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Jennifer Lopez Has Conquered Every Universe

Netflix’s documentary ‘Halftime’ may very well be about J.Lo’s performance at Super Bowl LIV, but it’s also a reminder of the multihyphenate’s unbelievable longevity

Getty Images/Sony Pictures/Columbia/Nuyorican Productions/Ringer illustration

In life, most of us have to choose: You pick the business major or the theater major and move forward with the trajectory that that decision—made as a teenager—charts for your life. You choose the promotion at work, or you branch out into an entrepreneurial venture of your own; you don’t wanna go to law school, you just wanna dance, and so on. Of course, most of us are not Jennifer Lopez, who, should she ever want to go to law school, could surely just add it onto her already packed dancing roster. Because, at 52 years of age, with three decades in the entertainment industry tucked tightly under her bedazzled belt, and after the premiere of her Super Bowl halftime documentary from Netflix, it would be a mistake to call Jennifer Lopez a triple threat—she’s really something more akin to a Hollywood septuple supernova.

For at least the past 25 years, Jennifer Lopez has refused to be just one thing, instead moving her life and career fluidly through the plots of any number of Jennifer Lopez movies: We’ve watched from the outside as J.Lo’s life has morphed from an ingenue story into a rom-com, into a tense drama, into a tragicomedy, into a Jennifer Lopez music video that’s somehow based on a graphic novel (thankfully, to date, she’s avoided taking up any short-term rental property in a serial killer’s mind palace). But one genre J.Lo’s own story has never needed to drop in on is the comeback—once she set foot on that humble In Living Color stage and dancing begot acting, begot singing, begot producing, begot bona fide superstardom, Lopez has never once disappeared into the Hollywood ether. Unlike other stars she rose up the ranks with, Jennifer Lopez will never require a renaissance because every new version of herself exists in perpetuity, even after the next iteration comes along.

In the surprise box office hit Everything Everywhere All at Once, Michelle Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, discovers that each choice she’s made throughout her life has spawned a separate, splintered universe in accordance with the choices that she didn’t make. When her own family’s livelihood is threatened by a creation of this multiverse, she’s forced to verse-jump, calling upon the strengths that all the other Evelyns have acquired throughout their own universes. Like Evelyn, there are many versions of Jennifer Lopez (for the record, Boy Next Door J.Lo is obviously hotdog-finger Evelyn). But unlike Evelyn, J.Lo has outright refused to make choices that would confine her to just one iteration of her desired self. J.Lo didn’t stop being a dancer because she became an actor, because she became a singer, because she became a frequent fiancée, because she became a sentient Versace dress …

She is, quite simply: Every J.Lo, everywhere, and all at once.

And in her new Netflix documentary, Halftime, she wants you to know it. Halftime is ostensibly about Lopez’s performance during Super Bowl LIV—ultimately, though, the doc is more interested in outlining the 50 years of life that led to one very big moment on one very big stage, with one of the biggest superstars in the world verse-jumping through all her many talents in order to demand the respect and recognition she knows she deserves. Halftime certainly revolves around J.Lo and Shakira’s titular performance, but it is also very much—openly and plainly—about Jennifer Lopez not being nominated for an Oscar for her otherwise celebrated performance in Hustlers.

Like a lot of things J.Lo does in her carefully earnest approach to stardom—launching a newsletter to tell us that her A-lister boyfriend made her a vlog for Valentine’s Day, starting a TikTok dance challenge in which she chucks her jewelry onto the beach that absolutely no one duplicates—her Oscar plight is both embarrassing and sweet in its sincerity. One of the biggest stars in the world, who’s making a documentary based on the fact that she was asked to perform at the Super Bowl, is also bound and determined to frame that documentary as an underdog story. Because, of course, the very first iteration of J.Lo was an underdog, and she’s never forgotten it. Even as she’s added in her rightful persona as a 50-year-old superstar, J.Lo has held tightly to the universe where she’s still a Latina kid from the Bronx raised by parents from Puerto Rico, who had to scrape and claw her way through the industry to get the opportunities that came so easily—and with far less commentary—for her wispy white counterparts. That, very clearly, is the universe that fuels Jennifer Lopez more than any other: the one where she has to make people understand her value. The one where every success is built on top of a dozen failures. The one where, for every lifetime achievement award, there is the echo of Mariah Carey saying she doesn’t know her (and a further echo of an elderly man standing on J.Lo’s old porch, saying he also doesn’t know her).

In that way, Halftime is a documentary by J.Lo, and for J.Lo, more than it is for any of us. But still, even a well-managed, sometimes gratuitous showcase can’t help but capture pieces of the truth here and there. Halftime attempts to show us the entire history of J.Lo as it culminates in one (shared) 14-minute performance at the Super Bowl. To date, this is every version of Jennifer Lopez we see out there getting loud on that stage:

Jennifer Lopez the Ingenue (1991 to 1997, and Forever)

At the age of 18, Jennifer Lopez busts out of her childhood home in the Bronx (Halftime suggests she may have been somewhat forcefully escorted out by her mother), and by 22, she’s landed a gig as one of the Fly Girls dancers on In Living Color, performing alongside the likes of Jim Carrey and every single Wayans brother. She dances her way into a Janet Jackson music video, getting to try a little acting on for size at the beginning, which she parlays into an actual acting role in Money Train, starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson (her first brush with playing law enforcement, which will inform much of her early acting career). But, of course, the film that launches a thousand Jennifer Lopez universes is Selena, wherein Lopez plays beloved Tejano musician Selena, who was tragically killed by the president of her fan club.

Lopez’s performance wasn’t a perfect impression, but it was joyful, dynamic, and engaging. And the bustiers—oh, the bustiers! Though the odd squeak of Jennifer Lopez’s attempted Texas accent would eventually fade, the girl-next-door persona and revelation that she could sing will yield dividends to multiple future J.Lo iterations.

Jennifer Lopez the Ac-tor (1998-2002, and Forever)

But first, Lopez wanted to dabble in some serious acting. Was Anaconda the ideal follow-up feature film to Selena, for which Jennifer somehow received a Golden Globe nomination? It was not! But it was already happening, no matter the timing, and Lopez was certainly the best thing about it. (Do I even need to tell you the worst thing about it?) Plus, it served as an early showcase for Lopez as a potential action star and generally jacked person. Then came the biggie: Out of Sight, directed by direc-tor Steven Soderbergh and costarring George Clooney. Finally, a level of charm and sex appeal to match her own! The chemistry was electric as these two circled each other—Clooney a bank robber, and Lopez, once again, a total cop (U.S. marshal).

In 2000, Jennifer got artistic, starring in weirdo goth movie The Cell, which was appropriately directed by a music video director—and not for nothing, The Cell seemed to share the weirdo metallic aesthetic of the music video for “If You Had My Love.” (Finally, I know no one wants me to mention Enough in J.Lo’s legitimate ac-tor credits, but it takes skill to be that good in a wig that bad!)

J.Lo the Hip-Pop, Latina Star (1999-2003, and Forever)

No iteration of J.Lo has been more unexpected or all-consuming than her sudden, bedazzled, Billboard-busting foray into the recording industry. The previously mentioned “If You Had My Love” came from her debut 1999 album, On the 6—but her pop stardom didn’t truly pop off until 2001, when Lopez adopted a new moniker (J.Lo), named her second album after it, and began embodying the audacious spirit of said moniker in every single glowing music video and bumpin’ remix from the aptly named album: J to tha L–O! The Remixes. The hoops were big, the mid-video dance breaks were guaranteed, and the collaborations with Ja Rule before he was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, and led astray were near constant.

Of course, On the 6 features J.Lo’s own personal favorite song to quote on almost every possible occasion, “Let’s Get Loud,” but there was no greater anthem to a penniless teenager than “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.” J.Lo’s third studio album, the confoundingly titled This Is Me ... Then, dropped in 2002, and while it didn’t have quite as many bops as J.Lo, it did have the bop, and Jennifer Lopez’s second-most-lasting moniker: She’s still, she’s still “Jenny From the Block.”

Jennifer Lopez the Rom-Com Queen (2001-2005, and Forever)

It really is just incredible that after starring in a bunch of dramas and releasing three Latino-pop/hip-hop albums, J.Lo was just like, Y’know what, I think I’m gonna throw this hair into an uptight bun and crunch out a few classic rom-coms now.

In Lopez’s romantic comedies, she is simply a career-focused gal, meeting dashing men in nonideal circumstances and barely tolerating meddling family members. And she’s made for it! In The Wedding Planner, Lopez and Matthew McConaughey successfully make accidentally super-gluing his hand to a statue’s penis a charming—and then suddenly romantic—moment. They pull off falling in love while McConaughey’s character is actively engaged to someone else without seeming like monsters. Maid in Manhattan followed in 2002, and while it’s less electric and more problematic in every way, it does cement a trend: If and when J.Lo wants to make a rom-com, she will, as she proceeded to do with Shall We Dance? (2004), Monster-in-Law (2005), The Back-up Plan (2010), Second Act (2018), and Marry Me (2022). As Halftime is sure to note in the documentary’s final title card, which lists J.Lo’s many accomplishments, the numbers do not lie: Jennifer Lopez has “starred in nearly 40 films, grossing over $3 billion.”

J.Lo the Tabloid Sensation (2001-2010, and Forever)

It started with the green Versace dress that more or less created Google Images. Lopez had become so popular, and had begun dating men so famous, that people literally could not get enough of her. As she became a recording artist, she started dating fellow musician—and fellow moniker obsessive—Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. While she was making rom-coms, she began dating fellow actor and A-lister Ben Affleck. Neither of these relationships ended well (at the time, at least), and neither of them could escape the constant press coverage and toxicity of early-aughts tabloids. In The Ringer’s podcast Just Like Us, Clare Malone posits that “Bennifer” single-handedly birthed the 2000s tabloid boom.

Did J.Lo film one of the most notoriously bad films of all time, Gigli, while dating Affleck in 2003? Yes. Did she tell him to come “gobble, gobble” her in said terrible movie? She sure did. While being maligned for Gigli and hounded by the paparazzi, was J.Lo also being framed as a diva who couldn’t keep a man with what were very clearly racist and misogynistic undertones? You betcha! But the good diva never let a few blows keep her down. As previously noted, J.Lo’s dark eras remain just as vital to her supernova staying power as her more successful ones. And nothing has motivated Lopez to continue to fight for her due more than feeling constantly attacked, undermined, and underrated by the media.

Jennifer Lopez the Producer (2008-2016, and Forever)

Lopez’s Wikipedia page partially defines this period of her life as “Box office failures and declining record sales,” which is rude, and also, only one small facet of the truth!

The truth is that, yes, she was starring in rom-coms about artificial insemination, and yes, her marriage to Marc Anthony was falling apart—but J.Lo was indeed busy entering her producer era. First of all, in 2008, she produced two children at once, her twins Emme and Max, with then-husband Anthony. In 2011, J.Lo became a judge on American Idol, offering a sense of pop credibility to a panel consisting of Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, and later, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban. American Idol gave America the chance to get to know Jennifer Lopez on her own terms—and J.Lo loves controlling things on her own terms. (Have you heard of a little documentary called Halftime?)

So perhaps that’s why, in 2013, she also quietly began producing a ton of television shows: three seasons of Shades of Blue, in which she also starred; 94 episodes of The Fosters; and 59 episodes of its spinoff, Good Trouble. And this may seem like J.Lo pulling away from her always-constant singer-dancer-actor iterations, but in fact, she was honing her leadership skills and sharpening her production instincts so that one day she might be able to, I don’t know … play the Super Bowl halftime show and then make a documentary about it???

Jennifer Lopez, the Icon in Perpetuity (2016-Forever and Ever, Amen)

You could argue that J.Lo’s icon status didn’t fully set in until Hustlers. But I say a two-plus-year Vegas residency is already icon behavior, especially considering that J.Lo followed it up with a 2019 to end all 2019s. Halftime opens with J.Lo turning 50 in July of that year, and you can only manage to marvel from there as the clock rewinds and you witness Lopez: learn how to expertly pole dance in a matter of weeks for Hustlers; go on to not only coproduce the movie, but star in the role of Ramona, and launch a full awards campaign that will ultimately earn her a Golden Globe nomination; roll that Versace gown out one more time, 20 years later, with its many plunges and pulls at the behest of Donatella herself; host SNL, and get asked to coheadline the Super Bowl halftime with Shakira—which, by documentary’s end, you will watch them do with superhuman energy, flawless execution, and enough athleticism and sensuality to make all future headliners weep.

More than anyone else—more than the tabloids, more than her fans, more than her lovers, who, by this time, have transitioned from Alex Rodriguez back around to Ben Affleck 2.0—Jennifer Lopez constructs the mythology of Jennifer Lopez. She tells us what she’s learned from each splintered-off universe she’s created, the challenges she’s overcome, and the future she intends to create for herself. In 1999, after playing Selena, Lopez told the L.A. Times, “I grew up on that movie. … It just made me realize that you don’t know what’s going to happen, you need to do whatever you want to do today, because tomorrow might not come.” Twenty-three years later, in Halftime, she tells us that five years ago, she couldn’t have given this Super Bowl performance that she’s ultimately so proud of: “I didn’t know myself enough—I didn’t understand myself.” So don’t sweat it, Jen—that Oscar may very well be waiting in the next universe over.