Jennifer Lopez, until now, always seemed a bit like a frivolous, and yet still totally awesome, persona on the spectrum of female pop music. While she's a strong female icon, a woman of color who has worked hard and of her own volition to make a name for herself, and who, by doing so, has inspired women with her tenacity, J.Lo hasn't, until now, ever made a particularly profound statement about feminism with her art. Her music is better known for her preoccupation with love’s relationship to money and for constantly reminding us that she’s still Jenny From The Block, and while she's been pivotal in bridging the gap between R&B and pop, she's never really used the music medium to say anything decisive on the male gaze, and the way women's bodies are treated within the industry.
Next to the Beyoncé’s and Ke$ha’s of the world, J.Lo’s never been much of a feminist icon, at least through her discography. That’s not to say she’s anti-feminist, given that she's championed women's causes and is a positive role model for women in herself, just that she never purposefully struck out on behalf of women in her music. With her latest video for “I Luh Ya Papi” (featuring French Montana and directed by Jessy Terrero, watch it above), Jenny comes right out of left field to do something that so many female pop stars are struggling with right now: she gets feminism right. Of all the super star women out there trying to make statements on the gaze and misogyny in pop, I never would have thought Jennifer Lopez would have been the one to boop the nail right on the head with a perfectly manicured talon. And she makes it look so easy.
A far cry from Lily Allen’s forced “Hard Out Here” video and the perfectly curated TED Talk on feminism that is Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” “I Luh Ya Papi” keeps it simple: what if we just started making videos that objectify men too? I’ve got nothing against “Hard Out Here” and “Flawless.” Both have wonderful messages of empowerment for women, however, “Hard Out Here” can be difficult to stomach for its snark, while “Flawless” can be a bit clinical, a flat over-intellectualization of feminism. On the other hand, “I Luh Ya Papi” is joyful and celebratory and relates to women in the broadest sense.
The video, as all good J.Lo videos should, begins with a skit (bring back the album skit too!). Jenny sits sandwiched between her two best gal pals, with a director pitching the girls ideas for the “I Luh Ya Papi” video. His absurd ideas range from shooting in a water park, to a carnival, to a zoo, and are all inoffensively twee. Jenny’s friends cackle through the whole thing incredulously, veto-ing the increasingly ridiculous ideas of the male director, until one of them pipes in with, “If she was a guy we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.” No, you wouldn’t be; men are rarely, if ever, asked to be inoffensively twee. And so it begins—the primary message being what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the boys can do it, why can’t the girls?
The conversation between Jenny’s friends continues—“Why do men always objectify women in every single video? Why can’t we objectify the men?”—as we fade into the first scene of the girls’ imagined video. The women’s voices make way for the music with the final proclamation, “It can start with her on the bed with a bunch of naked guys... For no reason!” and a maniacal cackle. And there she is: J.Lo on a bed, in an outfit that pays homage to that Grammys dress, surrounded by half naked men draped across the bed and over chairs... for no reason. It’s Robin Thicke’s worst nightmare come true, as men become objects of a woman’s lascivious gaze.
The party continues pool side as the three women take creep shots of shirtless dudes, gratuitously objectifying scantily clad men who seem to exist only for their gratification. One of the things I like the most about this video is the fact that the women are no less sexy than they would be in a rap video—what’s different is that they’re completely in control of their own sexuality, of male sexuality, and how we perceive both. That’s probably the most important thing about this video, that female sexuality isn’t diminished or shamed into modesty, it’s just given boss bitch status instead of being dictated by male fetish. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?
The reversal of the gaze is most apparent when the three girls simultaneously cock their heads in reverence of jacked shirtless dudes washing a car, which is traditionally a scene we associate with big busted, wet t-shirted women and Playboy bunnies (see: Paris Hilton). Men love half-naked women on cars, and “I Luh Ya Papi” posits that maybe women love half naked men on cars too. I certainly do. Also, as a total non-sequitur, the women’s matching denim outfits are badass, and should be duly noted when compiling looks for the forthcoming summer. Just sayin.’
There’s a distinct sense of humor running through the “I Luh Ya Papi” video, as tropes like too much bling, yacht parties, the and gratuitous pouring of champagne onto naked bodies are used in challenging, but still somehow joyfully buoyant, ways. Who would have thought that Jennifer Lopez would be the one to make such a concise and cutting statement on the gaze in music video, flip it on its head, all the while having the best possible time doing it?
When the decadent dreamscape video wraps, we come back to the reality of the three women gal pal-ing about. One of the friends declares, “And then we be the entourage that does NOTHING!”, a trope we’ve seen so many times in male led videos. I think, for me, this really hit home, as it’s so rare to see women in popular culture depicted as having one another’s backs in friendship. So often we’re fed damaging images of women competing for men or glory, bitching and moaning about one another, and generally being shitty to the sisterhood. Finally, in a rare flash of brilliance for the pop music canon, “I Luh Ya Papi” presents with three women, who in the grand tradition of men, roll together as buddies and team mates.
Kat George luhs ya, too. She's on Twitter - @kat_george