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Jennifer Lopez: Back to her Roots

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After a four-year hiatus, Jennifer Lopez has returned to the spotlight. But getting her to talk about it is another story, as one Stylist writer found out...

If the stereotypical whispers are to be believed, 12 years ago, Jennifer Lopez was pop music’s biggest diva. As famous for being outrageously demanding as her string of hits, the singer (who rebranded herself as J-Lo in the early Noughties) would reportedly request dressing rooms to be redecorated and object if her bottled water wasn’t precisely 26°C.

The rumours definitely weren’t flattering (or necessarily true – Stylist couldn’t find any solid proof these things actually occurred) but regardless, none of this undermined Jennifer’s success. Her albums went multi-platinum, her films such as Out Of Sight (1998) and Maid In Manhattan (2002) raked in millions at the box office and in 2001, she became the first female artist in history to simultaneously score a No 1 film (The Wedding Planner) and album (J.Lo) in the same week.

Then in 2007, things started to slow down. Jennifer’s fifth English studio album, Brave, was her least successful, eventually leading her to split from record label Epic. Stealing away from the spotlight to start a family with her husband, singer Marc Anthony, 41 (the couple have three-year-old twins, Max and Emme), we didn’t hear from Jennifer until 2010, when she returned to cinemas with The Back-Up Plan. Although it wasn’t the box office hit she’d been hoping for, it indicated that a comeback was on the cards. And hers has been impressive. After becoming a judge on American Idol in January, a guise in which Jennifer has revealed a much softer side, the star released On The Floor, her first single in five years. Heralding a return to her pop-R&B roots, it’s proven her bestselling single to date.

As if to enhance her status as the comeback queen even further, she’s also been signed up as the new face of L’Oréal and Venus Gillette, proving that at 41, she can still command million dollar beauty contracts over younger peers. It’s as she’s about to embark on a promotional tour for the latter brand that I get a call inviting me to join her in New York for a 30-minute interview. Of course, interest is running high in the Stylist office. Will there be minions fanning her with white feathers or will we ascertain the “diva” rumours are hype, fabricated because J-Lo has the chutzpah to stand up for herself in the male-dominated music industry? Either way, what we don’t anticipate is that once I touch down in the US, my time with Jennifer will be trimmed down dramatically. The end result is not one, not two but three meetings with the star. But I can safely say I get an experience. Here’s my story…

Thursday 3 February: The London Hotel, New York

It was no easy feat – my first plane was cancelled due to snowstorms – but I’ve finally arrived at The London Hotel in New York. Helpfully, the Big Apple is also experiencing some of its worst weather conditions in years but that’s not about to stop Jennifer Lopez, who jetted in from LA yesterday for the Venus Gillette press conference.

Jennifer (or is it still J-Lo?) is currently holed up in her penthouse suite (perched on a chaise longue while being fed grapes, in my head at least…) doing rounds of interviews for the campaign. But, as I’m informed by a nervous-looking PR, there’s a long way to go before I reach her. There are three ‘holding areas’ in the hotel that I must pass through first – a conference room, a ‘base’ outside a set of lifts, then a desk at the back of her hotel suite. Apparently the idea behind this is that Jennifer likes a ‘seamless operation’ and to ‘keep the energy flowing’. If I allow my energy to ‘dip’ (which is growing increasingly likely considering she’s already running an hour and a half late and I haven’t eaten any breakfast), she’ll get restless.

This system is not doing much to temper her reputation, I have to admit.

At 10.30am, Jennifer is finally ready for me. Jennifer and her team, that is. When I enter the room (which doesn’t appear to have been redecorated FYI), there are at least six members of her entourage looking at me expectantly.

Jennifer, on the other hand, is sitting in a chair by the window with her back to me (no grapes by the way). Looking perfectly polished, she’s dressed in an asymmetrical black and white dress and thankfully doesn’t seem agitated. In fact, after a few minutes discussing the Venus Goddess campaign which she’s promoting (I was recommended to begin my line of questioning by asking her what it feels like to be a goddess – although I have more confidence in myself as a journalist than this), we move seamlessly to her beauty regime. She really does look amazing with that trademark J-Lo glow. I notice that she’s also crossing a seriously perfect pair of pins, which are thanks to a training regime recently invented for her by celebrity fitness guru Tracy Anderson (famed for training Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna). She tells me she’s currently working out five times a week for a music video she’s shooting soon. “It’s not always like this though,” she explains, smiling. “The thought of working out every day for the rest of my life terrifies me.”

In my 20s I knew nothing about taking care of my body but now I’m 41, I feel like this is the age

I’m inquisitive about why she’s upped the fitness regime. “Having the twins has changed my body,” Jennifer tells me. “It feels different on the inside as well as the outside. The texture of my muscles has even changed,” but she doesn’t look upset by this, adding, “I feel like I’ve hit my stride in my 40s. In my 20s I knew nothing about taking care of my body but now I’m 41, I feel like this is the age.” Why? “I think women are looking after themselves more than ever. And we’re also not allowing people to write us off either.”

Is it the same fear of being “written off” that drives her to keep performing? Before she’s given the chance to reply, Jennifer is cut off by her publicist who informs me it’s time to ask my last question. I look at my watch and confirm that I’ve been sitting with Jennifer for five minutes, not my promised 30, but am mouthed the word “Sorry”.

“Pick the good questions, just pick the good ones,” Jennifer advises, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s raised a discreet signal to her publicist to gently usher me out.

With no explanation for why my interview is being wrapped up so early, I turn the conversation to American Idol. Was she ecstatic to be offered it?

“It really wasn’t something I was excited about doing when I was offered it,” Jennifer is happy to admit. “Now it’s sort of hitting me that it’s so different to anything else I’ve ever done and that’s not a bad thing. I’m not masked by a performance, song or script and people are getting to see the real me."

Which is what? “Well, I’m laid-back, I laugh a lot, and I make jokes. I’m a very emotional person. And I love the fact that people can see that now, instead of having to read what people have written about me.”

At this point, we’re asked to stop the conversation again by her publicist. Ready to coax me out, he’s already brought another two journalists in (presumably to keep that ‘energy’ flowing). I later find out they are forced to conduct their interviews with Jennifer together, despite being promised that they would get to speak to her individually. Perhaps I’ve been lucky after all. Or perhaps flying an army of international journalists halfway across the world to meet J-Lo for 10 minutes is not the most responsible of carbon footprints.

Later the same day: The London Hotel, New York

Five hours on from my initial meeting with J-Lo, I’m a tad irritated. I’ve complained to her reps that this isn’t what we agreed and so it’s some consolation that one of them has come back to inform me they’ve managed to persuade Jennifer to find more time to see me. I have no idea how many minutes I will be granted this time but I’m glad I pushed back – my perseverance has paid off.

Jennifer is dressed in the same clothes and sipping a lemonade when I walk in. “Me again!” I say breezily.

She looks confused. “You… I thought we had a good chat?” she says. “Didn’t we?”

“We had a great chat,” I agree, “but there’s not nearly enough for me to print.”

This time, we kick off with Jennifer’s forthcoming album, Love?, which at this point still doesn’t have a release date. After two years working on it Jennifer has just done the final edit and she’s happy. She tells me that the vibe is “very much dance R&B with pop. It’s what has always been on my albums,” she says excitedly, “so that’s not changing. It’s very J-Lo,” she adds alluding to her urban alter-ego (contrary to reports, she’s not shunned her nickname after all these years). That said, it’s still “modern and fresh”, thanks to the help of Lady Gaga’s producer RedOne and she seems rather confident it’s going to be a hit.

“To be honest I’m at the point where there’s no need to put out something that I know is not good,” she says. “I have people around me who I trust implicitly: my record company and my manager. They tell me it’s a great record and I go, “OK, so I’m not crazy.”

She admits that taking time off to “experience life” and become a mum has made her a better artist. “I have more things to write about now, but becoming a parent has also made me a better person. It’s made me understand my husband better just to have a son. I can see the difference between men and women. Marc will always be a certain way because he’s a man – he won’t clean up, he will stay up late, but instead of worrying or asking why, I’ve learned to accept it.”

[[http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/in-pictures-jennifer-lopez See Jennifer's life in pictures here]]

She also admits it’s difficult juggling work with raising a family. “Of course I do beat myself up about that. There are times when I’m like, ‘Oh I wasn’t there for the babies when this happened today’ and that’s hard.” But perhaps surprisingly, rather than drawing back, she’s growing in ambition. “I think my goals have just gotten bigger,” she says, later revealing that she’d love a Grammy, an Oscar and another baby (and that’s just for starters).

Having created an empire worth a reported £150 million (as well as American Idol, the music and her film career, there are a handful of bestselling fragrances, a clothes line and her own TV production company), does she see herself as a businesswoman as well as an artist? “Yes definitely. I know a lot of artists with a capital ‘A’ who don’t think about the bottom lines – it’s just the song, the scene, the movie, but that’s not me.

I definitely consider things; I understand what business is and I’m curious and aware of my surroundings. Things will be going on and I’ll be like, ‘Wait a minute, they’re not doing that because of this.’”

I crack a smile. Throughout our interview(s) Jennifer hasn’t ceased to be warm and friendly but for the first time I’ve seen a glimmer of the assertive person that I suspect she might be. Is she just a well-disguised diva? Carefully plucking questions from my list (I’m constantly aware time is ticking), I tactfully ask how easy it has been to stay grounded in this industry.

“I’m not saying there haven’t been moments where I’ve felt bad or it was overwhelming for me or I’ve had to take a minute,” she says, not defensively. “When I became famous it became very difficult for me. I didn’t understand it, nobody in my life had ever gone through it and it was a weird dynamic. It caused me a lot of anxiety. But that’s when I really had to depend on myself. That’s where you need to really tap into those beliefs because being a good person is the first thing.”

Aware that we’re getting closer to debunking the diva myth, I’m dismayed when Jennifer’s publicist tells me my time is up. This time I’ve been allowed a much more respectable 15 minutes and I can’t really argue for anything more – my flight is leaving in under three hours and JFK is beckoning.

After saying my goodbyes, I go to my hotel room to pack my things and bump into Jennifer again in the lobby. Striding to the door in perilously high heels and wrapped in a cream fur coat she doesn’t seem fazed by the blizzard of snow and jostling paparazzi outside; with a whole day’s work done; she’s ticked off a lot of boxes.

Monday 14 March: Los Angeles

It’s nearly six weeks since New York and Jennifer has finished her album. The first single, On The Floor, has also been released and has topped the iTunes chart this morning. Jennifer is apparently on such a high that her publicist has persuaded her to talk to me about it in a third instalment. She’s at her new label, Def Jam, in LA when she calls me and once more, I’m told by her publicist that I’m getting a strict 15 minutes. It strikes me that this is the way Jennifer likes to play it; enough time for a cordial chat and a few anecdotes, but not long enough for a journalist to dig deep.

I kick off by congratulating her on the single and asking how she’s going to celebrate. “Oh, I don’t do celebrating,” she laughs uneasily and I’m struck by how frosty she is. To wound my pride even further, she doesn’t seem to remember me. “Is it nice weather?” I ask, by means of an ice-breaker. “Yeah it’s beautiful,” she says vaguely. I take this as my cue to get down to business.

We talk about Jennifer’s video for On The Floor. One of the things I noticed while watching it is how little Jennifer has changed from her J-Lo days. “Yes, I’m still me!” she says thawing slightly. “It’s me, the same as 10 years ago, but not the same and I’m proud of that.” I comment that it’s a sexy video and she agrees. “Marc has two other sons, one of whom is six years old and he’s always telling me, ‘You don’t look like a mom, you look like a rock chick”’, she says laughing.

I’m surprised when she tells me she hardly ever goes clubbing. “I still love doing it but New Year’s Eve was the last time. I don’t do it like I did when I was single because of the babies but on New Year’s Eve I was up on the couch dancing. Getting out on the floor and letting go has been one of my biggest stories since I started in this business and that girl definitely still exists.”

Working on Idol has also taken her back to her early days in the business. “Watching the contestants sing is like seeing me when I first started, when you hang all your hopes on one thing,” she says. I get the impression that she feels more invested in the series now than she did at the beginning. “What I’ve really loved is that it’s enabled us to have more stability as a family,” she explains. “I’m so happy that I’m filming in LA – the kids are in one place and they can go to art and karate classes. We get to eat dinner together every night at the table and life is a bit more normal.”

She also has a refreshingly down-to earth approach to her marriage, revealing that she and Marc have to work at their relationship. “I’m taking a journey in a real marriage, living these high moments as well as the really tough ones,” she says. “We commit to making it work and that’s why it’s special.” Jennifer has two divorces and a broken engagement behind her (after marrying first husband waiter Ojani Noa in 1997 and dancer Cris Judd in 2001, her engagement to Ben Affleck was called off in 2004) but her publicist has already made it clear that any talk of her previous relationships is strictly off limits.

Realising that I’m nearing my allotted 15 minutes, I say my goodbyes but can’t help but feel disappointed. Although Jennifer has been perfectly pleasant, I feel like it’s been impossible to scratch beyond the surface, making her probably one of the more trickier customers I’ve come across in five years interviewing celebrities (it’s worth noting that my first interviewee was Amy Winehouse, who was as straightforward as they come). One thing’s for sure: the operation has been “seamless” and completely in the control of Jennifer and her people. And I certainly won’t forget it.

From her early days as a backing dancer to marriage to Marc Anthony, see Jennifer's life in pictures here.

Words: Megan Conner, Picture credit: Rex Features

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