photo & text by nacrowe
god i absolutely detested this album when it came out.
being born in SPAIN, having worked in VENEZUELA and having spent a decent part of my childhood surrounded by HISPANIC culture in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, i have no qualms with the LATIN EXPLOSION of the late 1990s. most of the singers that got their chance at mainstream success were already prominent in LATIN AMERICA, namely MARC ANTHONY, SHAKIRA, ENRIQUE IGLESIAS (son of JULIO IGLESIAS) and yes, even RICKY MARTIN (a former member of the 80s incarnation of the MENUDO boy band). although in retrospect much of the music kinda CORNY and WHITEWASHED (and even sung in ENGLISH), the fact that such artists were commercially viable stateside no doubt has paid dividends for modern SPANISH-speaking artists from BAD BUNNY, KAROL G, ROSALIA, and J BALVIN to BECKY G, CAMILLA CABELLO and ROSALIA. given AMERICAN demographic shifts over the past half century and where they are trending into the next few decades, this growing cultural hegemonic influence makes sense.
enter JENNIFER LOPEZ and her debut ON THE 6 (WORK, 1999) album. at the time she was an established actress with a filmography of so-so quality and was arguably more CELEBRATED for her celebrity relationships than her career. previously she worked as a dancer, most prominently on the WAYANS BROTHERS comedy series IN LIVING COLOUR program on FOX as part of the FLY GIRLS troupe. before the release of her debut album, LOPEZ as a cultural figure was somewhat of a SEX SYMBOL. its odd saying this during the current era, but her her very un-WAIFISH body-type marked a cultural transition and expansion in what was deemed ATTRACTIVE for women. its not just about what men thought necessarily (this isnt entirely a MALE GAZE thing), but also with how women saw their relationship with their own body and feeling HEALTHY and empowered by their own curves.
long way of saying that what LOPEZ was known for was not her SINGING. turns out she had a minimal PEDESTRIAN singing VOICE with a LIMITED range. its obvious when listening to UNREMARKABLE singles like "WAITING FOR TONIGHT," "IF YOU HAD MY LOVE," "LET'S GET LOUD" and "FEELING SO GOOD" that the focus is less on her voice and more on the groove of the track. same could be said for her live performances which put the focus on the CHOREOGRAPHY and SPECTACLE of the COSTUME CHANGES and SET DESIGN than her VOICE. why makes sense, one should play to your strengths, but one couldnt help but feel it was all a wasted opportunity. perhaps there was someone else out there with less brand recognition that was more deserving of said opportunity than LOPEZ who was already a prominent culture figure expanding her public profile. it wasnt that she was TERRIBLE, just BLAND and MEDIOCRE. which was sad because LATIN MUSIC is VIBRANT, PASSIONATE, SEXY and full of UNCAGED ENERGY whether its MERENGUE, REGGAETON, SALSA, CUMBIA, SON, RUMBA or BOSSA NOVA. the fact that this unique opportunity was bestowed on someone so UNDISTINGUISHED felt TRAGIC and uniquely AMERICAN. not that LOPEZ was at fault, since much of the music resulting from the LATIN EXPLOSION was UNEXCEPTIONAL.
what changed my mind about LOPEZ was my brief time teaching in THE BRONX. my DOMINICAN and PUERTO RICAN female students were obsessed with her. she represented mainstream SUCCESS and ACCEPTANCE. the idea and dream that someone from their neighborhood got out and made it re-contextualized her lackluster discography and filmography in my opinion. forget about the fact that she was a SUBPAR SINGER and actress who traded on her UNIQUE looks to most AMERICANS, to struggling kids from THE BRONX, especially the notoriously troubled EAST TREMONT section i was stationed in, LOPEZ and her career was everything the aspired and hoped for in their lives. she was the living, breathing avatar of HOPE. who was i to trample on that?
i was never her audience, these kids were. and all the power to her for giving her community INSPIRATION and an ASPIRATION for a viable better tomorrow. altered my view entirely.