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[whitespace] 'Selena'
J. Lo caught in the act in 'Selena.'

J. Loud

In concert, J. Lo proved that she can lip-sync and she can dance--just not at the same time

By Gina Arnold

EVERY ERA has its icon, and they're all pretty hard to live up to, but one still has to pity the poor children of today: imagine being born under the reign of Queen Jennifer Lopez, a.k.a. J. Lo. I actually know a 15-year-old who went out and bought a prom dress recently, only to have her liberal, First Amendment-supporting, cool-as-shit mom make her return it. "Too revealing," she declared. "It makes you look like a hooker."

Mom didn't get it, of course. The point was not to look like a hooker, but to look like J. Lo. Like many of today's performers, Lopez always looks like a hooker. She probably wore spandex to her court date over Puff Daddy's gun charges. And on her recent prime-time NBC special, Jennifer Lopez in Concert, she changed her costume six times in a single hour, so that by the end of the performance, every bit of her sumptuous flesh had been exposed, not just for fleeting instants, but for loving minutes, caressed by the camera and millions of lecherous viewers.

In fact, none of J. Lo's outfits were any more (or even as) revealing as Britney and Her Breasts, but they sure were ugly, possibly in order to emphasize J. Lo's great good looks. ("See? I can wear things that make ordinary people look like total shit!") For the record, she wore the red flamenco dress; Cher-like '70s flares and sequined bra; the Tina Turner-Meets-Planet of the Apes look; the I Am the Bride of a Pimp dress; and a nightie. I'm forgetting one, but you get the idea. And all of them featured some fatal flaw of fashion, from an asymmetric neckline to lace-up side pants--things no woman in her right mind would expose to the world.

It occurred to me that Lopez, whose musical and acting talent are not all that apparent, must have made a deal with the devil to become as hugely famous and successful as she is today. The devil said he'd place her at the top of the film and recording fields. The catch was: only in the most vulgar, ostentatious, unappealing and frankly skanky clothing. Lopez is as low as the lowest common denominator gets, and her special proved the point. She "sang" (meaning she lip-synced) eight of her utterly forgettable songs, plus two covers, Diana Ross' "Do You Know" and a song by Selena. Most of the time, she was surrounded by a score of fly dancers, exploding lights and fireworks, and swift camera angles and slo-mo shots so you couldn't really see what she was (or wasn't) doing.

Granted, J. Lo began life as a fly girl on In Living Color, so there's no question she can dance; she just can't seem to dance and lip-sync simultaneously. But it didn't really matter, since the whole production was one long opportunity for a myriad of close-ups, during which, apparently, they'd flash a card saying "smile" or "look coy" or "look sad" at Lopez, and she'd deliver with the appropriate canned response. Supposedly, J. Lo can act at least as well as Madonna, but on this special--her first live concert, and no wonder--it wasn't obvious. I haven't seen anything quite so wooden and unspontaneous-looking since Paula Abdul came to town.

Of course, like Paula before her, J. Lo is merely "this year's model," meaning that we won't have her to deal with much longer. The transient nature of her fame will benefit 15-year-olds everywhere who simply can't live up to her body. She may be a passing phenomenon, but she is a symptom worth noting. For one thing, she represents the Latinization of America. It's interesting that she began her acting career by playing Selena and that she did a tribute to the late singer here, since she's clearly filled the role that Selena and her handlers envisioned for her: that is, Latin crossover to the white pop market.

J. Lo's persona is also symptomatic of the extreme sexualization of pop culture. This can best be seen on beer commercials, which are beginning to look like pornography. Granted it's nice to see a lovely brunette Latina face on TV, instead of the usual wan, pinched-face blondes, but it'd be nicer if the music were better. Also, her sexiness, in combination with her Latinness, merely reinforces a stereotype--hot, passionate, Latina! That would irk me if I were Hispanic, and it does so without adding anything to the genre.

When it comes to sexing up the culture, J. Lo is not alone, of course: the bump and grinders have been coming fast and furious for years. It makes me wonder what it is about society that likes or needs or wants its sexuality so prominent, so vulgar, so very, very loud.

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From the November 29-December 5, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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