Over the course of our discussions, Lopez alludes to encounters with self-help texts, meditation, psychotherapy, psychiatry, and life coaching. She appears to have attacked the project of working through her childhood trauma, and its present-day reverberations in the form of unhealthy attachments, with the same intensity she has brought to her career pursuits. “My parents taught me the value of hard work and the importance of being a good person,” she explains. “But the combination of them was what I’ve had to figure out. It shaped what I liked as far as my personal life was concerned. Without infringing on their privacy, that was it: Who your mom is and who your dad is and how they love you and teach you to love become the positive and negative patterns that you have to overcome in life.”
Lopez and I meet for breakfast at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, at a table in the very back of the garden, in front of which a large potted privet creates the safety of vagueness. The restaurant is a sort of default meeting place for the residents of high-hedged neighboring enclaves such as Bel Air and Holmby Hills, and she arrives without security. Privacy is important to her, but it’s also important that people understand that she is not asking for anyone’s sympathy for the tariffs of fame. “The other day,” she recalls, “one of my kids said, ‘I want to go to the flea market.’ I was like, ‘Oh, you want me and Ben to come?’ They said, ‘You know, it’s such a thing when you go, Mom.’ It hurt my feelings. I get it. They want time with their friends when they aren’t being watched and followed and photographed. It’s a thing. Nobody’s complaining, but it’s a thing.”
She eats a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar, a popular Puerto Rican breakfast, as her mother made it, and drinks a decaf cappuccino (she gave up caffeine years ago). She wears a black denim jacket with the collar turned up, her hair is pulled into a tight bun, her skin is preternaturally youthful—perhaps the twin effect of DNA and the olive oil–rich tinctures in her JLo Beauty line. (To answer a question that many people asked me after we met, yes. She is absolutely as beautiful in person.)
“I’m not one of these tortured artists,” Lopez says. “Yes, I’ve lived with tremendous sadness, like anybody else, many, many times in my life, and pain. But when I make my best music or my best art is when I’m happy and full and feel lots of love.” Such was the mood that surrounded the writing and recording of her forthcoming album, which will be her first in nearly a decade. I’m not allowed to reveal the title, but suffice it to say that it serves as a kind of bookend to This Is Me…Then, the album she released 20 years ago in the heady early days of her relationship with Affleck.
Lopez’s longtime manager, Benny Medina, told me that Lopez has a way of falling in love with whatever she is immersed in at the moment. While she has several films out in the coming months, including the rom-com-with-a-twist Shotgun Wedding this winter and The Mother, in which she stars as an ex-assassin, in the middle of next year, it is this album that pulls Lopez’s enthusiasm at the moment. She says that it will be the most honest work she has ever done, “kind of a culmination of who I am as a person and an artist. People think they know things about what happened to me along the way, the men I was with—but they really have no idea, and a lot of times they get it so wrong. There’s a part of me that was hiding a side of myself from everyone. And I feel like I’m at a place in my life, finally, where I have something to say about it.” She lends me her AirPods so that I can listen to a few rough cuts from the record. There are plaintive, confessional songs, reflections on the trials of her past, upbeat jams celebrating love and sex. As I’m listening, I notice that she has closed her eyes, and she is dancing in her chair and singing along to her own voice. For a moment it occurs to me that she might be treating me to a little performance, but no, she is just so into it.