Jennifer Lopez Works Her Ass Off on 'A.K.A.' Album, Powerhouse Brand (Cover Story)
Jennifer Lopez has a lot of titles on her business card these days. At this point in a career stretching back more than two decades, she's less a musician or actress than a walking lifestyle brand, and a hyper-productive one at that.
On today's schedule: an interview and photo shoot, followed by a flight to Massachusetts, where she'll headline radio station Kiss 108's Kiss Concert in the Boston suburbs in two days. While on the plane, she'll watch a rough cut of a long-in-the-works documentary filmed around the time of her 2012 world tour, and see if she can determine ways to bring the 2-year-old narrative into her current life. And then the day after the Kiss concert, she'll head to The Bronx to make a surprise appearance at the Montefiore Medical Center and tee up her first-ever hometown show, in Orchard Beach Park.
It's an interesting time for Lopez, back in the public eye for her professional life-with a new album, A.K.A.-and her personal life. She broke up with boyfriend Casper Smart (which sources say occurred in April, two months before reports surfaced in June). Then came a report (which she has denied) that she's seeing Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the Dancing With the Stars pro she worked with at the American Music Awards last November.
Lopez admits she used work to distract her after the end of her third marriage, to Marc Anthony, in 2011. Despite the headlines, it's possible she's even busier now, though perhaps more settled in some ways. "Things have changed so much for me," she says. "I had to really do some soul searching and just realize a lot of things about love, and now I feel like I come from a place where I'm stronger and, I think, better."
She's unwinding after breaking out a series of sex-filled looks for this photo shoot. Lopez has been in touring mode for the past few weeks, and the body that's able to squeeze into barely there outfits has been toned from rigorous dance rehearsals for over a half-dozen concerts during the next month - often to five to six hours' worth on show days. But now, dressed in comfortable jeans, white T-shirt and slippers, she has switched into artist mode, and she wants to talk about A.K.A. It's her eighth album (or 10th, if you count her 2002 remix and 2012 greatest-hits compilations), and first for Capitol Records, following a long stint with Sony (and 2011's Love? for Island Def Jam).
Musically, A.K.A. is a return to the urban pop sound that built Lopez into the ultimate multi-hyphenate at the turn of the century - a singer-slash-actress who could dance her (well-known) ass off. But A.K.A. finds Lopez at a time when she has added more than a half-dozen hyphens to her resume since her early-2000s heyday.
Consider Lopez's current portfolio: She's a businesswoman (she has a highly successful line of fragrances for Coty that has grossed nearly $2 billion in cumulative revenue since its launch in 2002, from which she takes home as much as 7 to 8 percent), entrepreneur (in May 2013, she launched a suite of wireless stores geared toward Latinos, Viva Movil by Verizon Wireless, currently in 16 locations), fashion designer (she has had her own line of clothing, accessories and home furnishings at Kohl's since 2010), producer (ABC Family's The Fosters, executive-produced by Lopez, just debuted its second season), cable-network programmer (also in May 2013, she was named chief creative officer and minority investor at Hispanic-millennial cable network Nuvo TV), author (her first memoir, True Love, arrives in October) and, most importantly to her, mom (Max and Emme, her twins with ex-husband Marc Anthony, turned 6 in March).
It's no wonder her cumulative earnings totaled an estimated $52 million in 2011, the year she became a judge on American Idol, heralding a comeback for Lopez's career and a new chapter as a lifestyle brand in the vein of Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart. As led by Benny Medina, Lopez's longtime manager and head of The Medina Company, that entails employing some 25 people to oversee Lopez's ventures day-to-day, as well as dozens of others at her many partners.
That 2011 comeback was just as personal as it was professional. Lopez was coping with a pending divorce from Anthony and just wanted to focus on work. It resulted in a fourth-quarter marketing blitz that veered on overkill, with Lopez featured in commercials for L'Oreal, Kohl's, Fiat and Harman Kardon within a three-month period, culminating in Lopez driving a Fiat onstage at the American Music Awards. Media outlets decried the latter performance, with even fellow artists like Questlove and John Legend dubbing the brand plug "shameless."
"The management of it was, to some extent, out of our hands because we had done work that people liked so much they wanted to use it more than we anticipated," says Medina. "Which is why at a certain point we decided to dial back the endorsements and focus more on things where Jennifer could roll up her sleeves and be a real partner. Would I say that period was too much? Maybe. But would I do it all again? Maybe." Medina points out that each of the aforementioned companies renewed or extended their partnerships beyond the planned commercial flights.
Despite all the multitasking in Lopez's work life, A.K.A. is a showcase for where she's at today as a 44-year-old thrice-divorced mother of two with a complex range of emotions. She raps alongside French Montana on sassy lead single "I Luh Ya Papi," trades verses with Rick Ross on the head-bobbing gangster-love anthem "Worry No More" and delivers some of her most powerful vocal work to date on ballads "Emotions" and "Let It Be Me."
Lopez credits her newfound confidence to her 2012 co-headlining tour with Enrique Iglesias, which grossed $21.1 million in ticket receipts (according to Billboard Boxscore) and led to her first solo tour internationally later that same year. "After I got home, I realized I was a stronger vocalist than maybe even I gave myself credit for," says Lopez, noting that the first thing many of her first-time collaborators on A.K.A. would say to her was, "Oh, you can really sing." Of her relative vocal prowess, Lopez says, "I never put myself out there to show the world what I could do in the best way I could. And touring, you gain a lot when you go out there every night and sing when you feel good, or even when your voice is scratchy and you feel a little off. It made me want to get back into the studio without that cage I had put on myself. Once I let that beast loose, I was doing things I didn't know I could do."
A.K.A. also finds Lopez poking fun at her best-known attributes, from her hopelessly romantic string of marriages and boyfriends ("If you were first, baby, you wouldn't be my second, third or fourth love" she sings on the Max Martin-produced single "First Love," lyrics that take on new meaning after her split with Smart) to her infamous backside (the Diplo-produced "Booty"). "I've always strayed from embracing all these different parts of myself as a person and as an artist, but this time I was like, 'I am all these different things,'" says Lopez. "I can be silly, I can make fun of myself, but I can also be deathly serious and way too deep and introspective sometimes. I think people have so many more sides to themselves than just one. We're much more colorful than that."
Helping set the playful, yet expertly produced vibe are hitmakers like Detail (Beyonce's "Drunk in Love"), Roccstar (Chris Brown's "Fine China") and DJ Mustard (Tyga's "Rack City"); guest raps from Ross, Montana, Iggy Azalea and Nas; and a reunion with longtime producer Cory Rooney, who helmed many of Lopez's early hits. Despite Lopez's demanding schedule, Medina's mandate to all involved was "nobody sends a record in the mail." The work had to be face to face. "The place where she got the greatest results were the places where she went in the room, from Mustard to Max Martin," says Medina. "You got to hang out, you got to vibe, to get the most artistic connections."
While making it to album No. 8 is an impressive feat in itself, it becomes harder and harder to turn a 15-year legacy into new chart-topping hits for any established artist, male or female. Just look at Lopez's peers like Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue and even Shakira, all of whom have seen their 2014 albums debut at a fraction of prior sales and without top 10 singles. Lopez, for her part, flatly states of her current place in the pop stratosphere, "I don't feel like I have anything to prove anymore." Though, as her recent concert in The Bronx demonstrated, she can still effortlessly pull off an arena-sized 90-minute production with full choreography, live vocals and over a half-dozen costume changes while breaking nary a sweat.
Instead, she'd rather be measured against established icons: Cher and Tina Turner, "and all these people who came a generation before this one and showed us that you don't have to, as a young woman, have an expiration date. You can go on, and you can do what you want into your 60s and 70s and you can be powerful and be vulnerable and be human. And I think we're just carrying that on. I'd like to think I'm part of the generation that's carrying that on."
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Though music takes up roughly 20 to 40 percent of a typical week in Lopez's life, it's the top priority for the remainder of 2014 while she oversees promotion and a series of concerts in support of A.K.A., and her appearance on Pitbull's official World Cup anthem, "We Are One," including a performance at the World Cup opening ceremony in San Paulo. She also would like to tour again in 2015, which will weigh on her decision to renew her contract with American Idol for a fourth season, a deadline due at the end of June.
Lopez learned a lot of tricks of the touring trade from her 2012 Dance Again outing with Iglesias, who in turn picked up a few pointers on how to manage a budding kingdom while on the road. "We were in Vegas, and she had two events that same day before our show," recalls Iglesias. "I love touring, but you got to be rested - it can be draining. That she could do all those things and still look fresh and still kill it was eye-opening for me." Lopez also kept a minimal entourage, comparable in size to Iglesias' own, save for her twins and a few road nannies, he reports.
With Iglesias about to launch his own fragrance with Coty, as well as several other burgeoning businesses in advance of a fall tour with Pitbull, he credits Lopez with helping the industry redefine what it means to be a successful entertainer. "She's created this empire, and you can tell that she still cares a lot about what she does, yet still manages to be a sweetheart through all of it. That's tough to find," says Iglesias.
In fact, not just Iglesias but many artists - from Taylor Swift to Justin Bieber to One Direction - owe the success of their recent namesake fragrances to Lopez. Coty vp marketing Emily Bond, who oversees the Lopez business, credits the 2002 launch of Glow and its subsequent $1 billion worth of sales with "reinvent[ing] the celebrity fragrance category," which for Coty now counts Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Tim McGraw among its musician partners. "Jennifer is a powerhouse," Bond says, noting that Lopez remains closely involved in crafting the specific scents, or "olfactives," for each of her signature products. "For one of our fragrances, we started with a candle that she loves, that she has in her house, in her dressing room, and we worked with her to find a way to translate that warmth and scent into a fragrance," says Bond. Shortly after the birth of Lopez's twins, adds Bond, "we worked on a fragrance [My Glow] that reminded her of the sweetness of motherhood and the gentleness of having a baby, the smell of the babies."
Lopez remains similarly involved in her collection with Kohl's, which has been a best seller for the retailer since debuting in 2011. But perhaps the greatest test of Lopez's brand power will be multimedia: the new look and feel of Fuse, set to debut later this year as Nuvo TV parent Si TV's acquisition becomes finalized. Lopez already has been involved with meetings from day-to-day production of Nuvo TV series like A Step Away and The Collective to meet-and-greets with cable operators who could distribute the still-fledgling network, currently available in 30 million homes. "She's one of the hardest-working people I've ever met," says Nuvo TV CEO Michael Schwimmer. "Our conversations are always very multifaceted, from talking about programming to on-air branding to connections with advertisers as well - she's really been involved in every aspect."
The Lopez empire also will return to the film world, including the thriller The Boy Next Door scheduled for January 2015, the DreamWorks animated feature Home (co-starring Rihanna) slated for March 2015 and the indie drama Lila and Eve about to hit the festival circuit.
Medina credits Creative Artists Agency managing partner Kevin Huvane with helping usher in a new stage in Lopez's film career, one with more self-determination, thanks to Lopez and Medina's Nuyorican Productions. "With Lila and Eve and Boy Next Door we wanted to do work that showed it wasn't about money or perks but was about creating your own opportunity - not waiting around for the big company call," he says.
Veteran producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas has also helped made The Fosters a hit for ABC Family, and is working closely with Lopez on two other TV projects currently in development with NBC. Still up in the air is the fate of that concert documentary - and, yes, more music. "I'd like for her to start working on some Christmas songs for an album in 2015," says Medina. "And even more important, the kids are going back to school."
Lopez, for one, is clear-eyed about the immediate future. "I don't know what I'm going to be doing in the next six months. I really don't. And that's OK for me. Because what I like is whatever happens is supposed to happen. And I'm good. I can roll with that."
And, because she still is in artist mode, Lopez already is back to gabbing about A.K.A. "So was 'So Good' the song you like the most?" she asks this reporter. "Ah, so you're like me, you're a little bit moody ... You like the things that give you that vibe, like get in your car and kind of squint your eyes. I know exactly what kind of music you like."