Hard times made me what I am: J.Lo
I'm not sure if this is the best or worst question anyone ever asked a global megastar, but I'm pretty sure it's not the best. "So have you ever freaked out and just said 'holy sh--, I'm J.Lo! I'm massive!?'"
Apparently Jennifer Lopez does, occasionally, wig out on that trip. "I have, at times. You know: 'wow, this is overwhelming, people are watching me and things like that.' There's moments of that, but for the most part I feel like God put me in this position for a reason, because he felt like I could handle it."
And handle it she certainly can. Twenty-six years after moving out of her parents' modest home in the Bronx, New York, and taking a punt on a career as a dancer, she is worth nearly $342 million. She has still-strong film and music careers (she's sold 75 million records), owns a production company, two mobile phone companies, a large property profolio and has clothing ranges and fragrances in her name.
At 44 Lopez looks impossibly good, has shed her reputation for being eternally half of a celebrity supercouple (adios: Puff Daddy, Ben Affleck and Marc Anthony) and emerged a sex symbol and a true diva: part of that closed club of pop royals populated by the likes of Beyonce and Madonna.
By at least one definition, she is even more than them; did any pop star so easily cross over from film to music? She was the first star to have a No.1 album and film in the same week in the US: The Wedding Planner and J.Lo in January 2001.
Did any remain so busy in both careers? Lopez's new album, A.K.A., sits at No.8 in the US album charts, debuted in the top 25 in this country, and she has three movies planned for release next year. She will be on Australian television screens this month as a guest judge on The X-Factor Australia.
As ubiuquitous as Lopez is, one of her many contradictions is that as her movies and music have gone – how to put this delicately – in one direction, her fame has gone in the other.
The truth is her recent music and films have made little impact and yet Lopez has never been so famous. Last year she was granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and this year she became the first female artist to receive a Billboard icon award, and was also named a "legend" at the World Music Awards in Monte Carlo.
Own two feet: Jennifer Lopez has dropped her reputation for being one half of a celeb couple.
Own two feet: Jennifer Lopez has dropped her reputation for being one half of a celeb couple. Photo: Getty Images
When she rose into the Maracana stadium during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup on Brazil last month, to sing We Are One (Ola Ola) alongside her longtime collaborator Pitbull and Brazilian star Claudia Leitte, Lopez was unquestionably the star.
But Lopez's fame transcends trophies and wealth: she's been dubbed the "Latina Oprah Winfrey" by writer Robert C. Cottrell and in fact was only displaced as the world's most powerful celebrity on the annual Forbes list a year ago, ironically by Oprah.
It's easy to wonder what keeps Lopez connected to the rest of us. When I ask her to name three things she does to remain "part of the human race", she is stumped.
"Well, I love going on walks outside in the fresh air, and that may seem like no big deal for most people but for me it’s such a luxury and also helps keep me grounded.
"Also being very close to my family. Ummm..." She struggles for a third, before revealing: "I love cooking and cleaning."
Huh? "You know, cleaning the house, tidying. You know how you clean up your house? Making your bed, cleaning the dishes."
It's hard for people to believe that stars like her would clean when they don't have to. How many of us would? "Maybe that exists [with some stars], I don’t know; it’s not me."
There's not a trace of arrogance in here voice, though, just a trademark no-nonsense likeability which works so strongly in her favour that, mostly speaking, we cheer on her successes even when we are oblivious to her creative output.
The funny thing is the list of her great works isn't as great as you'd expect for an "icon". Sure, she sang slick dancefloor-fillers like Let's Get Loud and On The Floor and minor R&B/pop anthems like Love Don't Cost a Thing and I'm Real, but mostly her music is, well, forgettable.
Take A.K.A., which scored an average of 5.5 out of 10 in 115 reviews counted by the website Metacritic and has been already written off as a commercial flop.
That's not to say she's not proud of it. "What was important with this album was to embrace all the things that I am and not put myself in any kind of box of expectations of what anybody else thought I should do ... and just really kinda let myself be free and go 'you know what, Jen, you are hip-hop, you are R&B, you are dance, you are pop, you are latin – all of those things. You are also vulnerable and strong and scared and confused sometimes.
"It was really important to me [to be all those things] and I did accomplish that on this album. I wasn’t afraid to say anything."
Her songs, however, tend to be exercises in style over substance: constructed with capable, not electrifying, vocals over big, generic beats and carried by polished clips trading heavily on her inarguable sex appeal. While she is regarded a capable actor, her films have largely been pleasant escapist rom-coms shopping romantic cliches. Indeed, her best role in her best film, Out Of Sight, is most memorable for that lightning-in-a-bottle sexual tension between her and George Clooney.
Perhaps the most telling embodiment of her cultural status came last year when a Barbie doll was made in her likeness.
Lopez might be the archtypeal "triple threat" - a star who can sing, dance and act - but she's no more than a threat with each. But what made Lopez one of the biggest stars on the planet was more than the combination of the three, even with her beauty and business acumen. Lopez's success can be tracked to her earliest years in the business.
She was briefly homeless at 18 when she left the family home, determined to make it as a dancer, she told W magazine last year. She recalled sleeping on a sofa in a dance studio, which is a far cry from sleeping on the streets, but Lopez did it tough and that has stuck with her.
What would she do now if she were down to her last $100 – like so many of her fans? "I’ve been there," she says passionately, "when I only had $100, or $20, and had to eat a pizza every day for dinner, which cost $1.50 back at that time when I was a dancer, struggling as an artist.
"Those are the years that shape you, right? When you are struggling, you’re trying to make it, you learn resilience, you learn discipline, you learn to not give up, to have faith and all of that stuff winds up serving you in the long run.
"Because you realise after the success, and after things get [better], like people imagine [my life is] all perfect now – that is when it actually gets tougher.
How so? "It gets tougher because there's more pressure, more scrutiny, there’s more expectation. You know doing [your] first album you’re surprising everybody, and if it’s good people are like ‘wow’. But try doing that 10 times."
To the juggling act of twin careers and running several businesses, add raising her two young children. How does she think the twins, Max and Emme (now six) will turn out after growing up with their mother's superstardom? "They learn from what you do; what they see mommy doing is working hard. A lot," she adds quickly.
"They’re growing up with more than what mommy did [but] I'm not worried about [them getting] attention. I think love and attention from the people around them will only help them grow into great human beings.
"What I worry more about is that they understand what hard work is, that they understand that we have to take care of people and our responsibility is, because we have a little bit more, that we do that and figure our ways to help and be charitable.
"I want them to be aware of the world."
Jennifer Lopez's A.K.A. is out now.
The highs and lows of J.Lo
> Breakthrough as Selena (1997): Lopez received rave reviews for the title role of the biopic about Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the Mexican Madonna, who was murdered by the president of her fan club in 1995.
> She’s Out of Sight (1998): Lopez beat Sandra Bullock and Catherine Keener for the key role of US Marshal Karen Sisco opposite George Clooney’s suitably suave bank robber Jack Foley. Their chemistry was red hot and it made Lopez reputedly the first Latina actress to earn over $1 million for a movie.
> Crossing into music (1999): Movie stars have a patchy record when it comes to pop releases but Lopez’s first single, If You Had My Love, could not have gone better, topping the charts in 1999, despite a controversy that it belonged to another artist, Chante Moore. Co-produced by Lopez’s boyfriend Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, her debut album, On The 6, was a big success.
> Becoming J.Lo (2001): Her second album, J.Lo (fans came up with the nickname), went even better, topping the charts in January 2001, at the same time as her movie The Wedding Planner topped the box-office. She also topped several "sexiest women in the world" lists.
> Supercouple baggage: Her talents put her on the map but her high profile romances made her ubiquitous, first with Sean Combs (which ended ignominiously after he was arrested following a shooting outside a New York night club 1999). Next she dated Ben Affleck, resulting in the awful dual moniker ‘Bennifer’ and, even worse, the disastrous movie Gigli, starring the couple. They split in 2004 and J.Lo married her sweetheart Marc Anthony, which lasted eight years.
> Global assault on global stardom: After a decade of mixed success, she used the platform of being a judge on American Idol to relaunch herself. A three-year all-out assault also included appearing in five films, working with multiple charities, buying an LA production company and releasing perfumes and two new albums, one producing On The Floor, her most successful single and the third most viewed YouTube clip ever. And she played 79 shows on a successful world tour. The accolades rained in, including Billboard Icon and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Sydney Morning Herald