Tag Archives: Jennifer Lopez

Racialized performances in pop music or Why are Beyonce and JLo so scandalous?

This image is approved for consumption by polite society.

This image is approved for public consumption.

Last week, Jennifer Lopez scandalized Britain with a “raunchy” performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Not only did viewers flock to social media (as you do) to complain about JLo dropping it like it’s hot in a French-cut one piece and thigh-high boots, but British  TV regulator OfCom confirmed that it has received complaints about the broadcast and is assessing the matter, but not investigating it.

For helpful context, here is the performance–labeled “disgusting” and “shameful” by some critics–that provoked an “assessment” of whether a competitive reality show violated the bounds of decency.

In my humble opinion, the only thing indecent about that performance was the tepidness of the dancing and the awfulness of the song. (But, hey, maybe it’s not for me. I’m an old–actually the same age as JLo–and I don’t spend much time at the club lately.)

I suspect the assessment of Jennifer Lopez’s performance is influenced by both race, size and age bias. But you know I’m conspiratorial that way, so I asked Andrea, my homegirl and fellow editor at the R to weigh in.

Tami: When I heard all the crowing about this performance, I recalled Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance earlier this year., which also prompted cries of outrage.

Both of these performances seem astonishingly tame in the face of criticism. “Disgusting” is a pretty strong word to describe booty shaking in a body suit. Folk are generally cool with sexy (and sexist) Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl, but Queen Bey causes parents to “shield their kids’ eyes.”

I think the response to these performances is very much influenced by racial bias. Brown and black bodies are routinely sexualized. Latinas bear the weight of the “spicy” and “exotic” stereotypes. And those stereotypes have dogged Lopez throughout her career. The nickname “J. Ho”–a reference to the singer/actress’ alleged promiscuity and mercenary character–even has a spot in the Urban Dictionary. And I should point out, these accused character traits seem to be based on little but the skewed way this culture views Latinas.

Lopez herself told US magazine of the controversy: “I think people are so much raunchier than I am. I feel like I’m so tame. [I] wore it at Billboard and Britain’s Got Talent said they wanted exactly the same. So I thought I’d wear the outfit in black. No one complained at Billboard. I think people just like to talk. It was a bodysuit. A lot of performers wear that these days. It is standard stage clothes. I’m not going to walk down the street like that!”

JLo’s act does not seem markedly different from any other pop spectacle–no different Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2000 VMA’s or what this Britney impersonator did during an audition for…wait for it…“Britain’s Got Talent” in 2011.

Andrea: I agree, especially about the relative tepidness of Lopez’s performance and the non-scandalousness of her outfit.

What I think  is at play here is Beyonce and Lopez are doing dance moves that are, whether done with Beyonce’s exuberance or with Lopez’s tepidness, sexy moves that they thought of and/or approved of. In other words, they’re expressing their sexual agency. However, that’s a major no-no in a society steeped in the sexist ethos of “I can touch you, but you can’t touch yourself,” which has a long structural history in the lives of women of color due to slavery and colonization.

And this “what about the children” reasoning as to folks’ disgust with the two women’s performance brings up not only women of color doing that stereotypical thing of ruining people’s sexual “innocence” but also something of–how shall I phrase this?–an unspoken notion of the influence of images not only affecting how a person will be “brought up” to express their own sexuality but also the kind of person their brain will be hard-wired to be attracted to. If the child–and let’s be really real, kids are indeed sexual beings–is connecting their erotic feelings to seeing a woman of color dancing like Lopez and moreso like Beyonce, the parents may be thinking that their child just may act upon that attraction and–gasp!–fall in love and–clutch the pearls!–bring “such a woman” home as a spouse.

Tami: And here’s the other thing: Jennifer Lopez (and Beyonce) are not only women of color, they are also women known for having curvy body types, which are often associated with Latinas and black women and are larger than the current ideal for celebrities. Unrestrained fleshiness and jiggle reads differently than hard and trim; Physical abundance is often mistaken for wantonness.

Media wrote about Lopez’s “bum-baring” performance, but the singer’s booty is covered; her outfit was less revealing than typical beachwear. Could the rub be that JLo’s rear is big and round vs. tiny and tight?

Andrea: I think Lopez herself has pointed out how her body shape get framed in this society: “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous–like running around and bringing men into my hotel room. But it’s just the opposite.” To me, Lopez shouldn’t have had to say such a thing–her body, however it’s shaped, is hers to do with what she wants with nary a comment to the press. However, the burden of the stereotypes about Latinas and Black women keeps us defending our reputations in the public space in order to, as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry says in her book Sister Citizen, keep our bearings in the face of the socially constructed crooked images of ourselves.

But we’re not only defending our reputations that folks assume comes with our bodies; we also need to defend our bodies, literally, as seen by the clip of Beyonce whipping around and firmly telling a white-appearing concertgoer in Denmark that she’d have him removed because he smacked her butt–and this happened last week!

This brings me back to what you said about our bodies being routinely sexualized. It’s not just that bodies of color are routinely sexualized; it’s that our bodies are furthermore seen–still–as public sexual property to be discussed and publicly contested to be the figures that people shouldn’t aspire to desire sexually, though I’ve heard quite a few non-Black and non-Latin@s say that Beyonce and Lopez inspired them to “love their curves” and/or “embrace their booties” in light of the contested reality that Beyonce’s and Lopez’s curves are seen as a physical and sexual ideal.

Tami: Lastly, I think age is a factor in this discussion as well. Western culture worships youth. Women past a certain age aren’t supposed to sexy; we are supposed to cover up. Madonna is routinely told to put it away. And, to hear some folks tell it, Janet Jackson’s biggest sin wasn’t showing booby on primetime television, but showing over-40 booby. Sexy dressing may be fine for the 20-somethings, but for women north of 40, it is unseemly.

Andrea: *Sigh* I think part of this is the association of age and motherhood. Lopez and Beyonce are both mothers. Forty-something women especially (Bey is in her 30s) are cast as matronly–whether or not we have children–and being sexually attracted to a woman of that age is seen as MILFing, which, as the phrase states, is all about desiring a woman old enough to be (some)one’s mom, who are always constructed as non-sexual beings in this society. (Thus, the porned-out “shock” of the attraction.)

But, as we talked about in an earlier conversation, pop is relentlessly marketed as the “music of youth”–and “youth” is relentless hyped as the desired, if not ideal, stage of life, partly because of its able-bodied physicality–that very few people have a career in pop music in their late 30s and especially in their 40s and beyond, especially women of color. The brilliant singer Cassandra Wilson can enjoy a long career in jazz. Jill Scott can stay a neo-soul singer for a good long time, especially since she can always cross over into jazz (which she has). Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops will have longevity in the alt-country/bluegrass scene. Tina Turner, who had a string of pop hits in the 80s, is idolized as a rock icon who here lately rocked out as as torch singer. Grace Jones is lionized as a black proto-AfroPunk goddess who can shame all pop performers with a hula hoop. And I highly doubt any of them would get whapped on their asses at their concerts.

No, it’s pop goddesses who are so deeply degraded when they aren’t meeting the physical ideals of youth, like, well, getting older. And it’s Black and Latina pop goddesses–like Beyonce, Jackson, and Lopez, who’s still fondly remembered as one of the Fly Girls for In Living Color–who are degraded so roundly and so publicly.

The Mindy Project‘s Rishi And The Call For More PoCs In Charge

By Guest Contributor Crystal Xia, Blogger at There’s Nothing Here

mindyproject

Mindy Kaling’s show, The Mindy Project, wrapped up its first season on Tuesday. In its first year, the show picked up critical attention and found an audience. More importantly, the show found confidence and its voice, and it developed characters and relationships true to Kaling’s signature comedic style. While the majority of the main cast is white, the show cast Utkarsh Ambudkar to play Rishi, Mindy’s little brother, for a couple of episodes in the first season.

Rishi is a hilarious, complex, and multifaceted character, a strong role for an Indian American male. He can be considered The Mindy Project’s take on the emerging stereotype of an Indian American “faux-gangster” male. Although he is studying science at Stanford University, Rishi is more interested in moving to New York City and becoming a rapper. Interestingly enough, Rishi isn’t just a “typical American kid trying to make it in a creative field”, a trap that many writers who want to normalize the minority experience fall into. He’s actually cool. Instead of being another corny wannabe, Rishi is a great rapper who can command a room, be it a break room full of Mindy’s coworkers or a “Battle of the Rappers”.

The Mindy Project does a great job of making Rishi more than his ethnicity without ignoring it. Jokes about Indian Americans have punch lines that make mainstream society and its misunderstanding of minorities the butt of the joke, not the minority Indian Americans. For example, Rishi manages to convince Mindy’s building manager to let him into Mindy’s apartment because “a well-spoken Indian can get into anywhere he wants”. This is a play on the idea that Asian Americans are stereotypical “model minorities”.

Continue reading

Latina’s Tribute to Hollywood Maids Hurts More than ‘Helps’

By Arturo R. García

It’s common practice for a blog to time a post in conjunction with a notable movie release. But a post on Latina Magazine’s blog might have been too on the nose for its’ own good.

Late last week, this post by Lee Hernandez featured “10 Latinas Who Have Played ‘The Help,’” a tie-in, of course, with the recent release of the film of the same name.

“Latinas have a long history of playing ‘the help’ in movies and on television,” Hernandez wrote in the introduction. “Here are 10 of our favorite Latina ‘help’ roles of all-time!” Among the actresses mentioned in the ensuing slideshow: Jennifer Lopez in Maid In Manhattan; Adriana Barraza, who was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for her work in Babel; and Lupe Ontiveros, who, Hernandez mentions, “estimates that she has played a maid between 150 and 300 times in her career.”

The problem is, Ontiveros’ experience has been radically different than Barraza’s: as she told Soledad O’Brien on CNN’s Latino In America about playing “the help” for most of her career:

It’s disturbing, let me tell you. After 30-someodd years over and over and over again. I’m an educated person. I speak five languages. I am very capable of a lot more than they think I am.

Reached for comment Monday, Hernandez said in an e-mail:

Maids are some of the hardest-working people in this country, and the actresses we spotlight do a wonderful job of capturing the strength and dignity of the job. While we look forward to the day when there are more of us portraying doctors and lawyers and political leaders, there will never come a day when we ignore an entire group of Latinas who are trying to support their families—or the actresses who do a brilliant job of portraying them.

While Hernandez’s sentiment comes from a good place, including Ontiveros with the likes of Consuela from Family Guy – who’s not even voiced by a Latina – undermines it. The way the Hollywood Shuffle has operated for Ontiveros and other Latino actors for decades wasn’t lost on Latina Fatale:

How many lead roles have Latinas played? How often do hit movies feature Latinas in strong roles, as opposed to roles such as maids, gangsters, and other stereotypical roles? I can bet that Latinas play maid roles more often than not, because other roles are not offered to them.

Excerpt: On 9/11 and the End of the Latin Music Boom

At the dawn of the Latin alt burst in 1998, a Newsweek cover story announced “Se Habla Rock and Roll? You Will Soon,” and a year later the New York Times predicted Latin alternative was “Approaching Its Final Border.” But by 2005, the Los Angeles Times’ Agustin Gurza compared the Latin boom to an exploding rocket that breaks apart halfway into orbit.

But no matter how many times Mexico’s Café Tacuba held court in front of the gentle mosh pits of Irving Plaza, or local bands such as Los Amigos Invisibles proved that funk, pop, disco, salsa, merengue and occasional bouts of thrash metal could hold everyone together on the dance floor, there was something missing. The energy that came from Latin America, which had produced most of the significant bands, was not duplicated in American cities.

Latin alternative settled back into a niche accessed by the mainstream only in a rare NPR moment, while driving to New England to see the fall foliage. [Ricky] Martin has settled into life as a father; Shakira reinvents herself as part-stripper, part-philanthropist; [Marc] Anthony got a gig playing a cop on TV; and J-Lo, well, you know where she is.

How did this happen? Certainly the immediate atmosphere after the 9/11 attacks was characterized by the mainstream’s distancing from cultures from outside its borders. Although the decade began with Barnes and Noble and other booksellers offering extensive selections of books in Spanish, by its end more and more politicians called for English to be the country’s official language. And earlier this year, the Grammy awards dropped 31 categories, including Latin jazz and traditional world music.

- From “After the Latin Bubble Burst,” by Ed Morales, New Jersey Star-Ledger

Lady Gaga Brings Cholas Back To Pop Culture – Like It Or Not

By Arturo R. García

As the marketing buzz controversy surrounding Lady Gaga’s new single grows, it should be pointed out that, as with arguably other aspects of her act, this is nothing new.

The lyrics in question in Gaga’s new single, “Born This Way,” center around an oddly-phrased call for self-empowerment:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, Chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby you were born this way

What sets Gaga’s use of the term apart, for now – there’s been no video released for “Born This Way,” though she will perform it at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 – is the direct use of the word Chola in the lyrics, as opposed to visual shorthand. And that’s where the controversy comes in: the word it’s derived from, Cholo, originated in the 16th century as a slur, similar to “mutt,” in both Perú and Mexico. But in the U.S., some would argue that they’re tied in with the Chicano identity and culture, following the lineage of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. Continue reading