Why critics and fans alike can’t stop talking about J.Lo’s latest project

Jennifer Lopez knows how to grab our attention.

Her latest project, an album and accompanying musical film titled “This is Me… Now,” has been both praised and criticized, with many in between trying to understand what Lopez’s latest artistic endeavor even means.

Yet the myriad reactions dissecting the project all point to one key fact. Like it or not, we’re talking about J.Lo.

“She’s an anomaly,” culture critic Jack Rico told NBC News. “Today, I don’t think it’s possible to fully comprehend and grasp how special Jennifer Lopez is … She should be a case study, the same way we have college classes for Bad Bunny or Taylor Swift.”

In a way, the Lopez enigma is at the center of her enduring power as someone who marked a generation of millennials — especially Latino millennials like me.

Jennifer Lopez attends the Valentino Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024  show in Paris.
J.Lo should be a case study, says Rico, “the same way we have college classes for Bad Bunny or Taylor Swift.” Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Lopez has “cracked all of the walls and barriers” society placed on her and more broadly places on Latinos, on women and on people over 50, Rico said. “She’s a defiance.”

People my age don’t remember a time when Lopez wasn’t a big deal — setting trends with her music and dance moves, her acting performances and her fashion choices.

Lopez has worked consistently through the years — she has starred in over 35 movies, released nine studio albums, produced and appeared in countless TV shows, published a memoir, completed a residency in Las Vegas and a world tour.

Jennifer Lopez in a green Versace dress at the 42nd Annual GRAMMY Awards
J.Lo’s iconic green Versace dress at the 2000 Grammys red carpet broke the internet — and led to Google images. Getty Images

She also became a fashion icon following her red carpet appearance in 2000 wearing a show-stopping green Versace dress that inspired the creation of Google images.

And those not familiar with her trajectory probably know of Lopez from her highly publicized string of romances and marriages.

So what has she done lately? She spent $20 million of her own money in a multimedia project that leans into her love life, her way.

In “This Is Me… Now,” Lopez takes her sometimes questionable and even eye-rolling relationships and shines on them a spotlight few artists at her level would dare to do, focusing mainly on her rekindled romance with now-husband actor Ben Affleck. The result? She got our attention — and got a lot of critics and fans talking about it.

Taking her string of romances — and owning it

Lopez has said her latest project is her “most honest” one yet, though fans and detractors say she held back on the subject of relationships and her tumultuous path to self-love.

The album sounds like a musical time capsule encompassing her 25-year music career and her lifelong search for her voice and artistic identity.

The film is not quite conceptual nor completely abstract, but something in between, mixing lighthearted and introspective moments to take us on her journey to … yes, love.

Jennifer Lopez at the Los Angeles Premiere Of Amazon MGM Studios "This Is Me...Now: A Love Story"
With the recent debate over her latest album and movie, Lopez is still shifting and influencing pop culture. Getty Images

In my view, what “This Is Me… Now” does effectively is showcase Lopez’s confidence as a triple-threat performer: singer, dancer and actor.

While her latest work reminded people like me of her unmatched talent, some say it was a missed opportunity for the 54-year-old to open up at a more personal level, distancing herself from her performer persona and showing off a more vulnerable, different side. 

“The thing about Jennifer, and I think this is where a lot of the criticism is coming from, is that she has not been able to evolve,” Rico said. “You can’t get bigger than what she has done, and I think there’s a part of her that is like, ‘How do I top myself?’”

Yet the recent debate proves that Lopez remains relevant — and is still shifting and influencing American pop culture.

My life’s soundtrack

Because “This Is Me… Now” serves as a bookend to her 2002 studio album “This Is Me… Then” — inspired by Lopez’s first engagement to Affleck and eventual breakup — it’s making many of us revisit our own memories of growing up with Lopez.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez walking through Beverly Hills
Lopez leaned into her much-discussed and dissected love life and made it the focus of her latest project.Getty Images

I can’t tell you exactly when I first heard Lopez’s 1999 debut single, “If You Had My Love.” I just know I’ve always known it. The song catapulted Lopez’s music career following her breakout performance as the slain “Queen of Tejano Music” Selena Quintanilla in the 1997 film “Selena,” which turned her into a Hollywood movie star and helped cement Selena’s musical legacy to a younger generation like me.

Lopez then established herself as a mega pop star with iconic music videos and hits like “Let’s Get Loud” and “Waiting for Tonight” from her debut album “On The 6.”

The first album I ever owned was the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 album “Millenium” — who didn’t succumb to the boy band craze of the 1990s? But the one I cherished most was Lopez’s 2001 album “J.Lo.”

At 7, I used crayons to label my “J.Lo” album with my name in case I lost it while taking it everywhere in my portable CD player. I couldn’t understand much of the lyrics because I only spoke Spanish, but I remember imitating Lopez while dancing to her pop tracks combined with Y2K era electronic sounds, R&B, hip-hop and Latin music influences.

JLO CD inside of a case
Jennifer Lopez’s 2001 album “J.Lo,” labeled in crayons, was a personal favorite. Courtesy Nicole Acevedo

The “J.Lo” album debuted at No. 1. That same week, Lopez starred in the romantic comedy “The Wedding Planner” — which topped the box office.

“When she has the No. 1 record, and the No. 1 movie at the exact same time for all general audiences, it’s nothing short of a miracle,” Rico said. In fact, the milestone made Lopez the first woman to simultaneously have a top film and album on opening week.

As a kid who loved performing and once aspired to be a dancer, seeing a fellow Puerto Rican succeed at this epic scale gave me confidence in my own identity from a very young age.

An icon from the Latin music ‘explosion’

Lopez achieved superstar status alongside a few other artists of Hispanic descent who reached global success during the Latin music explosion of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

If there was a Mount Rushmore for the Latin explosion, the faces of Lopez, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Shakira would be carved in it — and maybe Christina Aguilera, who is Ecuadorian American, and Enrique Iglesias, a Hispanic from Spain, if we had more space.

Growing up at this time, I thought it was always this way. But as an adult, I realized it was mostly a specific period in pop culture.

Decades later, Lopez and Shakira reignited this history during their record-breaking 2020 Super Bowl Halftime performance, featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin, two big faces of the new Latin music boom dominated by reggaeton music.

Jennifer Lopez performs at Super Bowl LIV
Jennifer Lopez’ and Shakira’s 2020 Super Bowl Halftime show broke video viewing records.Getty Images

“The Super Bowl was a very revealing Jennifer Lopez moment,” Leila Cobo, Billboard’s chief content officer of Latin, told the Pop Pantheon podcast on August 2023. “It showed why she still matters.”

Lopez, a U.S.-born Latina, is inherently bicultural. Her innate code-switching abilities has helped her become a naturally shapeshifting entertainer, a unique quality that’s kept her in the pop culture zeitgeist for nearly three decades.

“She can be 40. She can be 50. She can be 85. And she still can pull that off,” Cobo said. “Not very many people can do that … This is not simply someone who’s here for celebrity. I think she wants to transcend that.”

J.Lo’s — and my — full-circle moment

I no longer buy J.Lo CDs and mark them with a crayon. But listening to “This Is Me… Now” made me think about my own path to self-acceptance and yes, finding love along the way.

I still tease my mother for not taking me to Lopez’s 2001 concert in Puerto Rico, where I lived as a child, because I was too young. She promised she would take me the next time Lopez had a concert in my homeland, but that was the only show Lopez ever did there. For years, my consolation prize was endlessly rewatching the DVD version of the 2001 concert I got as a Three Kings Day gift.

Jennifer Lopez performs "This Is Me Now" at SNL
Jennifer Lopez sings “This Is Me… Now” on Saturday Night Live, making some of us millennials reflect on where we’re now, from when we first listened to J.Lo.Getty Images

But I got a second chance.

I was recently listening to the new album, where songs like “Can’t Get Enough” let me bask in the joy of being a newlywed, and where “Rebound” and “Broken Like Me” make me reflect on how far I’ve come, and I told my husband about how I still dreamed of seeing Lopez in concert.

He then surprised me with tickets to one of Lopez’s shows in New York City, where I now live, to celebrate my 30th birthday this summer.

You could say the full-circle moment shows how Lopez marked my life then … and now.

That’s a pretty remarkable journey for Jenny from the Block.

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