Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 11 December 2019

Jennifer Lopez at 50: why she is the definition of a celebrity who is ageing backwards

A performer, film star and entrepreneur at the top of her career, J Lo defies the entertainment industry’s ageism towards women

Jennifer Lopez is celebrating her 50th birthday with the It’s My Party tour. Getty
Jennifer Lopez is celebrating her 50th birthday with the It’s My Party tour. Getty

Some choose to celebrate landmark birthdays quietly. Others throw an extravagant bash or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And then there’s Jennifer Lopez, who turned the occasion of her 50th into a dazzling celebratory tour, It’s My Party: The Live Celebration, inviting audiences across 24 US cities to join in the festivities. It’s the kind of spotlight-grabbing, dollar-­generating public spectacle only possible when you’re a cultural legend identified across the world by just two syllables. J Lo’s actual birthday is today, and she’s marking it with a private celebration, a quiet night artfully slotted between two Florida dates.

In an industry obsessed with youth – and specifically, feminine youth – such a brash declaration of embarking on a sixth decade strikes an unapologetically dominant chord. In the words of country pop singer Kacey Musgraves, Lopez has defined the art of “ageing backwards” – of appearing evermore athletically and artistically potent. Few divas have not just survived this long, but made it appear so easy.

Count it – over the past two decades, Lopez has clocked eight albums, 30 movie credits and starred in or hosted nearly a dozen television shows. More than a victory lap, the birthday tour represents a stark confrontation of ageism in entertainment.

Growing old gracefully it is not – Lopez today taunts admirers with proud Instagram posts of her toned body and flexed limbs, projecting a ­commanding aura neither ladylike nor masculine – simply above and beyond. One imagines that inspirational workout champion could be a late-career calling for the once high school track athlete.

Jennifer Lopez in 2019 and in 1996. AFP and AP Photo
Jennifer Lopez in 2019 and in 1996. AFP and AP Photo

“Jenny from the Block” has never been afraid of diversification. A “triple threat” performer equally established in the fields of dance, music and movies, Lopez has also proved a canny entrepreneur, launching several fashion lines and fragrances, which have helped her amass a fortune of $400 million (Dh1.5 billion). To think she was once dismissed as “just a dancer”

A triple threat

Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, after dropping out of college, Lopez’s first brush with the spotlight came as a backing dancer with influential boy band New Kids on the Block. Shortly afterwards, Lopez was cast as a “Fly Girl” dancer in the comedy sketch series In Living Color before briefly dancing for forebear Janet Jackson in 1993.

But it was as an actress that she broke hearts and went mainstream. A ­supporting role in Wesley Snipes action caper Money Train, in 1995, was followed by a lead role opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1997 neo-noir Blood and Wine. In the same year, Lopez was gifted the role of a lifetime, playing legendary Latino singer Selena in the 1997 biopic of the same name. Due to this role, Lopez earned a Golden Globe nomination – and a million dollars, the highest sum of any Hispanic actress to date, and the accompanying notoriety. A year later, she starred opposite George Clooney in Out of Sight, and her Hollywood ascendancy was complete.

Jennifer Lopez in Selena (1997)
Jennifer Lopez in 'Selena' (1997)

Lopez had lip-synched in ­Selena, and her sudden lurch into music a year later was viewed with appropriate scepticism. But 1999’s debut single If You Had My Love still flew to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 instantly. Soon after came album On the 6, which sold some eight million copies. A year later, Lopez made headlines when she accompanied then-­boyfriend Sean Combs (AKA Diddy, Puff, et al) to the Grammy’s in a headline-­searing green Versace dress with a vertiginous neckline below the navel.

While many have called out Lopez’s brazen fashion choices over the years, others point to the empowering role she has played in challenging body stereotypes and presenting a distinctly Latin image of beauty. Today, Lopez is the most famous and ­recognisable ­Hispanic performer in America.

Becoming J Lo

When Lopez anointed the nickname J Lo in 2001, with a second album of the same name, one sensed the air of an artist seeking to reassert her narrative amid increasing media scrutiny. Going on to sell another eight million copies and featuring the assertive anthem I’m Real, J Lo’s January 2001 release coincided with that of cutesy romantic comedy The Wedding Planner – making her the first woman to hold a number one album and film in the same week. Three months later, the clothing line J Lo by Jennifer Lopez was launched, and her new two-syllable moniker was set in concrete.

Soon after another brand was born: a high-profile engagement to Ben Affleck saw the supercouple dubbed “Bennifer” by the hounding tabloids – setting the prevailing media tradition of combining the names of celebrity couples, such as Brangelina – with attention further stoked by 2002’s highly self-referential third album This Is Me … Then, featuring the sugary tribute Dear Ben.

Hopes were high when the pair starred opposite one ­another in 2003’s Gigli – however the romcom was a critical and commercial disaster, recouping just a tenth of its budget. The pair separated in early 2004 and Lopez took a break from music. Her return was less than triumphant – 2005’s Rebirth sold fewer than a million copies – less than a tenth of her first two albums – and many foolishly wrote Lopez off for good.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 7: (L-R) Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. onstage at FOX's American Idol Season 15 Finale on April 7, 2016 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
Judges Keith Urban, left, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. onstage at FOX's American Idol Season 15 Finale in 2016. Getty Images

The comeback

It was reality TV that brought the spotlight back to Lopez, when in early 2011 she smartly joined the judging panel on American Idol. This influential exposure no doubt helped fuel the stratospheric success of dance-pop Pitbull collaboration On the Floor – J Lo’s most successful single, and one of the bestselling songs of all time. A year later Forbes ranked her as the most powerful celebrity in the world – and the 38th most powerful woman in the world. J Lo was back.

The final frontier for Lopez was the stage. Having previously only toured on a co-­headline show with then-partner Marc Anthony, in 2012, Lopez launched her first solo headline outing, the Dance Again World Tour – a globetrotting synchronised spectacle that was among the year’s hottest tickets when it landed at Dubai Media City in November.

From here, a stint in Vegas was perhaps inevitable, but few could have predicted the Jennifer Lopez: All I Have show would stay at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theatre for three years, grossing an eye-­watering $100 million over 120 shows. By the end of this run, in 2018, Time would declare Lopez one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And as the brazen victory lap of her birthday tour has made clear, that influence only looks set to multiply as J Lo enters her sixth decade. For Lopez, age is something to be savoured, and celebrated.

Updated: July 24, 2019 09:59 AM

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