The wider (read: more muscular) Paula Abdul’s thighs got (as per In Living Color‘s “The Promise of a Thin Me” satire of her Spellbound-era girth), the more I liked her music. When former Fly Girl Jennifer Lopez’s first long-player, On the 6, showed up on store shelves in 1999, my first thought was, “What happened to all that booty she gained to fill out Selena’s costumes? Does On the 6 refer to the number of inches between the inner walls of her legs? Give those loose panties something to cling to!” Sometime between when I was forcibly removed from the L section of Sam Goody for asking these questions aloud and when Lopez followed up with the rubbery quicksilver bassline of “Play” (still, for my skinny pale ass, the meaty crown of her anorexic musical career), it was clear to me she had fed her low end and came out a would-be neo-disco diva waiting for, if not tonight, some distant day when the reigning queens of dance-R&B finally got winded. Well, Madonna cashed in her disco cred by sampling ABBA, and Janet Jackson is off shilling the matrimonial homilies of Tyler Perry. No time like the present, J. Lo, especially since your ostensibly pregnant frame can carry the weight.
And it is thusly La Lopez kicks off the David LaChapelle-directed music video for “Do It Well,” by strapping on her YSLs and walking a mile (or is it a yard?) down the concrete runway en route to what appears to be the downtown location of a Shortbus franchise (or else it’s Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” club re-imagined as a Chuck E. Cheese). Filmed from the back, her frame is wide, commanding, solid. When LaChapelle cuts to her face, it’s severe, almost androgynous. The song itself is a fairly imaginative reworking of one of the many string breaks from Eddie Kendricks’s “Keep On Truckin’,” but I wasn’t really sold on it until I watched Lopez put those legs to truckin’, kickin’, hustlin’, and fleein’. As it turns out, her only reason for steppin’ at the subterranean carnivale is to rescue her own pocket migrant worker from the dishroom. Oh, I get it: It’s a Dance Dance Revolution Irréversible. I can’t say I know for sure what the hell the video is saying, but I can tell you it wouldn’t be saying nearly as much were it not for Lopez and her tied-off black overcoat-cum-mini.
The press materials for the tune’s parent album, Brave, stress that the CD is her stab at making pure feel-good music, but the music video for “Do It Well” is as big, powerful, and serious as maternity itself. There are no doubt songs on the album that make good on the radically scaled back expectations for “feel-good” tuneage, first and foremost the impending second single “Hold It, Don’t Drop It.” Something like the paragon of sounds-best-the-first-time-you-hear-it pop songwriting, the song thrashes your body mercilessly the first time, tickles your ears the second time, and compels you to track down that old “It Only Takes a Minute” vinyl by the third or fourth. (Your mileage may vary, of course, given how much or how little respect you have for the Tavares track.)
Another track that sounds promising at first blush but eventually grates is “Mile in These Shoes.” Sonically intriguing, its spare verses seem to emerge from a dank, empty warehouse before the chorus opens up with a hip-hop/rock barrage of drums straight out of Janet’s playbook. Right about then is when the idiocy of reducing the ultimate “You don’t know me” metaphor for individualism into an excuse to name-drop haute couture icons becomes apparent. In case it wasn’t obvious, the moral of “Mile in These Shoes” isn’t that you can’t truly understand what it’s like to be Lopez until you walk that mile (or that aforementioned concrete catwalk) in her pumps—it’s that you can’t afford her pumps.
“Mile in These Shoes,” as good as it sounds, is a testament to the big hypocrisy of Brave. It’s an album that aims to uphold the standards of individuality we have, for whatever reason, come to expect from our dance floor divas. If the album builds up a nice head of steam all the way up to the double-time wall of sound that is “The Way It Is,” the problem is it’s not necessarily Lopez’s head of steam: The shuffling of “Stay Together” suggests Beyoncé‘s “Déjà Vu” gyrations, and the gut-bucket dirge rhythms of “Forever” resemble Justin Timbaland’s slow-building funk epics. By the time her convincing but disheartening approximation of old school fun comes a predictable series of mid-tempo numbers beginning with the make-it-up-as-you-go-along lyrics of “Be Mine” (“Looking through a coffee table book at a small café on Broadway,” et al) and ultimately winding up on the shallow uplift of the album’s title track, you will have managed to completely forget the face sitting atop those fantastic legs.