Jennifer Lopez: the American dream on steroids

Jennifer Lopez built a business empire on top of an entertainment career, thereby paving the way for the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Jennifer Lopez postponed her wedding to actor Ben Affleck days before the ceremony was due to take place in 2003. “Twenty years, three marriages, five children, a Las Vegas residency” and “more than 18 fragrance launches” later, “Bennifer has been born anew for 2022”, says the Financial Times. Earlier this month, the couple were quietly married at the drive-through Little White Chapel in Las Vegas.

Cynics may say that “Bennifer, the rematch” has “only vivified a flagging interest” in the couple’s upcoming projects. “But it’s hard not to feel a pinwheel of excitement for a fairytale narrative in which the publicly broken Affleck has been rescued by his Latina queen.” And J.Lo, aged 53, is certainly on the up, having “clawed back a career from the precipice of irrelevance” over the past decade via a three-year run on the hit TV talent show “American Idol” and “a star turn at the Super Bowl”.

“It turns out love is patient,” J.Lo wrote in her newsletter, describing “a narrative arc” worthy of the many romantic comedies that she has starred in, says The Times. Indeed, according to Alice Leppert, professor of media and communication studies at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania, and co-editor of the journal Celebrity Studies, “People lost their minds when they reunited”. We “invest” in celebrity to compensate for our own romantic disappointments and part of J.Lo’s charm – forming the basis of her $400m fortune – is her girl-next-door quality. “Her rags-to-riches story represents the mythology of the American dream on steroids.”

The daughter of Puerto Rican parents – her father was a computer technician, her mother a nursery school teacher – Lopez was raised in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx where she would dance in front of the bedroom mirror pretending to be Rita Moreno in West Side Story. “I wanted to accomplish things. I had that kind of competitive spirit,” she later told Rolling Stone. At 18, she dropped out of college, where she was studying business, to pursue dancing full-time. A stint on a popular comedy show led to appearances in music videos before her big break in 1996, when she landed the title role in a biopic of the Mexican-American singer, Selena – becoming the first Latin American star to earn more than $1m for a film and a role model for millions of young Latinas in the process.

J.Lo: an unstoppable cultural force

By 2000, by which time she had a triple-platinum album to her name, J.Lo had become “an unstoppable cultural force”, aided by the emerging internet, says The Times. An appearance in a plunging Versace gown at the Grammy Awards triggered “one of the first viral fashion moments”, prompting Google to launch its Images search engine. By 2004, the self-styled “Jenny from the Block” had launched a successful lifestyle brand (perhaps inspired by her relationship with the rapper P Diddy) that brought in more than $300m that year alone. It started with a fragrance and grew to include clothing, watches and bed linen. She is credited with pioneering “a new era of fame where celebrities became the product”: creating “a blueprint” for later business empires built by Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon.

Throughout her career, J.Lo – described by Rolling Stone as “warm, yet sphynx-like” – has continued “to reinvent herself”; noted Variety in 2019. At 50, the “multifaceted mogul” – then engaged to the athlete-turned-entrepreneur Alex Rodriguez – had “never been more formidable as an entertainer or more ferocious as a businesswoman”. According to a business partner, “she understands the power in the pivot”, believing that “the only thing stopping you is you”. Lopez herself admits to “a constant drive for perfection” and puts it all down to solid graft. “My business philosophy is that you have to work harder than everybody else…When everybody is sleeping, I’m doing more. It’s just a relentless pursuit of creativity.”

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