Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guess What, J.Lo & Pitbull Are Great, So STFU (An Appreciation)

For all the emphasis I place on artistic excellence, I can't deny the power and purpose of pop music to create joy. Ingenuity and skill in the craft and adeptness in performance and execution are standards to which this blog holds pop music as much as any other art form, but as Sheryl Crow once sang, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad." Few artists have brought me such consistent happiness in their work as Jennifer Lopez. If you asked me to list my favorite pop musicians I probably wouldn't think to include her, yet whenever I listen to her work I realize that pretty much everything she's done as a musician I've enjoyed. The most recent example is her new single "Dance Again," on which she reunites with the rapper Pitbull, another artist about whom I've always felt positively. (It's another feel-good dance-pop track, and what's not to like?) J.Lo gets a lot of shade about her singing in particular, and there seems to be plenty of grumbling about Pitbull at any given time, and I feel moved to step up and say guess what, J.Lo and Pitbull are great, so shut the fuck up.

Jennifer Lopez is the quintessential loveable underdog of pop music, like Miss Rhode Island in Miss Congeniality with her too hot hot chocolate and her flaming batons and Satan's panties. Heaven knows she's been chronically unlucky in love; sometimes it's by her less than brilliant choices in men, but overall she's more Jennifer Aniston than Kim Kardashian. You have to admire her optimism as she inevitably bounces back no matter how many times she gets bruised. Her current job as judge on American Idol was a much deserved life-raft that saved her from drowning in the sea of Female Entertainers Over 40 in which so many careers are lost, and the bonafide success of the 2011 single "On the Floor" was like compensation for falling on her ass on national television during her "'Gimme More' at the VMAs" performance of the would-be comeback single "Louboutins" a year earlier.

Speaking of that famed posterior...well, that! In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey accurately credits Lopez with bringing about a new global appreciation for the ample backside at a time when it seemed like anorexia might be the only route to stardom. While we're on the subject, let's not forget who wore one of the greatest outfits in Grammy history, scoring a big one for the curves upstairs too. Lopez's sex appeal was never unseemly or exploitative, either: even in a dress suited for open heart surgery she still didn't come off like a tramp. When Pitbull refers to her as "the world's most beautiful woman" in "Dance Again," it's not a terribly big overstatement.

The twins, before the twins.
Then there's the music. I mean, I drove into my very first snowbank while listening to "Waiting for Tonight." "Ain't It Funny" (and "Dance Again") gave me that harmony-lover's ear candy chorus. "Jenny From the Block" was "Jenny From the Block." "Let's Get Loud" gave me a chance to enjoy the feel of disco without having to deal with 80s music, which I largely despise. "Baby I Love U!" was the perfect bit of sappy treacle I loved during my first relationship when everything was simple and trite and magical. And then there's "Play," one of my favorite pop songs of all time - I was once making out with a guy in my car in the parking lot by his dorm with the song playing on the stereo, and I deftly interrupted our liplock at each incidental grunt and "oww" and aside on the middle eight in one of my more impressive feats in multitasking. The recent singles from Love? earned my more experienced critical acclaim as well as consumer affection, and even though the rest of the album didn't really deliver for me it didn't matter because I had plenty to like already; besides, I never asked for an album anyway.

As for Pitbull, I developed an unexpected fondness for him back in 2007 or so that has held mainly because he hasn't done anything to screw it up at the very least. My roommate at the time was also an unlikely fan (although she did turn out to have a hidden Latin fever which explained things a bit), and with her I listened to more of his work than I probably would have on my own, not being as big a hip-hop explorer as other genres. From this I came to admire his clever, positive verbiage and upbeat delivery, and I just got the sense that he seemed like a pretty decent guy at the end of the day, full of a joie de vivre I respond to. I like that he has an obvious respect for the women with whom he collaborates, from Nina Sky (the unreleased "Boom Bounce") to Ke$ha ("Girls," another point in his favor) to Miss Lopez. His features on the pair of Lopez tracks are engaging, participatory, and feel as much an essential part of the song as any other, rather than phoned-in verses cut and pasted for an easy five figure payout. He's funny, has personality and variation in his performance, and always sounds like he's having a good time.

And, since I did the physical judgments with J.Lo and don't want to be sexist, there is something inescapably sexy about Pitbull, though I've never managed to put my finger on exactly what that is. Believe me, I've checked myself on this point many times over the years, and each time reaffirms my general willingness to have sex with him. Also, I'm pretty sure that if he heard me say that he'd laugh and find it amusing and flattering and go on with his day, as opposed to the more homophobic responses I'd expect from most male hip-hop performers, which also adds to his appeal.

In fact, positivity and fun are characteristic of both these artists. They don't take their art too seriously or try to be anything other than what they are. They know their strengths and don't get caught up on their weaknesses because they're confident enough as artists and aren't excessively vain. They're not trying to create masterpieces like Lady Gaga, but neither are they content to crank out the bare minimum like Rihanna; they don't show their sweat and effort like Katy Perry but they do commit fully to the music they make, like Ke$ha. Their songs may not stray far from the joys of getting drunk at the club and dancing the night away, but they're there for us when we want to escape, as we often do with pop. They provide us with good quality music that's assembled with care, and, most of all, that exists simply to make people smile and move their bodies. Sometimes I just want to dance. Is that a crime?

All right then.

"Dance Again" (feat. Pitbull) is available on iTunes and Amazon.
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