Jennifer Lopez: The Road to “A.K.A”

Lopez in 'Billboard Magazine,' 2014.

Lopez for Billboard, 2014

As with the best in the field of pop, Jennifer Lopez became an unexpected heroine of that said movement. Appearing in 1999 alongside the likes of Britney Spears and Hikaru Utada―two women who redefined pop across a decade very differently―Lopez’s flavorful, but predictable spice didn’t feel lasting.

Fifteen years later, Lopez’s music generates conversation as much as her acting career and other entertainment endeavors.

There have been victories and defeats, many of those definitions subjective when asking certain segments of her base.

On the eve of her eighth studio player A.K.A (Capitol), The QH Blend takes a quick look back at Lopez’s previous platters―the exceptional and the dismal. The QH Blend’s review on A.K.A. will follow this entry sometime tomorrow.

On the 6

On the 6

On the 6 (1999, Epic)

Singles: “If You Had My Love,” “No Me Ames,” “Waiting for Tonight,” “Feelin’ So Good,” “Let’s Get Loud”

Synopsis: In hindsight, On the 6 was an unassuming starting point for this actress who held an ambition to become a pop vocalist. The singles were professional and pitched between the Latin fascination of 1999 and that millennial cusp of dance, R&B, hip-hop and pop. “Waiting for Tonight” stands as one of Lopez’s most authoritative (and lovely) vocals committed; “Let’s Get Loud” remains as tacky as it was then unfortunately. The album fare was decent enough (“Should’ve Never,” “Open Off My Love” ), but felt secondary to the sheer power of “If You Had My Love” and the aforementioned “Waiting for Tonight”.

 

J.Lo

J.Lo

J.Lo (2001, Epic)

Singles: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” “Play,” “Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real”

Synopsis: Lopez’s predecessor Paula Abdul rectified the dreaded “singles vehicle” tag with her second LP, 1991’s Spellbound. There, Abdul cut hits and non-singles that showed that she could charm throughout an entire album. In that regard, Lopez’s second album felt like a step back and forward jointly. A fantastic singles project, J.Lo had Lopez wielding a variety of pop weaponry in “Play” (Euro-dance funk) and “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” (neo-freestyle).

The two remaining singles (“Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real“) found new life in hip-hop-pop skins later in 2001 through the now defunct Murder Inc. empire―see J to Tha L―O! The Remixes (2002, Epic) for details.  The remainder of J.Lo played as an afterthought in the wake of more films and endorsement deals; as a result, J.Lo is Lopez’s weakest offering still.

 

This Is Me...Then

This Is Me…Then

This is Me…Then (2002, Epic)

Singles: “Jenny From the Block,” “All I Have,” “I’m Glad,” “Baby I ♥ U”

Synopsis: At the critical mass of her popular culture summit, Lopez released her first artistic statement. The record was a gorgeous latticework of adult pop tempered with Lopez’s obvious affections to the music that informed her Bronx youth. Stepping forward vocally (“You Belong to Me,” originally by Carly Simon), lyrically (“I’ve Been Thinkin’”) and musically (“Again”) Lopez had flexed her creative muscles. It didn’t hurt that she landed her first definitive single in the process, the minty cool of “Jenny From the Block”. The cut dovetailed between irony and reality, suggesting a clever mind behind those pretty eyes. The album was also home to one of her most unsung singles thus far, the lush “I’m Glad”.

 

Rebirth

Rebirth

Rebirth (2005, Epic)

Singles: “Get Right,” “Hold You Down”

Synopsis: Clearly a holding pattern,  Rebirth was a hodge podge of previous Lopez incarnations. There was the hit that called this LP home (“Get Right” ) and there were a host of other songs relegated to album tracks that deserved the single treatment (“Whatever You Wanna Do,” “Cherry Pie”). In all, Rebirth didn’t recreate anything versus just reprise certain ideas in a sharper context.

In particular, “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” felt glaringly out of place in the midst of the other contemporary urban-pop stock on the record. It would find its space on Lopez’s next recording, one of her biggest musical gambles ever.

 

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Qué Hiciste,” “Me Haces Falta”

Synopsis: The translation of the album title reads as “How a woman loves” . For Lopez it was an apt description, she had come into her own as a vocalist that held more shades of expression than anyone had realized. From the melancholia of “Sola” or the rushing passion of the lead single “Qué Hiciste,”  Lopez had arrived at a new era in what her music could do. Though many critics guffawed at Lopez’s attempt at a quieter recording, she steadied on and the album earned hearty sales internationally.

The previously mentioned “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” that felt painfully out of place on Rebirth was recast as “Porque Te Marchas”―it fit right in on this cinematic beauty of an album.

 

Brave

Brave

Brave (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Do It Well,” “Hold It Don’t Drop It”

Synopsis: Released several months after Como Ama una Mujer, Lopez transported her ambition from that project across to this one. An album free of production ego―meaning the producer constructed the backdrop and allowed Lopez to bring it to life on her own―made Brave one of her most pleasurable plays. It was also the third album in Lopez’s catalogue to be solid from back to front. Opening with the salty-and-sweet snap of “Stay Together” and closing with the fragile titular track, Lopez mesmerized with strong performances throughout Brave.

The two singles earmarked from this release also had Lopez in her zone; “Hold It Don’t Drop It” showcased Lopez strutting alongside a sample of “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares as if she was born to do it. Sadly, the record stalled with a broader audience and has since become something of a lost gem.

 

Love?

Love?

Love? (2011, Island / Def Jam)

Singles: “On the Floor,” “I’m Into You,” “Papi”

Synopsis: The long, painful road to Lopez’s first post-Epic Records album was frustrating when the product finally emerged. After the sabotaged “Fresh Out of the Oven”―one of Lopez’s more interesting songs―Lopez went straight for the chart coin with the bulk of this album. While always chart conscious to a degree, she had previously displayed an ability to toggle between that ambition and adventurous territory.

The singles were perfunctory with “On the Floor” becoming the chartbuster of the trio released from Love?. The album material ranked as her worst since J.Lo; none of the growth exercised over the two LPs that preceded Love? appeared here. There were two convincing moments on Love? though: “Good Hit” and “(What Is) Love?” were winks to her engaging pop of yore.

[Editor’s Note: Only Lopez’s labels were featured in the piece due to its focus on her. All of the discussed recordings are in print, physically & digitally. For more information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official site.-QH]

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