Jennifer Lopez: The Glory and the Dream (and the Drive) | Cover Story
Just three letters — one for each decade of her superstardom — declare the entertainment juggernaut that is Jennifer Lopez. Danielle Pergament takes the measure of a woman who has made her own legend.
By Danielle Pergament
Photographed by Daniella Midenge
Jennifer Lopez apologizes for being late. She explains that she’s been “running around with all the things.”
We’re doing our interview quarantine-style, and when Lopez pixelates into view, she’s sitting in what I assume is her living room. Her hair is pulled up into a restrained topknot, her brows as angled as weaponry, her posture as formed as a ballerina’s. Hers is the kind of vast, tasteful living room (one she shares with fiancé Alex Rodriguez) that makes for nice turn-page art in Architectural Digest — like the time it was, in fact, in Architectural Digest. Behind her hangs a four-foot- (five-foot?) tall Keith Haring.
“All the things” seems like a good explanation for her life. All the things pretty well sums up the commonwealth known as Jennifer Lopez. Take over 30 movies, 40- something singles, eight studio albums, a few decades as one of the most iconic people in the world, throw in some fragrances and a Super Bowl, plus kids and a dog… and you’ve written the constitution of this particular commonwealth. Her national profile couldn’t seem to get any higher, but somehow did when she was invited to perform at the Biden/Harris inauguration in January — a rare honor.
Last November, Lopez dropped a new single called “In the Morning,” and for the single’s cover art she used the same wardrobe designer as newborn babies, Botticelli’s Venus, and Eve in the early years. In May, Marry Me, her latest romantic comedy (for which she also did the music), costarring Owen Wilson, will be released. And not long ago, she gave the world JLo Beauty — a skin-care line that hinges on the idea that a dreamy complexion can be obtained through the powers of olive oil and sunscreen. That JLo Glow is the name of the line’s hero product and it might be the easiest marketing job since fire sold us heat.
“All the things” is starting to feel like an understatement. “Since I was little, I was an overachiever,” she says. “All you had to do was tell me what to do. I took direction really well and then I crushed it. That was my personality.”
Makeup colors: Brilliant Eyes Shimmer Liquid Eye Shadow in Rose Gem, True Match Lumi Glow Nude Highlighter Palette in Sunkissed, and Infallible 8 Hour Pro Lip Gloss in Coral Sands by L’Oréal Paris.
I represented Latinos, I represented women, and I represented people in my age group in a light that was very positive and strong.”
Being a lion on the pop culture food chain has been Lopez’s defining characteristic since we’ve known her. But she is not the same person she was in the 1990s. None of us are, of course. We’ve changed. The world has changed. The difference in Lopez’s case is that she had a hand in changing it. Like Allure, which also came of age in the 1990s, Lopez has shaped the way we identify beauty and how we consume it. (This is her fourth Allure cover.)
“When I came on the scene, it was kind of the time of the waif and everybody had to be stick thin,” she says. “It was like, ‘Well, you’re not. How do you feel?’ I’m like, ‘I feel great about it!’” Today, that beauty standard has been excised from our minds like a melanoma. Was that thanks entirely to Lopez? No. But she did push the needle of beauty forward — toward different body types, different skin tones, different definitions — by the sheer force of her will and talent. After all, the waifs are gone. Lopez, clearly, is not.
Lopez, who turns 52 this year, performed at last year’s Super Bowl. (Remember February 2020? That was a year ago.) You could call it the Lopez Super Bowl. Because you may not remember the score, you might not even recall who played, but you damn well know that the star of the halftime show was 50. “The Super Bowl was really about showing what I could do to a bigger, broader audience than ever,” she says. By my estimation her audience has always been bigger than ever.
“It’s such a huge platform and so many people around the world are watching, and some of them have never freaking heard of you, you know what I mean?”
Well, no. Most people have never heard of me.
“The idea was to show the best of, not just myself as an artist, but the best of women,” Lopez explains. “The best of Latinos. I felt that I represented Latinos, I represented women, and I represented people in my age group in a light that was very positive and strong.” It was a moment of age transcendence. I don’t know if she set out to tear down walls in her life, but you can’t deny that Lopez was none of the things she was “supposed” to be and yet has gotten exactly what she wanted.
The rules were clear. Young? Thin? White, with signs of affluence? Please, walk right in and make yourself at home. Everyone else, take a number and STFU. Then, over the past couple of years, the collective conscious shook itself awake, mortified by how it had behaved at the party last night — only the party had lasted for generations.
“I do feel it’s different now,” Lopez says, adding that it will be better for her children’s generation; that we are closer to a more inclusive idea of what beauty means. “But our generation is still dealing with the scars.”
Change, meaningful change, was in the air. Things were looking hopeful. And then came the pandemic.
What happened to someone like Lopez when the world ground to a halt? Did she buy sweatpants and tend to her sourdough starter like the rest of us who are lucky enough to shelter at home? “I mean, the first part was like, ‘Wow, this is different,’” she says. “I think we all were filled with anxiety. We were in the Twilight Zone, like everybody else.” “We,” in this case, means Lopez, her fiancé and former Yankees slugger Rodriguez, her 12-year-old twins (their father is Marc Anthony), and Rodriguez’s two daughters. “I started trying to do things together. We would play base- ball outside or paint together,” Lopez says. “We never get to do stuff like that. I was trying to take advantage of the time.”
Quarantine, it turns out — even if you are someone with houses (plural) and, presumably, access to a private plane and people to do stuff for you — is still quarantine. There comes a point, speaking for Lopez and the rest of humanity here, when you will feel like a dog who needs a walk.
“I miss being creative and running on 150,” says Lopez. “But Alex, of all people, was like, ‘I love it. I love being at home. I love doing my Zooms. I love knowing the kids are there, and you’re there all the time.’ It has been actually really good. We got to work on ourselves. We did therapy. I think it was really helpful for us in our relationship.”
Lopez and Rodriguez were in the process of planning their wedding when coronavirus sent the Earth skidding off its axis. “It was a big deal,” she says, unsurprisingly, of the wedding. “We had been planning for months and months and months, and it was overseas.” The way she says “overseas” makes me picture her walking down the aisle of Buckingham Palace. Or at least, like, Hogwarts.
“Maybe that wasn’t the right time,” she says. “You start thinking of all of these things — how everything has its kind of perfect, divine moment.”
Divine moments and grand occasions are one thing, but I can’t help wondering: Does Lopez ever sit on the sofa and eat potato chips? “I do!” This is said with a fervor I believe. “I do sit on the couch and eat potato chips! The thing is not to get too used to it, because it’s so easy and so fun.”
When it came to the Oscars [snub], it was a sting. [But] I don’t do this to have 10 Oscars sitting on my mantel or 20 Grammys.”
Resisting potato chips takes discipline, and discipline is perhaps the one constant theme in Lopez’s life: She is a famously hard worker. Take her life the year before the pandemic, for example: “I started training for Hustlers in January 2019. I went from training for Hustlers to doing Hustlers to going on a tour to doing awards season while filming Marry Me. I remember filming all day and working on the music in my trailer and then doing interviews and then being on the phone with my kids because they had just entered middle school. I remember being on the phone with Emme, telling her to do two hours of homework, and then getting on with Max and putting him to sleep and then learning my lines for the next day. Then training for Super Bowl rehearsals. And then it was the Super Bowl.” She continues, “It was nonstop for a year So, after that, I was like, ‘I’m going to rest. For a month.’”
If you’re Jennifer Lopez, you learn a lot about yourself when there’s no crowd to play with, no audience of millions. To someone who has been performing her whole life, an adoring public is sustenance. “Stages are where I feel the most comfortable,” she says. “I don’t like talking or doing speeches, but to sing and dance or to act? Come here, baby. That’s what I do.”
I ask her something I’ve always wanted to: She crushed Hustlers, in a thong, at age 50. Why follow it up with the Super Bowl slash recording an album while singing a lullaby and helping with math homework? Why push herself like that? Where does that drive come from and what’s the end goal? Relevance? Glory? Immortality?
“If you work hard, you can accomplish something,” she says. “You can win the medal.”
“But you won the medal,” I say. She won all the medals! There are no medals left. Trophy stores have to go to her! Okay, fine, so there is that one medal she was very much not nominated for last year.
“I was talking about this the other day. [My production partner] Elaine [Goldsmith-Thomas] made a post where she listed all the things I had been nominated for and won that season,” says Lopez, referring to the post-Hustlers awards season. “And when it came to the Oscars, it was so obviously absent. It was a sting.”
“I was like, ‘Okay, when you’re supposedly in everybody else’s mind supposed to be nominated and you’re not, what does that mean? Is it really real? Are the other ones real and this one isn’t?’ It came to a point where I was like, ‘This is not why I do this. I don’t do this to have 10 Oscars sitting on my mantel or 20 Grammys.’”
Lipping Out. Area barrette. Makeup color: Juicy Tubes in Marshmallow Electro by Lancôme. Photographer: Daniella Midenge. Stylist: Nicola Formichetti.
Hair: Chris Appleton.
Makeup: Mary Phillips.
Set Design: Evan Jourden.
Nails: Tom Bachik.
Who among us doesn’t know this ego-id, death-cage match? One side is saying, “It’s about the work, it’s about the work, it’s about the work.” And the other side comes back with, “Oh, would you please shut the fuck up because this totally sucks.” The elixir of glory and awards is powerful; it’s also fleeting. It keeps emptying. So we keep filling it. And on we go.
“The point is creating and the joy that I get from the things I get to put out in the world that entertain and inspire and empower people,” Lopez says. “I think my life is about more than awards.”
Last June, Lopez and Rodriguez joined millions of others and marched in what would be one of the largest civil rights movements the world has ever known. It was, in a sense, the culmination of the change she has been a part of for so many years: The need for us to see the beauty and humanity in one another.
“The whole thing that was happening with police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, Latinos at the border — you feel like you had to contribute,” she says. “I remember my son coming to me and saying, ‘You know, Mom, some of my YouTubers tell us what we should do, and I listen to them. You have a lot of people that feel that way about you.’ It was his way of saying that I should do something. He probably heard me complaining about what was happening in the world. I said, ‘I want you guys to make me the signs because Mommy wants to get out there too.’”
Like so many other things in life, protesting is different if you’re J.Lo. “I’m not used to being in big crowds like that — I’m always on the stage. [My life is] car to back door to security to this to that. It was scary. I got a little anxiety, like, ‘How do you get out of the crowd?’” she says. “Once I got [into it], to be in the masses like that, I loved it. Like, ‘Wow, there’s a movement happening.’ So many people, different ages, races — it was a beautiful thing.”
For all the horrors of 2020, it also brought some profound moments of beauty — snapshots of selflessness and love, engagement, and compassion. When tragedy came to the foreground over and over again, so did our humanity. The Earth stopped vibrating with traffic and the air cleared. Entire cities stood in applause at 7 p.m. And when justice was suffocated to death, we Sharpie’d words from the United States Constitution onto pieces of corrugated cardboard, took to the streets, and marched for righteousness.
“We can’t just keep living our lives and thinking everything’s going to work itself out,” Lopez says. “No, it’s not going to work out. We have to get involved. We have to make changes. That was why 2020, as difficult and scary as it was, was so necessary. What we realized is that we’re all in this together. This is about our kids growing up in a world where they feel comfortable, where things are equal, and there’s more kindness and love than hate and division.”
“In the middle of the pandemic,” Lopez recalls, “[my daughter] Emme came to me crying. She was like, ‘Why is all this happening?’ It was such an emotional thing because I was trying to comfort her and myself in the same moment.” She adds what could be a theme of the Lopez we have known for so long: “I said, ‘There’s something happen- ing that we’re in the middle of and you have to trust that on the other side it’s going to be so much better. We just have to hang on.’”
Photographer: Daniella Midenge
Fashion stylist: Nicola Formichetti
Hair: Chris Appleton
Makeup: Mary Phillips
Set design: Evan Jourden
Nails: Tom Bachik