It’s funny seeing Jennifer Lopez hosting American Idol, taking Paula Abdul’s slot as “the nice one” because the parallels are pretty interesting: both are former dancers who turned to pop music, had massive success, and later found themselves having trouble selling records. But unlike Abdul, Lopez has a whole multimedia career to fall back on: movies, television, fragrances, being a tabloid favorite – even if Lopez’s products don’t always connect with the public – let’s be honest, it’s been a bit since she’s had a hit movie or album – her diva antics has given her the veneer of the A-list celebrity. But music is only a tiny sliver in the pie chart of her career, so it comes as a nice surprise that her latest album A.K.A. is a solid, enjoyable collection of dance-pop tunes.
Judging a Jennifer Lopez record is really judging the crowd of songwriters and producers – Lopez is really the weak link in her records. Her voice is a reedy thin instrument, not really capable of much. But she’s a star and she knows who to turn to – in this case, it’s a Who’s Who of urban-pop radio including Yoni Ayal, Max Martin, Benny Medina, RedOne, Cory Rooney, and Ryan Tedder the most glittery names in a star-heavy list.
The album opens with the EDM title track, which features rapper T.I. It’s a self-referential song like “Jenny from the Block” that scolds her public for not knowing the real Jennifer Lopez. The lyrics are nonsensical, but they don’t matter – the beats, helmed by RoccStar gracefully leads Lopez into dance radio circa 2014. The only problem is that Lopez doesn’t dominate the track, and is overshadowed by T.I., an issue that is shared with “Acting Like That” which has Lopez being outshone by Iggy Azalea. Both songs would be very good dance hits and proud inclusions in Lopez’s discography, but it was unwise for her to be paired with such charismatic artists like T.I. and Azalea.
Better is the ridiculously titled “Expertease (Ready Set Go)” which makes most of Lopez’s limited vocals. It’s a slower pop number (co-written by the brilliant Sia) and Lopez’s considerable charms carry the song which has a poignant quality. “So Good,” a driving number, also shows off the singer at her best. “First Love” is also an excellent number, and recalls a bouncy, enjoyable Lopez from her “Waiting for Tonight” time.
A.K.A. isn’t a classic album, nor is it Lopez’s best album – too many ballads weigh down the record – her thin voice is left adrift when she’s asked to emote. But the dance songs show that even if her salad days are behind her, she’s still a reliable artist, capable of some perfectly fine pop music.