Jennifer Lopez should know what kind of singer she is ten albums in. She may not be a great vocalist, such as Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey, but that is OK. What she lacks in singing ability, she makes up for with some great dance tracks and killer moves. She may not always have the most to express, but that is fine, too. Not everyone is Adele. Besides, everyone needs that one artist that is just for fun and has songs that will get them on the dance floor. With that in mind, it is a surprise that her newest offering to music, the album A.K.A., is kind of a snooze fest. There are the obligatory high-powered jams that she is known for, but they are way too far and few between. In short, A.K.A. is sort of DOA.
The singles released so far, including the silly sounding (yet smartly played) I Luh Ya Papi and the mid-tempo ode First Love, loaned themselves to her strengths. I Luh Ya Papi was fun, breezy and had an ear catcher of a chorus (which was just the title of the song) that stayed with you. First Love toned it back a bit, but just enough to keep you interested past its saccharine filled lyrics. It felt as if A.K.A. would grow on the popularity of her 2011 album, Love? In the opinion of many critics, it was one of her best albums in years.
A.K.A. starts out strong with the bass filled title track, which features rapper T.I.. “Can you hear me now,” she questions. “This is not the girl you used to know.”
The strong declaration exudes promise and confidence. The track definitely works for a proper introduction to the new disc. Sadly, as the album goes on, it turns out she is right: this is not the girl many of us used to know. Furthermore, that ends up playing in the worst kind of way.
Rather than keep things going hard, she pulls it back on track three with the melancholy Never Satisfied. For starters, the lyrics are way too simple (“Your body is heaven and it feels like home”). Secondly, it comes off as if she trying too hard against the buildup within the chorus. Once again, Lopez’s vocals are not the strongest out there, so the strain is brutally obvious and honestly, somewhat painful to the ear.
One of the major collaborations of the album comes with Acting Like That, which features the newest young diva of hip-hop, Iggy Azalea. Lopez tries to be a woman someone would be a fool to let go of (“Baddest b*tch in the world right here”). However, the non-existent power in her voice says differently. It is almost as if she does not care that her lover is leaving her. Perhaps it was an intentional move, meant to show that she could do well without him. But with Azalea’s verse coming in around the 2:00 mark, she pulls it off so much better than Lopez. If the two women were in front of someone and they made their paramour choose between them with this track, Iggy would win the battle, hands down.
Emotions, undoubtedly the most “vulnerable” track of the album, is a complete fail from the start. A simple beat with Lopez’s expressions of heartbreak fall completely flat. Even worse, her attempt at using the upper register of her voice would make a screeching cat sound more soothing. No, J. Lo; this is not what you should be doing. You should know better by now!
The saddest piece of the A.K.A. pie is also one of the album’s best standouts. That comes courtesy of Booty, an EDM (“electronic dance music”) driven groove that features rapper Pitbull. As much as the world may be annoyed by the twosome (they have released four singles together over the past 3 years), the ode to curves works perfectly. It is simple, but not simplistic; dumb, but not overbearingly so. Lopez teases the listener to “clap [their] hands if you love a big booty” and sure enough, you may find yourself clapping along. Yes, the song is pretty inane, but it finds perfection because of it.
Another interesting mention for the album comes from one of the bonus tracks, Tens. Taking it back to the Ballroom culture of the LGBT community, Lopez, with the assistance of Jack Mizrahi, created a song that will definitely be heard at many LGBT Pride Parades in 2014 and beyond. However, it does place Lopez in a very interesting position.
Admittedly, she is considered an icon of sorts to the LGBT community. Tens will either play as a true nod to a culture most only remember from Paris is Burning, or pandering to her gay fans at its most obvious degree. Britney Spears was accused of the same thing with her single, Work B*tch, but this multiplies that factor by a million. If it works, it is a bold move. If it does not, Lopez may have overstepped a serious boundary, at least where her popularity is concerned.
Overall, A.K.A. sadly falls flat to what Jennifer Lopez hoped to accomplish. The album is meant as definitive statement to a career that has seen her do everything from dancing, to acting, to singing and so much more. If she was hoping to list all of her achievements in the vein of what she is “also known as,” a consistent musical artist is, unfortunately, not one of those things.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown