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COVER STORY

It's Not La Vida Loca to Her

Some say Jennifer Lopez is risking a lot by making the leap to music. But she and her backers are supremely confident she can ride the new Latin wave.

May 30, 1999|ED MORALES | Ed Morales is a staff writer at the Village Voice and is writing a book about Latino identity in the United States for St. Martin's Press

NEW YORK — Sitting in front of a mirror in the greenroom at MTV's Times Square studios, amid a swirl of makeup artists, publicists, wardrobe consultants, her manager, personal assistant and various other handlers, Jennifer Lopez is grooving on her first big moment as a pop star.

Having just premiered the first video from her debut album, "On the 6," she is planning a live appearance on David Letterman's show the following week. "Are we getting Sheila E. for the band?" she pleads with her manager, Benny Medina, whose other clients have included Sean "Puffy" Combs, Will Smith and Babyface.

"How about white Adidas, something real Bronx old school?" she adds, lobbying for her band's wardrobe. "I mean, don't you want to see something different?"

Lopez is banking on a hunch that Americans are in the mood for something different, too. Why else would the actress who starred in "Selena" and "Out of Sight" put her red-hot film career on hold for more than a year to make an album?

That disc, due Tuesday from Sony's Work Group label, is an eclectic sampling of what Lopez calls "Latin soul."

Though there's too much production sheen for the album to fully convey the character suggested by the term "Latin soul," it is state-of-the-art dance pop. It's not a casual vanity project by any means. (See review, Page 67.)

Indeed, "If You Had My Love," the mid-tempo debut single from the package, just became the No. 1 single in the nation, dislodging Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." Even if Lopez's vocals are largely anonymous on the album, you get the sense that there is a lot of ambition behind her and her camp.

It's a point she stresses once her entourage is finally chased from the room.

"The idea to do an album is not a gimmick," says Lopez, who comes across as strong-willed and supremely confident. "It wasn't, 'Oh, I'm doing good as an actress, maybe I should make an album!' I had a record deal [with Giant Records] before my movie career, luckily enough, took off.

"When I did 'Selena,' it all came back again, having that interaction with the fans and the public, which you don't get in movies. I missed that very much. I missed the excitement of the stage, which I had early in my career with the musical theater."

While some may feel that the shift into a musical career is a risk, Lopez and her backers hardly think so. Even though she had been offered a variety of major film roles after completing "Out of Sight," the 1998 crime caper comedy that teamed her with George Clooney, Lopez was dead-set on making the record.

"She made a conscious decision when doing this to commit herself to this project," says Thomas D. Mottola, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment. "I contend that this will make her an even bigger movie star. The kind of exposure you get from a recording career is in some ways even broader and bigger. It covers more areas of media, gives you lots of other outlets that are even more immediate than film."

Medina, her high-powered manager, agrees that Lopez is capable of meeting the challenge of blending music and film careers--something he's seen client Will Smith do so spectacularly.

"What attracted me to her is that she is the total embodiment of an artist," says Medina, who has worked with Lopez for about 18 months. "In her film career, she has been extremely selective about the types of roles that she's taken on. She's always had a consciousness about her Latin background, but also a great desire to break the mold in terms of casting.

"I was initially concerned with her getting involved with music because when you've had so much integrity in one area, it's important that you be a little cautious about doing something that could potentially erode that. . . . But the music convinced me. The thing that impresses me most is her incredible focus. I've never seen anyone work harder or with more passion. I think Jennifer Lopez will be a brand name that will cross over into all media."

*

The public may know Lopez best from her high-profile film roles, but she originally came to Hollywood a decade ago with an eye on a singing and dancing career.

The Bronx native's first break was winning a national audition in the early '90s to join the Fly Girls, the in-house dance troupe for the TV comedy show "In Living Color."

Jeff Ayeroff, at the time co-head of Virgin Records with Jordan Harris, was approached about a record contract for the Fly Girls. Ayeroff recalls thinking of the group as a potential Spice Girls, but the deal fell apart. His interest in Lopez was renewed when he saw her as a dancer in the 1992 video for Janet Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes" video, which was released by Virgin Records. But she started concentrating on acting.

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