From the Block to the Top

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There is no celebrity that personifies glamour quite like Jennifer Lopez. Her multifaceted success story challenged the status quo by tearing down industry barriers and stereotypes. As an actress, presenter, singer, dancer, humanitarian, designer and mother, Lopez has redefined what it is to be an A-list entertainer. Having garnered a myriad of music and film industry accolades throughout the course of her two-decade career, Priya Kumar discovers how Jenny from the Block became an all-encompassing lifestyle brand.

In January 2001 Jennifer Lopez achieved something truly remarkable. Her newly released album J.Lo and film she was starring in, The Wedding Planner, both hit number one in their respective categories. She was the first entertainer in history to have a number one album and a number one movie in the same week. While it’s been 13 years since she carried out this insurmountable feat, it was only just the beginning for the original “actress-slash-singer”.

Jennifer Lopez is best known as an international pop sensation and A-list Hollywood actress. She’s put out eight full studio albums to date, which have sold close to 60 million copies combined. Lopez has also starred in several critically acclaimed films including Selena and Out of Sight—opposite George Clooney—in addition to number of commercially successful romantic comedies (Maid in Manhattan, The Back-up Plan, What to Expect When You’re Expecting). In 2011 she became a part of the new generation of celebrity judges on American Idol. With a white-hot career like hers, who better to judge the new cohort of American musical talent?

Then there are the endorsements. Since 2002 Lopez has generated over $1 billion partnering with and promoting brands. Her endorsements have run the gamut from everyday consumer goods (Venus Gillette, L’Oreal Paris) to automotive (Fiat 500) to luxury (Louis Vuitton). Her fragrance deal with Coty has seen the launch of 17 different scents and is currently the most successful celebrity line in the world, boasting sales exceeding $2 billion. That’s nothing to say of the influence she’s had on Hollywood’s contemptuous relationship with female body image. “I’m not a size zero or two,” she admitted to world’s largest fashion glossy. “I’m not six -feet-tall like a lot of the models that come around…I’m just a regular woman. I wear a size six. You know, when I eat a little too much over the holidays, maybe a size eight. When I’m in shape, maybe a size four.”When Lopez began to turn heads at awards shows in the late ‘90s, it suddenly became fashionable for women in Hollywood to have curves. Her influence has transcended all levels of pop culture.

The Girl Next Door

Jennifer Lynn Lopez grew up in the Castle Hill neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City. As the middle and most precocious of three girls, she loved dancing in front of the mirror and putting on shows for her family. Athletically inclined in school, Lopez excelled at gymnastics and track, competing at a national level. During her senior year in high school, she heard about a film casting seeking a few girls to play troubled teenagers. Called My Little Girl, Lopez was cast as Myra. The film was nominated for an award at Sundance in 1986 and served as a wakeup call to Lopez. She wanted to be a star one day.

Her pragmatic parents had other plans for their daughter. To appease them, she enrolled in Baruch College in Manhattan. After one semester she knew it wasn’t for her and confessed her dream to her parents. They disapprovingly saw her leave their home to pursue a career in entertainment in Manhattan.

She initially landed several parts in musicals on-stage. Soon Lopez was selected to be a backup dancer for the New Kids on the Block tour. As the biggest boy band of their day, the gig began to open doors for the burgeoning performer. Her big break was finally on the horizon when Lopez was cast as a Fly Girl dancer on the hit TV show In Living Colour. Waiting hours in line to audition against 2000 other hopefuls, the prospect of being paid to dance on television was more than the 23-year-old could have asked for. She would spend two years with the show before leaving to pursue a career in acting.

A Star is Born

“Maybe because of where I come from, I always feel like I’m struggling,” she confessed in an interview. “I always feel like I’m at the bottom and crawling to the top.” Never were the struggle and ultimately the payoff more palpable than when she was cast as the lead in the biopic Selena. Her portrayal of the fallen Tejano singer was her first big-budget headlining role and it was an opportunity she fully seized. The film featured several musical numbers and her chilling performance was as much a celebration of Selena’s life was it was the rising star portraying her.

Besides leading to a number of roles opposite other A-list actors in film, Selena was also the perfect segue into music. It was a risky move for such a successful actress. If her first album proved to be a flop, her career would almost certainly experience the repercussions. “If You Had My Love” debuted in May 1999; it quickly topped the Billboard Hot 100, a rare feat for new talent on the music scene. Lopez immediately set to work on a debut album.

Titled On the 6, Jennifer Lopez’s freshman album was a tribute to her roots in the Bronx. The title itself is in reference to New York City’s Number 6 train that travels from the neighbourhood she grew up in straight through Manhattan. During production of the album, Lopez became acutely aware of the fact that she was given the recording contract based on her looks and as an established name in the industry. This realization pushed Lopez to work even harder to prove herself musically. The album was a commercial success; “Waiting for Tonight”, the third single released from On the 6, is widely considered Lopez’s best song. Her foray into music catapulted Lopez’s career to new heights. By the end of 1999 she seamlessly transitioned from A-list actress to pop star.

While recording her second studio album Jennifer Lopez tweaked her public persona. She changed her stage name to J.Lo, a moniker she first chanced upon after disembarking at Toyko’s airport. Throngs of fans had come to greet the singer with signs that read J.Lo. The name stuck and became the title of her second album and the name of her clothing line. Although a huge year for Lopez career wise, 2001 was perhaps the hardest yet on the people of New York City. After the devastation to her hometown caused by the September 11 attacks, Lopez threw herself into charity. She joined forces with other artists to raise funds through music for girlthose impacted most by the tragedy.

“MAYBE BECAUSE OF WHERE I COME FROM, I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE I’M STRUGGLING,”

– Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez has led a complex career. She possesses an equally complex range of emotions. The past two decades have seen Lopez in and out of three marriages and countless high-profile relationships. After the breakdown of her third marriage to New York-born Puerto Rican crooner Marc Anthony, Lopez made a marked change in herself. Sharing roots in working-class New York City, the common ground that brought the two Latin superstars together was evident. The birth of their twins Max and Emme in 2008 further strengthened their bond; they renewed their vows twice during their eight-year marriage. Ultimately it was not meant to be and the couple released a joint statement announcing their amicable separation in 2011.

Following the announcement, Lopez candidly spoke to a popular American magazine about how she errs in relationships: “When it comes to love and relationships, what I’ve learned now is that the most important relationship is with myself…And getting to that place for me has been the real journey, the real task, where I realize that the main relationship I needed to have and the real love had to be with myself.” As a daily reminder of this philosophy, she wears a diamond ring that spells out “I love me”. As cringe-worthy as it sounds, she fiercely defends her choice: “It may sound conceited, but it’s not. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anybody else.”

She’s admitted to being in love with love in numerous interviews and that she trusts blindly. Fortunately, the passion and emotion she extrapolates from her love affairs translate well onto paper as lyrics and ultimately, the spicy music she’s renowned for in the recording studio. What truly sets Jennifer Lopez apart from her contemporaries is her ability to communicate raw emotion to her audience. Her iridescent performances have put her in a class of her own, despite her insecurities about not being the most gifted vocalist in the industry.

In 2010, when Lopez’s recording career hit a lull, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, then chairman of Island Def Jam Records stepped in and gave her a new contract. His rationale was simple: “I am such a fan of Jennifer Lopez. I think she’s the Sophia Loren of our generation. There was a time in the record industry when this was considered the singing business. But it is no longer just the singing business; we’re in the entertainment business, and it’s the total package.” Jennifer Lopez is beauty, charisma and a voice packed into one experience. “Jennifer’s songs and performances are unbelievable,” Reid adds. “Also, she is such a sweetheart, such a joy to work with.”

Jennifer Lopez’s eighth studio album A.K.A. was released in the summer of 2014. Her film The Boy Next Door opened in theaters in January 2015. She lent her voice to the 3D computer-animated comedy Home opposite Rihanna, Jim Parsons and Steve Martin. It’s scheduled for release in March 2013.

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