaking her famous skin for actual honey, suddenly dive-bombed her face. I must have made a sound like NOT HER FACE, MOTHERFUCKER because Lopez said, “It's just a bee,” and waved it away. Because of course. She can handle a bee. She's Jennifer Lopez.
When Lopez first signed on to produce and star in Hustlers, a movie inspired by an article I wrote for New York magazine, I was as familiar with her work as anyone else on planet Earth. Which is to say, I was familiar with it in the way that I was familiar with, say, air.
Movies like The Wedding Planner and songs like “Waiting for Tonight” were things I'd ingested and enjoyed my entire life and essentially considered a basic human right. But it's fair to say that I didn't fully appreciate Jennifer Lopez's work—as in, the extraordinary amount of labor she puts into making these works of art and being Jennifer Lopez—until I created a Google Alert for the movie, which had the side benefit of giving me a daily digest of Lopez's activities for over a year. It was like watching Carmen Sandiego or something. Every time I opened my email, she was somewhere, doing something.
For Hustlers, in which she plays Ramona, a tough-as-nails career stripper turned criminal, Lopez learned to pole dance, enduring numerous bruises to her thighs to deliver what will go down as the most iconic pole-dancing scene in cinematic history. After the movie was shot—over 29 days this spring—she took off on her “It's My Party” tour, singing and dancing and jumping out of cakes for sold-out audiences. At one point, I saw a photo of her hanging from a giant sparkly ring onstage, which reminded me that sometime before she'd also gotten engaged to Alex Rodriguez. Then, over the summer, she turned 50, a milestone she celebrated as one should—with a massive blowout at Gloria Estefan's house in Miami. Then, like a week after Hustlers came out in September, while the entire internet was obsessing about her performance and demanding she be given an Oscar right now, she created a wholly new iconic moment, at Donatella Versace's show in Milan, when she appeared in an updated version of the green dress that broke the internet the last time she wore it, nearly 20 years ago. Then she popped back to New York to start work with Owen Wilson and Maluma on Marry Me, which she describes as “a mix of a rom-com and The Bodyguard.” She distracted people from herself with herself.
Given the year she's had—which will spill into next, with awards season and her Super Bowl performance with Shakira just around the corner—it's tempting to frame this as a moment. A Lopezaissance, if you will. But is it? At one point during our conversation on her terrace, Lopez refers to “the busiest year of her life,” and it turns out she's talking about a different year. And looking back, one discovers an embarrassment of headlines proclaiming past years to be Her Year, Her Moment, or Her Comeback. To which Jennifer Lopez tosses her head back and yells the only sane response: “Don't call it a comeback—I been here for years!”
As her LL Cool J impression travels through the air, over the terrace, through the trees, and into the streets of Manhattan, I imagine it landing in the ear of a passerby who, turning their head skyward, says, “Is that Jennifer Lopez?”
Jennifer Lopez Breaks Down Her Biggest Career Moments
GQ: Someone, after seeing Hustlers, tweeted, “Jennifer Lopez is a bad bitch,” which I understood to be a compliment but did not realize was a lyric from “I'm Real,” until I came across an oral history of the song, which talks about how you wrote the line in the studio and beckoned Puffy to come sing it.
Jennifer Lopez: [laughs] That's true! [sings] I'm a bad, bad bitch. That was a long time ago.
It was 2001. Are you a bad bitch?
I think, growing up in the Bronx, there's a little bit of a, you know, urban-gangster quality. That “Jenny From the Block” side. With my Timberlands and my hoops. 'Cause we came from such a hard kind of background in that way. Growing up on those types of streets, I used to see girls fighting. I grew up with that. And it affects you. It makes you a little bit of a tough, badass type character. When I went to L.A., everybody seemed so soft.
Though they're not really, right?
[laughs] Yeah. It's a different kind of gangster.
Can you tell me a bit about what drew you to the character of Ramona—a fictionalized version of the criminal ringleader at the center of a very excellent article by moi?
The movies that I look for now, I'm looking for not just interesting and multilayered characters, which Ramona really was, but something that tells you about what's going on in the culture. So the whole idea of the Wall Street guys was interesting to me. These girls are cheating them, but these guys are cheating everybody! So what it says about that world, and men and women, and gender roles, all of that made me feel that this could be an interesting movie, as opposed to just a character piece.
Ramona is definitely a bad bitch.
One of the things I loved about Ramona was that she had her own set of morals and values. They were skewed, from being in this world for a long time. Which was why she could be like, “Fuck them. These guys are scumbags. They're not even gonna miss this money.” Because when you're around criminals, you become a little bit of a criminal. But I felt like Ramona was in many ways a good person. She was a good friend, and she was loyal. And she had boundaries. She was like, “I do not even look at their penises. Don't ask me to touch your shit.” Whether she was doing great things or bad things, she was very clear about what she wanted and what her goals were. And that she could do it on her own. Like, you never see a man in her life. There's men. But she was so self-sufficient. For me, who grew up with my sister sleeping in the same bed, and then went from one relationship to the other, playing that character, and having to be that independent and in charge, I was just like, “God, this is so empowering.”
You have been through so much in your career, like there was that whole early-2000s “She's a diva” thing. Now that we are in this period of sort of increased awareness of that, do you ever have moments where you look back and you're like, “Wow, that was sexist or racist”—or otherwise, you know, fucked-up?
For sure. Because I was Latin, and I was a woman, and I was Puerto Rican, and they were not giving me the same pass that they gave everybody else at certain times. It's hard to remember specifics. I wish I could. But honestly, I don't like to harp on the negative or feel sorry for myself. You know, it, it just is what it is. There were moments in my life where it got to me more. Where it kind of took me down for a second. But it never took me down for very long. The energy was always in just getting better, doing more growing, and driving myself. To be better, all the time. And creating more opportunities for myself. Just, be resilient. They'll give up.
I read an old interview where Benny Medina, your longtime manager, said that you were single-minded in your ambition, and as a result you didn't always “come off as warm.”
I think there's some truth to that. I'm incredibly impatient. I want everything now. It's hard for me to tolerate a slow pace. I get annoyed with it. I don't like the word “no.” Like really bad. Really bad. If you try to tell me no, I will get into a bad argument with you about why it can happen, and how it can happen, and why you can't do it. [laughs]
But I think it's funny that Benny said that. Meanwhile, he can do the same type of things and people are like, “Oh, well, he's a man and, and he can say things however he wants. He's the boss.” But I'm the boss, and if I am not careful with people's feelings, then I'm not nice. There's a double standard.
“In this industry, by the time you're 30, they're already like, ‘She's done.’ I can't tell you how many times I felt like people were like, ‘She's done, she's over.’ But it's such a beautiful time in women's lives. Artists, women especially, get so much better as they grow and mature.”
Speaking of double standards, were you at all worried about how men would react to Hustlers? It isn't often that you see men being victimized onscreen by women. And some of the scenes are very disturbing. Like Gary. Poor Gary. Love you, Gary.
I mean, I was disturbed. That scene when it's just one guy after the other in slow motion, and it's so cavalier. It's like, “What the fuck? This is dirty! This got seedy.” That was hard for me to watch. But I was like, “That's not you!” It's just a story. But also I think it's good for them to see it.
Why is it good for them to see it?
I had a discussion with the guys in the studio about it last week. One guy was like, “I felt really disturbed and it made me uncomfortable.” I was like, “Because we see you! Because now you see that we see you! Like, you guys think you have this whole secret world, and that we don't know what's going on in your minds. We know. We know what's going on, bro!” It's like, The jig is up, bro. The jig is up! That's part of the problem with men and women, right? The lack of transparency and honesty. We need to be who we are. And they need to be who they are. Then we have to find the right person for our lives, that we can coexist with, right?
And you apparently have found that person! Segue alert. In your book, True Love, you wrote that the person you are with should make you better. How do you and A-Rod make each other better?
I mean, we're very similar. We're really alike in our drive, in our ambition. He's an athlete. He wanted to be the best. I'm the same way. I just want to be great at what I do. We're both like that. We're both super-hard workers. We're driven by our passions. And we have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Everybody in the room can be talking, and if he says something, I key in on it, and if everybody in the room is kinda in his ear and I go, “I don't think that's the right thing,” he'll hear me; he'll listen. He knows I only have his best interest at heart, and I only want him to thrive and succeed and to be his best self. And I believe that he wants that for me. He wants me to be seen and to get what I deserve. Like, he's made his half a billion. And he's like, “I want you to have that.”
When I first met him, I was telling him about my perfume business. He loves business. He went to business school online and took classes, and he just had a real passion for it. And he knew that I was a creative person who had clothing lines, perfume lines, and had some success in consumer sales. So I was telling him a story. And he was like, “Wait, what did you say? How much did you make? I think there's a better way to do it.”
And I'd been saying this to my team for a while. But it's done a certain way in Hollywood. These type of businesspeople are not trying to give that to the artist. Or educate the artist in that way. Because it doesn't serve everybody. But he goes, “No, no. This is what you're gonna ask for. This is what we're gonna do.…” So we're doing a lot of investing. And we're owning businesses as opposed to being in the licensing business, which a lot of, you know, celebrities do. You wind up making billions of dollars for people, but you're still having to hustle.
Because the industry is set up to make creatives feel disposable…
Yes. The whole system is set up to make you think, “Oh, next person comes on.” And you don't want people to feel like they can be discarded. So we're building this thing that's kind of changing that model. Not just for me, but for all the creatives. Putting out the understanding that as an artist, as a creative person, you're the scarce asset. And that has value. Because money's easy to get, in that world, the private-equity world. But they can't do anything without the creatives. If you understand that, you can start getting the right value for what you bring. So that's been an empowering thing.
Relevant to the idea of people being discarded: Your 50th birthday served as the theme of your “It's My Party” tour. Given the attitude toward Women of a Certain Age in our society, and perhaps especially in your industry, did anyone say you shouldn't be so open about your age?
Yes, everybody. All the men. [laughs] No, that's not true. It was the women. They were like, “Do we want to put this out there?” I just didn't see it. I'm like, “Everybody knows how old I am—what's the big deal?” In this industry, by the time you're 30, they're already like, “She's done.” I can't tell you how many times I felt like people were like, “She's done, she's over.” But it's such a beautiful time in women's lives. Artists, women especially, get so much better as they grow and mature. You can see it! Meryl Streep's career took off after she was 40. Tina Turner, after she was 40. Cher. It's not that [those women] weren't who they were before that. But as they got older, they blossomed in a way they hadn't before, right? They came into their own power, and they started realizing, like, “I am the scarce asset, I am the prize. I have something beautiful to offer to the world that's only mine.” And I feel the same thing!
There is no reason to ever be ashamed of where you're at. Not when you're doing your best. Not when you're in your best moment. There's always gonna be people to tell you no. Or “You can't.” Or “You shouldn't.” It's gonna happen. No matter what anybody says, you just have to still be like, “I'm still doing this. I'm still gonna succeed. I'm still gonna do my best.” Defy the odds. Why not?
Speaking of going against the grain: You signed on to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show this year. Did you have any conflicting feelings about it?
No. I understand people not wanting to do it. Everybody has to make their own choices. They have to feel good about what they're doing. I feel like it's an amazing platform and one of the biggest in the world to put out whatever message you want to put out there. Whatever message of love or—I don't want to give anything away—I think it's taking a chance to do it. I feel that it's a great thing to have two Latina women in Miami headlining the Super Bowl, and what we could do with those 12 to 14 minutes to make people understand our worth and value in this country.… I think it could be a really beautiful celebration.
Great. Okay. Wait, I meant to ask when we were talking about the A-Rod-business stuff: Does money make you horny?
[laughs] A lot of things make me horny—I don't think money is one of them. But I do like money! Money is an amazing thing! I don't know that it turns me on, but it does make things easier.
Jessica Pressler is a features writer at ‘New York’ magazine. Her 2015 article “The Hustlers at Scores” was the basis for the movie ‘Hustlers,’ in case you missed that.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2020 issue with the title “Hustler.”
Jennifer Lopez is GQ's Icon of the Year
Photographs by Daniel Jackson
Styled by Mobolaji Dawodu
Hair by Frank Galasso for sixk.la
Makeup by Scott Barnes for sixk.la
Manicure by Tom Bachik for Tweezerman
Set design by Gerard Santos
Produced by PRODn at Art + Commerce
Originally Appeared on GQ