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Aug 15

JENNIFER LOPEZ – “Love Don’t Cost A Thing”

Popular38 comments • 2,632 views

#888, 20th January 2001

jlo love Every era of pop has artists who work as a kind of fossil record – they may never put their name behind a great single, but their career is a useful indicator of pop’s shifting baselines and aesthetic whims. A track by them will tell you more about its year than any of its more idiosyncratic, or better, peers. J-Lo, I’d say, is one of these performers. If that seems unfair, it might be because her skills run a lot wider than music. In fact the main thing that sets Jennifer Lopez apart is how versatile she is – she’s shifted between film star, pop star (in Anglo and Latin markets), and TV personality and done solidly well at all of them. You can imagine a number of already-famous women deciding, at 30, that they’d like to get into music. But wanting is easier than doing. For J-Lo to fit so smoothly into millennial pop’s identity parade when her peers were far younger and with fewer built-up associations suggests unusual dexterity.

J-Lo is the pop incarnation of that very 00s figure, the flexible worker – pivoting, reskilling, and relaunching herself across a variety of disciplines with general success. The obvious and unkind rejoinder would be that she was a dilettante, her pop career a rich woman’s hobby. It was a line of attack that apparently bugged Lopez, since she countered it at exhausting length, with a rash of songs designed to prove her authenticity, her street roots and connections, and her refusal to let money define her. J-Lo did this partly by showing – with a revolving door of rap collaborators, most prominently Ja Rule – but also by telling. A lot of telling. Rule’s guest spot was on a remix of the bluntly titled “I’m Real” (”The game done chose me”, offers Lopez), and the theme reached its peak on the much-derided “Jenny From The Block” – the very definition of protesting too much. Being real? “To me it’s like breathing”, J-Lo trills, while around her hip-hop crew The LOX rap their career into the ground.

So “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” doesn’t just dive into R&B’s ongoing debate on romance and wealth, it’s an instalment in Lopez’ didactic campaign to prove how down-to-earth she is. It sets out its pitch as a kind of opposite to “No Scrubs” – that single flintily diagnosed deadbeat men as a drag on women’s chances of bettering themselves, but J-Lo waves such concerns away: it’s the heart that counts. (The press assumed she was having a dig at P. Diddy, her ex.) It’s a more generous sentiment, you might say, but an easier one too. And this is the strange flipside of J-Lo’s obsession with her own authenticity: the actual records she was making are all rather good, but not because of their street credentials. Instead their quality is down to her flexibility, a drive to bring in the crowds no matter what she’s doing. “Jenny From The Block”, for instance, succeeds because it backs up ridiculous lyrics not with grimy, ground-level beats but with a super-infectious flute sample.

And “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” is just as splashy and eager to please, a blustering take on the Destiny’s Child sound of 1999, fake harpsichord runs all over the place and Lopez adopting the conspiratorial, you-won’t-believe-this tone of “Bills Bills Bills” et al on the verses to build some tension. Never mind that it doesn’t fit the theme, it turns a lyrically somewhat pat song into one with more dramatic kick. And if that fails, there’s some crashing Cheiron-esque boom-beats at the start, and a parping synth-brass breakdown: everywhere you listen, this record is doing its best to grab you. It’s the paradox of J-Lo: her records act out a struggle between insecurity over her realness, and a will to adapt and entertain. Luckily for us, the latter mostly wins.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Ed on 11 Aug 2015 #

    While I broadly agree with the general consensus about Lopez appearing to be a jack of all trades but a master of none, I think her best work has been as an actress.

    She is a commanding presence in superior genre movies such as The Cell and Anaconda, and is absolutely terrific in Out Of Sight: it’s a performance that should have made her a genuine star.

    But she made some bad choices, being type-cast in Maid in Manhattan, and appearing in the notoriously epic fiasco Gigli with her then boyfriend, Ben Affleck.

    Hollywood never quite seemed to know what to do with her, possibly because of her ethnicity. She didn’t get the type of roles that went to Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Hudson or Kate Beckinsale or Chloe Sevigny. Those appalling quotes from Neon cited @24 suggest she was pigeon-holed as an exotic sex bomb rather than being seen as any kind of serious actress.

    IIRC, it was around the time that her movie career stalled that she started throwing herself into music.

    I haven’t seen much of her recent work, but The Boy Next Door looked terrible; not least because of the decision to cast 30 year-olds as High School students.

    Her most convincing performances have probably been as a judge on American Idol – she is sympathetic with the more hapless contestants, and insightful on the technicalities of performance – but no-one wants that on their tombstone.

    When last seen she was working in TV, shooting a series in which she stars as an implausibly glamorous New York cop. I don’t hold out great expectations, but I do hope she still has a future in acting somewhere.

  2. 27
    Mark M on 11 Aug 2015 #

    Re26: Hang on, Chloe Sevigny? I’m not sure which roles of hers J.Lo would have felt hard done by missing out on. Kate Beckinsale seems a closer shout.

    Maid In Manhattan made a more than respectable $93m domestic. It went downhill from there, though… I think there are reasons why Kate Hudson got more romcom roles, and they aren’t got necessarily to do with ethnicity.

    Her strength as an actress was neo-noir, but they don’t make a load of those and they aren’t big box office draws. But maybe she should have tried more action…

  3. 28
    anto on 11 Aug 2015 #

    I’d always assumed Jennifer Lopez’s film and pop careers launched themselves at the same time – a Latino Clare Grogan?
    I always quite liked her songs simply because there is something likeable about her voice. She’s not a world champion singer, but it’s well suited to the sort of supple melodies she tends to favour. The accent is quite appealing too.
    That front cover is a bit much – ok, so your love don’t cost a thing, but can we maybe have dinner first.

  4. 29
    Ed on 11 Aug 2015 #

    @28 Anaconda and U-Turn were released in 1997, Out Of Sight in 1998, and her first album in 1999, so her music career was launched after her movie career, but while she was still on her way up as an actress.

    Gigli, which killed her as an A-lister, was not until 2003, so my sense that she started putting more effort into music after peaking as an actress was not really accurate.

    @27. Point taken about Chloe Sevigny! I was just throwing out a few names of actresses of roughly the same generation. And I take the point, too, that Maid in Manhattan made a lot of money. Accepting a role as a hotel cleaner still felt like Lopez was allowing Hollywood to type-cast her too easily.

  5. 30
    anto on 11 Aug 2015 #

    @29 – If anything ‘Gigli’ was even more costly for Ben Affleck. Aside from being a dreadful film, the decision to play a character who entices a lesbian (played by his real-life paramour at the time) to ‘convert’ seemed to solidify the growing perception of Affleck as a conceited jerk who thought all of womankind was in awe of his sex appeal.
    I once saw 15 minutes of ‘Gigli’ on Channel 5, that was all I could stomach. At one point Affleck attempts to charm Jennifer Lopez’s character by calling her a ‘dyke-a-saurus” (to which she smiles lovingly) – This is followed by the sex scene in which Lopez spreads her legs and says ‘It’s turkey time, gobble gobble’ – God give me strength.

  6. 31

    #25: Well, the verses only, but they do prove J-Lizzle somehow owns a copy of “Revolt into Style.” This one, though – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSLSwwkLRW0 – not THAT one – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-H8dR0HLo (which is apparently a “remix” of the former but has about as much to do with it as I.) The most confused I’ve been about singles since Bruce Springsteen released both “Fire” and “I’m on Fire.”

    #30: You have truly opened up the scary door. As terrifying poultry and cinema interfaces go, maybe it’s no Killer Joe. Or “Blackburn Rovers: Some Kind of Venky.”

  7. 32
    Ed on 13 Aug 2015 #

    @30 That may be true, but Affleck has made the better recovery. He’s going to be Batman; Lopez is making a TV show.

  8. 33
    Mark M on 13 Aug 2015 #

    Re:29/30/32: Affleck I think was simultaneous beneficiary/victim of the Hollywood equivalent of a problem diagnosed in Moneyball, whereby scouts kept signing kids who had the look and feel of future baseball stars – tall, fast, strong etc – ignoring their underlying flaws and the fact that all sorts of misshapen boys have turned out be be great players.

    Likewise, Hollywood has a long history of imagining that male leading men will be tall, straight-backed and handsome, and trying to make stars of (often WASPy/Irish) dullards such as Chris O’Donnell, when the smart money turns out to have been on jug-eared Ben Stiller and dough-faced Tom Hanks. (There are exceptions, of course: Chris Pine and Chris Evans both seem to be doing pretty well right now – apparently Evans has a particularly 21st century talent: he’s great caught on GIFs). People kept trying to make Affleck a star.

    Affleck dug himself out of the hole mainly by turning out to be a pretty decent director. I still think he’s a fairly unappealing actor. However, his early attention-grabbing roles were as bullies in Kevin Smith movies, and he does have (when beardless) a cruel face – which fits in with the post-Frank Miller/Christopher Nolan conception/restoration of Batman as a humourless, right-wing vigilante.

  9. 34
    Mark M on 13 Aug 2015 #

    Also, ‘making a TV show’, has, in 2015, ceased to be a comedown, surely?

  10. 35
    Cumbrian on 13 Aug 2015 #

    I always thought that Chris O’Donnell’s problems were that he looked a bit like Matt Damon and Matt Damon was better than him, so he suffered a lot by comparison. He and Alicia Silverstone were the ones who got torpedoed the most by Batman and Robin as well, I guess.

  11. 36
    Mark M on 13 Aug 2015 #

    Re35: Except, he’d had his shot before Matt Damon made his mark – he was a whole bunch of misconceived stuff: as D’Artagnan in the dreadful Young Guns/Brat Pack version of The Three Musketeers, as the young Ernest Hemingway in Dickie Attenborough’s In Love And War, in Mad Love with Drew Barrymore, which was critically mauled and a box- office flop, but directed by Antonia Bird, so maybe interesting…

    All that before Batman & Robin.

    Anyway, he’s an actor who has lived happily ever after on TV… co-starring in NCIS: Los Angeles with J.Lo’s occasional duet partner LL Cool J. See, it all connects!

  12. 37
    Kinitawowi on 14 Aug 2015 #

    O’Donnell also made a reasonable fist of Scent Of A Woman, going up against full-on HOO-AH! era Al Pacino.

    (Oh, and J.Lo gets a 3 for this. Possibly 7 for Waiting For Tonight.)

  13. 38
    Tommy Mack on 15 Aug 2015 #

    Mrs Mack and I were out on Thursday (browsing at Discount Carpet Warehouse – my lifestyle is virtually indistinguishable from that of Jennifer Lopez) and popped into a bar where this came on the telly. It’s another one of those ‘never heard it…oh it’s that one is it?’ hits for me. How much does it want to be Destiny’s Child? ‘Eager to please’ is right, I chuckled into my cranberry juice over how game it all sounds. Dead catchy hooks too, mind. 6 for charm and enthusiasm alone.

    Proper generic bling-lifestyle video though.

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