Jennifer Lopez Receives Star for Music on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Of all music criticism’s favorite fallacies, few are as entrenched as the notion of superstar succession: that pop icons don’t simply evolve and change over time, they are violently usurped, “Golden Bough”-style.
Robert Christgau announced Prince’s ascension to rock’s satyr of choice by advising Mick Jagger to “pack up his penis and go home.” The generational clash between Madonna and Lady Gaga can still incite furious flame wars, likewise with rival rap queen bees Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj. And the hyperbolic race to crown a “next Bob Dylan” has been ongoing since the 1960s.
Yet that leaves little room in the critical imagination for the enigmatic exceptions, the stars who seem to buck numerous conventions without creating an imitable future model. And Jennifer Lopez is certainly one of those.
As a recording artist, Lopez exhibits a plethora of contradictions. Despite a carefully cultivated image as an imperious pop empress in ludicrously expensive outfits, her signature hits bear the titles “I’m Real” and “Jenny From the Block.” She managed the perilous transition from actress to music star without ever seeming to pick either as a primary gig. She established herself as an oft-provocative sex symbol while her demeanor made it abundantly clear that she’s not asking you to come hither. She planted the seeds of a music career by portraying one of Latin America’s most beloved singers in “Selena,” and has maintained a Spanish-language career ever since without being swept up in the Latin crossover boom that failed to detonate as projected.
And perhaps most importantly, at its height, Lopez’s music managed to feel entirely of the moment while embracing trends that were either outgoing, or else still far on the horizon.
Her first full-length effort, 1999’s “On the 6,” was suffused with the bottle-popping luxury-rap trappings that her early producers Sean Combs and his Trackmasters team patented in the mid-’90s, yet the record’s breakout club hit, “Waiting for Tonight,” seemed to anticipate the rise of Euro-centric dance pop a decade before EDM became a buzz term. And when DJ culture finally began making mainstream inroads in the latter part of the past decade, Lopez instead turned toward silkily sedate Spanish Sade worship with LP “Como Ama una Mujer.”
Lopez’s voice presents another quandary. Though she rarely slathers her voice in compensatory Auto-Tune, Lopez nonetheless shuns the melismatic touches that divas of her ilk tend to spray left and right like so much perfume. Critic Rob Sheffield astutely compared her vocal stylings to those of fellow multihyphenate Ann-Margret, noting that both copped the persona of a “round-the-way superstar who doesn’t need to belt, because she’s already got your attention.”
If Lopez’s early recorded efforts sometimes seemed a bit too calculated in their streamlined chart appeal, she did let down her hair as the last decade progressed, leading to both her best music and her most precipitous falls. 2005’s “Rebirth” was the first of Lopez’s albums to fail to reach Platinum status, with the star’s appeal compromised by lingering “Bennifer” backlash. But lost in the orgy of schadenfreude was the simple fact that it was also her homiest, most natural-sounding collection, the closest she’s ever come to simply relaxing and riding a groove to its conclusion.