It’s been some time since Jennifer Lopez transitioned from international superstar to global icon. She made her name in music and the movies, but that has never been all of it. Lopez has worked hard to cultivate her brand in “real life,” through her head-turning fashion choices, the endless parade of J-Lo products from perfume to exercise clothing, and her activism in many humanitarian causes. Add to that her very tumultuous and very public personal life, which has made us feel like we know every detail about her, and you get one of the world’s most compelling celebrities.
Which is why so many of her fans are breathlessly awaiting the release of her new album, “Por Primera Vez” (“For the First Time”). The album was set to be released in October. As part of the promotional tour, Lopez gave a well-publicized interview with Hola! magazine, in which she says she’s happier than she’s ever been, enjoying “a golden era,” and that singing in Spanish brings out the “best version of herself.”
Except that “Por Primera Vez” is still not out. There’s neither an announced release date that I can find nor any explanation for the delay. It seems the tracks have been recorded, as the set list has already been made public. Here’s hoping that there are only minor technical issues at play and nothing more.
In the meantime, over the last year, a handful of singles from the album have appeared, giving the public a taste of what to expect.
Just over a year ago came “Olvídame y Pega la Vuelta” (“Forget Me and Go Away”), a duet with none other than ex-husband (and producer of “Por Primera Vez”) Marc Anthony. The song was made famous by the Argentine duo Pimpinela, brother and sister Joaquín and Lucía Galán. Pimpinela became renowned across Latin America in the 1980s for their dialogue-based songs, almost always involving a couple in the process of breaking up.
There’s been some juicy speculation about why the divorced Lopez and Anthony decided to reunite for this particular number, fueled in large part by the kiss the two shared while performing the song at last year’s Latin Grammys (which was almost immediately followed by Anthony’s divorce from then-wife Shannon de Lima). But whatever the reason, there’s no denying they own this new version, Anthony’s gravel-voiced purrs perfectly channel the man begging to be taken back. Lopez’s mature yet still pristine voice embodying the wronged woman finding the will to say “no.” Even better, the two released a stellar salsa version that’s sure to become a dance floor standard.
Then came a sweet, if minor, duet with Brazilian veteran Roberto Carlos in “Llegaste” (“You Arrived”), followed by two dance anthems aiming to attract young audiences in the post-“Despacito” age. In “Ni Tú ni Yo” (“Neither You nor I”), Lopez preens around accompanied by the bouncy rhythms of Gente de Zona, possibly the most popular Spanish-speaking band working today (their video for “La Gozadera” featuring Marc Anthony has been viewed over a billion times on YouTube). “Ni Tú ni Yo” is the J-Lo-est video imaginable, as Lopez writhes on a car, or pouts her lips at multiple cameras while wearing a series of preposterous outfits, often including the gargantuan earrings that she favors. It’s a glorification of bling in the worst possible sense, while the song could easily be confused with a dozen offerings by other artists.
Most recently we’ve been treated to “Amor, Amor, Amor” (“Love, Love, Love”), featuring Wisin. It’s much more “urban” than the other singles, a callback to the old “Jenny from the Block” days, except designed to assure the world that Lopez can still bring the heat. It’s the likeliest of the ones we’ve heard so far to become a crossover hit.
“Por Primera Vez” looks to be a labor of love by a performer who’s still at or near her peak. It doesn’t seem to be interested in thinking outside the box, and no doubt most J-Lo fans won’t mind too much about that. For my part, the new and improved “Olvídame y Pega la Vuelta” has already found a permanent place on my playlist.