Release Date: June 17, 2014
Fifteen years ago, having already earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her starring role in Selena, Jennifer Lopez launched her recording career with a pair of hoop earrings, some killer dance moves, and a record whose title paid homage to the Bronx, On The 6. Flush with the radio-friendly rap production then-boyfriend Diddy had infiltrated commercial R&B with, On The 6 — which occasioned that cutting edge webcam POV video for “If You Had My Love” — presaged Lopez’s longevity as a pop culture icon. While there was no hiding the fact that Lopez — soon to become “J. Lo,” the leading lady/fashion designer/perfume slinger/American Idol judge — couldn’t sing, she knew we liked looking at her, and she knew that might be enough.
Lopez’s entire musical career has been a sleight of hand. Over the course of eight albums, including her latest, A.K.A., she’s buried underwhelming, trend-chasing dance pop and flat vocals beneath incredible singles like “I’m Real” with Ja Rule, the LL Cool J collab “All,” the unexpectedly funky “Get Right,” and the Pitbull-featuring, “Lambada”-sampling, fist-pump-instigating “On The Floor.”
For A.K.A., she offered up new bait. January’s “Girls,” a song about having a good time with friends, was as much a chance for Lopez to tap into the taut drums and laidback, ersatz melodies of DJ Mustard and his signature “ratchet” sound, as it was an attempt to re-establish her as the original hood princess. And “I Luh Yuh Papi,” the album’s first official single, featuring production by “Drunk In Love” and “We Dem Boyz” mastermind Detail, was a new take on that thing she does best: flirty street-pop team-ups with once-grimy rappers, in this case South Bronx sheikh French Montana. Her past two albums, Brave and Love?, sold well but were full of confused, insipid pop gunk: soulless EDM-lite doused in pinot grigio and destined for Real Housewives placement. The prospect for a return to the playful, rap-friendly vibe of her early career cued up very real anticipation for A.K.A..
Except “Girls” didn’t make the final cut, and much of A.K.A. is still mawkish, midtempo melodrama that does too much to accentuate J. Lo’s tunelessness. Much like Jay Z, Lopez has ridden her #started story into the ground and lacks the imagination to find something new, so A.K.A. feels simultaneously calculated and sloppy. T.I.’s verse fades out abruptly on the title track, and the unintuitive sequencing is made more noticeable by J. Lo’s lack of charisma on tepid ballads like “Never Satisfied” and “Let It Be Me”; most everything else, including the Daft Punk nu-disco retread “So Good,” is laughably listless. Premium rap placements barely pull this thing together, though Pitbull’s voracious verse on J. Lo’s long-awaited ass anthem “Booty” is an inspired pairing that will probably kill radio. Another bright spot immediately follows: “Tens,” a campy approximation of a bend-and-snap vogue house track, featuring ballroom toaster Jack Mizrahi. It inspires visions of Lopez stomping down a runway, which is exactly why it works: She’s at her best when she makes us stop and look.