The Lady is a Champ

The Lady is a Champ

The Lady is a Champ

Jennifer Lopez Has Been Duking It Out As a Pop Cultural Fixture Since Her Early Days As a Fly Girl. With a Slew of New Projects in the Works—Not To Mention a Budding Romance With a Man Nearly 20 Years Her Junior Titillating the Tabloids—The Newly Separated Mother, Musician, and Mogul Admits That She's Learned How to Take a Hit Or Two

Jennifer Lopez Has Been Duking It Out As a Pop Cultural Fixture Since Her Early Days As a Fly Girl. With a Slew of New Projects in the Works—Not To Mention a Budding Romance With a Man Nearly 20 Years Her Junior Titillating the Tabloids—The Newly Separated Mother, Musician, and Mogul Admits That She's Learned How to Take a Hit Or Two

Photography: Mario Testino

Styling: Carine Roitfeld

Text: Robin Givhan

Jennifer Lopez— singer, actress, dancer, paid Fiat aficionado, warm and fuzzy American Idol judge, and unrepentant sparkle addict— has finally gotten on the line to chat about, among other things, her newest role as roving fairy godmother. This comes after no small number of cancellations and postponements, all in all taking weeks to fulfill this promised phone date. Then, just when I am close to giving up, she comes to the telephone with that sing-song voice that is all treble clef, grace notes, and whispers of the Bronx. She giggles. She’s chatty. I’m not quite willing to believe that her reputed diva past is fully over, but I’m willing to just let all the aggravation go. Grudge-holding is bad for the soul. Poof.

Today’s newest facet of the Lopez oeuvre, that of international talent hunter, has had her (and her ex, Marc Anthony) visiting 21 Latin American countries searching for unheralded talent that might be tucked away in crowded cities, the rolling countryside, and tiny towns where the population can be counted in a few breaths. During their time on the road with fellow dream-maker and choreographer Jamie King, they collected promising musicians and street performers like so many live-action postcards. At the time that we speak, they’ve just put the finishing touches on the finale: a stage production featuring this panoply of Latin American talent.

This glossy, just-finished product is, of course, Q’Viva: The Chosen, a glittery show for Univision in which American Idol meets an anthropology seminar on language and culture. It is meant to be instructive as much as entertaining. “There are so many differences in the Latin community. Someone from Mexico and someone from Puerto Rico have different foods, different traditions,” Lopez says. “There’s an education to be had. Even as I was going through the different countries, there were certain forms of music that I didn’t know about.”

Lopez is chatting with me as she’s being hustled from Los Angeles, where she’s been promoting Q’Viva with Anthony, to Las Vegas, where she is taping her second season on American Idol. Let it be noted that her relationship with Anthony during their publicity tour has been civil— at least publicly. Their body language throughout the promotion period was open— complete with friendly hand-touching and smiles. There may have even been hugs. But lest anyone start thinking of a reconciliation, both have been igniting the Twitter-sphere with fulsome mini-messages about new paramours, each nearly 20 years their junior. Anthony has been sending virtual besos to model Shannon de Lima while Lopez has been retweeting dancer Casper Smart’s missives about the meaninglessness of age in matters of the heart. “I mean, we’re parents and friends first,” she says with a smidgen of exasperation. “That will be the thread that ties us together. I don’t know if people expect it to be negative (Of course they do, Jennifer!) just because the [intimate] relationship didn’t work out.” The professional relationship, however, is chugging lucratively along.

On Q’Viva, the dynamic is simple: “We defer to Marc when it comes to musicians,” she says. “When it comes to dance and showmanship, he defers to [King and] me.”

Their other joint business venture— dual fashion collections for Kohl’s— is also on financial track, something that must surely give Lopez a special kind of satisfaction, as she recently noted that the failure of her first fashion endeavor in the early 2000s was one of her biggest career disappointments. “That was sad for me,” she told the New York Times last year. “I just felt like I never got a fair chance to do it right. And on top of it, I felt like I was trapped in a situation I couldn’t get out of, and my name was stamped on things that I didn’t believe in.”

The past year has served as a kind of righting of Lopez’s rudder, an unveiling of a more of-the-people Lopez that has appealed to the masses and to Hollywood. Her first season on American Idol showed her to be an encouraging, often teary-eyed, mentor to aspiring singers. “One of the greatest by-products of this particular time is this new introduction of Jennifer Lopez to a community that’s always known her but had misconceptions about her,” her manager, Benny Medina, told USA Today.

The release of her album Love? with its successful single “On the Floor” returned her to the dance clubs and provided her with a hit video. And her performance on the American Music Awards, wearing a body-revealing spangled catsuit, emphatically reminded everyone that the 42-year-old mother of twins was still quite hot and thus a valuable entertainment industry commodity. Suddenly, the memory of 2010’s not-very-good film The Back-up Plan was erased, along with a sequence of disappointing albums.

“You’re not going to hit the target or the bull’s-eye every time. That’s part of it,” Lopez says. “At the end of the day, I made those choices. I’ve been in the business now, I don’t want to say how many years. You have amazing moments of recognition and success. But at this point in my life, I try to take it all with a grain of salt.”

With Q’Viva there is a sense that this show is not just something that she is committed to professionally. It’s also a point of self-definition. The show underscores how she wants the public to view her— beyond her résumé of successful films such as The Wedding Planner and million-selling albums like J.Lo. In the trailer to Q’Viva, which shows Lopez and Anthony ensconced in private jets traipsing from one country to another, dancing in the streets and looking alternately agog and mesmerized, the head-turning beauty notes that the show allows her to proclaim: I am Latina and this is who we are.

It’s a curious comment because so much of the Lopez mythology has always centered on her “Jenny from the Block” persona: the Latina girl from the Bronx made good. Her first starring role was in Selena. She has recorded in Spanish. And even her pop songs dabble in Latin rhythms.

It has seemed all along that she’s been regularly declaring her heritage. It may be that those proclamations— in beats and cinematography—were never enough; they never matched the degree of importance she attached to being Latina.

"It really defines you and makes you who you are. I tried to keep that close to my heart— what I learned growing up. It’s something that I love so much. When doing Q’Viva, it was kind of reinforcing that, showing how important it is to me and staying connected to that and showing my kids what that’s all about.” Now is a particularly fine time to celebrate her heritage. Culturally, socially, and politically, the topic of diversity is a significant part of the conversation in the public square. Lopez astutely avoids talking about the complex politics of immigration and the like. Instead, she lets the simple numbers make her point. The 2010 U.S. census revealed that the Hispanic population grew four times faster than the total population. As a group, Hispanics make up 16.3 percent of the U.S. population. “People realize the strength of the community because of the dollars and the numbers. They’ve always been trying to find a way to crack that because they see opportunity,” Lopez says.

“They don’t know how to get in. But people were willing to listen and at the end of the day, as long as it transcends language to feeling, it doesn’t matter the ethnicity.”

Inextricable from Lopez’s ethnic pride is her aura of toughness. Her ubiquitous Fiat advertisement plays up her street cred. It includes a sequence in which the car tools along through the streets of the Bronx as Lopez, in voiceover, waxes fondly about how that diverse and unyielding neighborhood fueled her creativity and made her strong. (There was, of course, the uncomfortable revelation that Lopez didn’t actually drive the car through the Bronx. A body double did that; Lopez filmed her portion in Los Angeles. A busy fairy godmother can’t do everything.) There’s always been a little swaggering urban girl in her designer wardrobe— from the big, round-the-way gold hoop earrings to that famously plunging floral print Versace gown that was about one teasing millimeter away from street corner vulgarity.

“I’ve always felt like a tough girl from the Bronx,” she says. “But I have a soft core.”

That contradiction has always helped to distinguish her from the pack. Even at her most sexually provocative or breathily feminine, there’s always an undercurrent of aggressiveness, of fist- pumping bravado. That duality was there during her in-your-face early days as a Fly Girl on In Loving Color. And it remains in evidence in her video for “On the Floor,” in which she gyrates center stage in a dance hall but also presides over the club from a balcony perch where a waitress pours her Crown Royal—neat. In that same video, she is also seen as the thugged-out girl in a dark hoodie climbing out of a BMW, who pauses in an alleyway to slip on a pair of Swarovski crystal earrings.

One of her most memorable film successes was Maid in Manhattan, a reimagined, soft-focus Cinderella story. But she learned how to box for Money Train, one of her first films. And she studied krav maga for Enough. “I know how to fight!” she declares proudly.

Lopez posed for a boxer-fighter-survivor photo shoot with Mario Testino for this magazine—a theme symbolic of her career of late. “I can take a lot of punches and still keep going,” she says. “I’ve been trained like a boxer to go 15 rounds.”

When given her choice of groin protectors—those daunting don’t-mess-with-me-anatomical cups—in black (the men’s version) or red (the women’s), she preferred the men’s style. “I thought it was more graphic,” she says simply.

Was it that straightforward, really? A woman in full-blown menswear even now has an added element of strength. A cross-gender image in boxing garb suggests a heightened sense of self-assuredness, power, and swagger. “It did make me feel tougher,” she admits.

Yet Lopez also wanted to have big, glamorous, curly hair. But no. Testino and Roitfeld advocated for a slicked-back, more masculine, more aggressive style. It will still be sexy, they assured her.

It will still be very Jennifer Lopez.

Credits: Makeup James Kaliardos  Hair Oribe for Oribe Salon Miami Beach  Manicure Tom Bachik (Cloutier Remix)  Prop Stylist Bill Doig  Tailor M'Lynn Hass  Digital Technician Christian Hogstedt (R&D)  Photo Assistants Aaron Thomas and Benjamin Tietge  Stylist Assistant Michaela Dosmantes  Makeup Assistant William Kahn  Hair Assistant Judy Erickson  Production Jemima Hobsen and Michelle Lu  On-Set Production Erick Jussen (Ge Projects)  Production Assistant Alexandra Nataf  Videographer Keith Kendall (The Magnet Agency)  Video Look Films  Location Milk Studios, Los Angeles  Catering Love Catering  Retouching R&D  Special Thanks John Gayner, Maysa Marques, Pietro Birindelli, Charlotte Draycott, Shaun Murdock


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