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The Never-ending Sizzle of Jennifer Lopez’s 2019

This year didn’t happen to J.Lo—J.Lo happened to it

Adam Villacin

Recently at The Ringer, we began identifying members of our All-2019 Team: the people and the things and the moments that have created the most amount of conversation in 2019. Kate Lloyd, for example, wrote about Fleabag, a brilliant show that nobody expected and everybody needed. John Gonzalez wrote about Kawhi Leonard and his miraculous four-bounce buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs. Alan Siegel wrote about Marvel, and Alyssa Bereznak wrote about TikTok, and Michael Weinreb wrote about Lincoln Riley, and Zach Kram wrote about baseballs that lie. They were all good articles and smart articles.

But let this be stated firmly and with authority: Nobody put up a more impressive run in 2019 than Jennifer Lopez, because nobody maintained a more consistent cultural sizzle in 2019 than Jennifer Lopez did. It was a perfectly executed attack across basically every societal channel where these types of discussions matter. It’s why The Cut wrote an article titled, “Jennifer Lopez Had the Best 2019,” and why Entertainment Tonight wrote an article titled, “Why 2019 is Jennifer Lopez’s Best Year Yet,” and why People magazine put her on the cover of its 2019 People of the Year issue, and why GQ put her on the cover of its Men of the Year issue, and why her Saturday Night Live monologue was titled “Jennifer Lopez’s Unbelievable Year Monologue.” As a year, 2019 began to feel almost self-aware; like it was alive, and like it was chasing down prey an hour, a day, a week at a time. It felt like 2019 was happening to people. Not with Jennifer Lopez, though. Jennifer Lopez happened to 2019.

David Duchovny was there too. That’s the part nobody remembers. Because how could they? How could anybody remember anything other than the dress; the green dress; the green Versace dress; the green Versace dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to the 42nd Grammy Awards in February 2000.

Duchovny was the very handsome costar of a massively successful television show, and it didn’t matter. He and Lopez were presenting the first Grammy of the evening (Best R&B Album), and he might as well have been a broom turned upside down with a face drawn on it. He was toast. And he knew it. He knew what we all knew: Jennifer Lopez was very clearly, very obviously, very undeniably creating a totemic moment in popular culture. (The best sidebar regarding Lopez’s dress is that, according to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, people were searching for pictures of it at such an unprecedentedly high rate that it became the inspiration for the creation of Google Images.)

In September of this year, Lopez wore an updated version of the dress —this time as the capper of Versace’s spring 2020 show in Milan. She walked the runway in it for just a little over a minute, causing such a stir that, per Business of Fashion, she was responsible for generating $9.4 million worth of media publicity. That’s the type of year that Jennifer Lopez had. She put on a version of a dress that she’d worn nearly 20 years ago and moved over $9 million from one side of the room to the other.

Here are the things you’re going to need if you want to be more talked about than everyone else, and everything else, in a given year:

You’re going to need a strong start. Lopez, who I suspect sensed that she had a chance to go on a run in 2019, got out early, opening the Grammys alongside Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Michelle Obama in February. And I don’t want to oversimplify things here, but the gist of it is: Standing next to Michelle Obama for several minutes is about as powerful a move as there currently is. Remember in that movie Chronicle, where the kids found that giant crystal structure underground and they got close to it and then the next day they had superhero powers? That’s what standing next to Michelle Obama is like. The closer you get to her, the more powerful you become. Barack Obama stood by her for a handful of years, and then he became a two-term president. Jennifer Lopez stood by her for four minutes, and now people are talking about how she might get nominated for an Oscar.

You’re going to have to outlast a hint of a controversy. Lopez checked this box off at the Grammys too. Because there was a tribute to Motown Records that night, and Lopez served as the primary performer for it. And it was controversial because Motown Records, from its inception, actively worked to integrate and celebrate Black music and Black musicians, and while Jennifer Lopez is Puerto Rican, some felt the primary spot should’ve gone to a Black musician. Smokey Robinson, an integral figure in Motown’s history and also one of Lopez’s coperformers for the tribute, defended her afterward, saying, “I don’t think anyone who is intelligent is upset. I think anyone who is upset is stupid.” (Just so it’s clear: I have to assume that anyone angling to make a run at the crown for a given year would prefer to be controversy-free from January to December. But I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody pull it off yet.)

You’re going to need a big PERSONAL LIFE EVENT to toss out there for everyone to passively participate in on the internet. Lopez offered up two of these, both of which were substantial. Firstly, she and Alex Rodriguez got engaged in March. And I’m not sure that there’s ever been a celebrity pairing that simultaneously felt as surprising AND inevitable than Jennifer Lopez, otherwise known as J. Lo, otherwise known as Jenny From the Block, getting engaged to Alex Rodriguez, otherwise known as A-Rod, otherwise known as a New York Yankee.

Secondly, Lopez turned 50 in July, which is a cornerstone birthday year. And beyond just turning 50, she (a) threw a giant party for herself at Gloria Estefan’s house, and then (b) used that momentum to springboard her way into her first tour in seven years. Between the birthday age and the engagement costar, she pinned down probably the two best versions of those types of life events. Nobody’d have been as excited if, say, she’d gotten engaged to Vin Diesel and turned 48.

You’re going to need an exterior affirmation of your modern coolness, and your modern attractiveness, and your modern timeless. Lopez had three entries here. First, as Emilia Petrarca pointed out at The Cut, Lopez received a plus-one invitation to the Met Gala in May. Getting an invitation to the Met Gala is hard enough; getting a plus-one invitation to the Met Gala is fucking impossible. (Obviously when Lopez received her plus-one invitation, that meant that Alex Rodriguez was going to the Met Gala too. But it would have been cool if Lopez had thrown a curveball there. Like, picture everyone is expecting her to show up with Rodriguez but she shows up with the anaconda that ate Jon Voight and then threw him back up in Anaconda instead. And a reporter is like, “Wow, is that the anaconda that ate Jon Voight and then threw him back up in Anaconda?” And then Lopez is like, “It is. Everyone deserves a second chance. We’ve been friends for years. Did you know that that snake was actually the first one to call me after Gigli came out?”)

Second, Lopez was given a Fashion Icon award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in June. (Whenever I’m reading a thing about basketball or talking to someone about basketball and they mention some advanced stat that I don’t all the way understand, I just go online and see what other players are grouped in under the requirements of the aforementioned advanced stat. If it’s a bunch of good players, then I know the stat is impressive. Same thing here with the CFDA Fashion Icon award. I hadn’t heard of it before, so I just poked around a bit online and saw that the five previous winners were Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Franca Sozzani, and Naomi Campbell. That’s how I knew it was legit.)

Thirdly, Lopez was named GQ Magazine’s Icon of the Year in November.

You’re going to have to outlast another controversy. This happened after Lopez announced that she was going to be performing at halftime of the Super Bowl in February 2020. In most years, this would’ve largely been seen as a plus (and I imagine many still do see it that way), but the NFL has been trying to outrun the stink of Colin Kaepernick’s non-blackball blackballing for the past couple of seasons. Electing to participate in the Super Bowl halftime show has been seen, fair or not, as siding with the NFL. (The announcement was controversial enough that Lopez responded to the criticism—she said she was excited as a Latina about using the performance with Shakira to “make people understand our worth and value in this country”—but not so big that it derailed the momentum she’d built up to that point.)

You’re going to need at least one viral moment. (See the section earlier about Lopez revamping the green Versace dress in Milan.)

You’re going to need an undeniable addition to your CV. This is the hardest one to pull off. And Lopez, for maybe only the second time in her career, has this box checked off: it’s her costarring role as Ramona in Hustlers, a movie about a group of exotic dancers who begin scamming men in strip clubs following the 2008 financial crisis. Four things of interest here:

  1. Lopez is fantastic in Hustlers, particularly in the back third of the film, when the scams start to fall apart and her edges get all frayed as she tries to shake herself free from the grip of the circumstances. It’s the best pure acting performance Lopez has given since her portrayal of Selena Quintanilla in 1997’s biopic Selena. (Lopez didn’t get an Oscar nomination for that role, but she absolutely deserved one. It’s become more and more obvious every year since. Watching her name start to pop up in the Oscar conversation for her Hustlers has been really satisfying for people who have been following her career since the ’90s.) Ramona is exactly the kind of role Lopez needed at this point in her career: smart, charming, funny, defiant, a little scummy, and excessively stylish. (There is a shot in Hustlers where Lopez is wearing a gigantic fur coat and smoking a cigarette on a New York City roof; it is the most glamorous movie moment of 2019.)
  2. Hustlers gave Lopez her biggest live-action opening weekend ever ($33.2 million).
  3. Lopez explained in an interview with GQ that she starred in Hustlers for free and served as a producer on Hustlers for next to nothing, which is why it being a financially successful movie is so meaningful. In most cases like this, a director or actor or actress or producer will forego upfront money to earn points on the back end of the deal. It’s a risk because if the movie flops, then there’s no money to be had. If it’s a big success, though, which Hustlers has proved to be, then there’s usually a big check. And that’s where Lopez is headed: toward another big check.
  4. Lopez has already received several nominations for her performance as Ramona, including but not limited to: Best Supporting Actress from the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Best Supporting Actress from the Golden Globe Awards, Best Supporting Actress from the Hollywood Critics Association Awards, Best Supporting Actress from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, and Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role by the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Oscar talk, while ambitious, is not outlandish. It could happen. It should happen.
  5. This isn’t related to Hustlers, but it should probably be mentioned in here somewhere: In addition to all this other stuff, Lopez also was nominated for two Billboard Latin Music Awards.

And you’re going to need to remind everyone how great your year was in December, when everyone is trying to figure out who had the best year. And that’s exactly what Jennifer Lopez did during her Saturday Night Live monologue December 7. Again: the monologue is literally titled, “Jennifer Lopez’s Unbelievable Year Monologue.”

So, not even mentioning the success of her various non-pop-culture business ventures (per the earlier-linked Entertainment Tonight article, she has a perfume line that is reportedly worth over $2 billion), and not even mentioning her revamp of “Baila Conmigo” that she released recently, all of the above puts her year as such: Jennifer Lopez appears at the Grammys in February; Jennifer Lopez and longtime famous boyfriend get engaged in March; Jennifer Lopez shines at the Met Gala in May; Jennifer Lopez receives a Fashion Icon award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in June; Jennifer Lopez turns 50 in July, which she uses to as a reason to tour again for the first time in seven years; Jennifer Lopez has her Versace viral dress moment in September and also Jennifer Lopez announces she’s performing at the Super Bowl in September and also Hustlers comes out in September and it’s a critical and commercial success; Jennifer Lopez is named GQ’s Icon of the Year in November; and Jennifer Lopez hosts Saturday Night Live in December.

And thus, once more, and even more firmly and with even more authority: Nobody put up a more impressive run in 2019 than Jennifer Lopez. Because nobody maintained a more consistent cultural sizzle in 2019 than Jennifer Lopez did.