Dear Jennifer Lopez, J.Lo, Ms. Almost Mrs. Formerly Puff Daddy. As you plan your remix album featuring yet another collaboration with Ja Rule, it makes me reflect upon your past. Particuarly, I”ve recently been thinking of your last single with Ja Rule, the defiantly-titled “I”m Real.” My question being: Who do you think you”re fooling?

Paul Wong

Don”t get me wrong, a part of me loves you. I would love for you to be the new raging, street-wise diva of soul, hip-hop, R&ampB and dance. After all you have such great style, and even I can forgive your dreadfully misjudged use of gaudy gold jewelry, tooth-necklaces and cornrows in your “Love Don”t Cost a Thing” video. We all make mistakes. One time I ruined my brother”s car by putting engine fuel somewhere it shouldn”t have been. The gas tank? Oil well? We forge ahead.

And it was indeed I who coerced my roommate to watch your video for “Play,” all fashion-video and futuristic sheen over dance beats and impetuance. Hell, I will admit that I even requested it at the dance club. Perhaps, with your intelligence, personality and style, you”d be worthy of entering my “Romantic Hero,” club, whereby, alongside Toni Morrison, Mark Doty and Jewel, you could be screenprinted onto your very own T-shirt. Oh, the honor!

So after being so intrigued by your persona, and needing an empty calorie of a movie after a glut of French, indie and porn films, I rented “The Wedding Planner.” It was suitably enjoyable enough that I didn”t vomit up my Indian food. I even laughed at moments. If you ask friends, they will say I cried, but you can get no confirmation on that from me. It never happened.

What seems to work for you on film is a certain underperformance. While many actresses may over-act, you seem to be subtle, drawing an audience in with a quiet, sure presence. So my guilty spree continued with “Angel Eyes,” the stylistic “The Cell” and your performance on Saturday Night Live. It was then that I went online and looked at pictures of you for the aforementioned screenprinted T-shirt that would be the envy of every other J.Lo fan.

It was then I discovered the horrible truth: You were not always white. You used to have thick, dark brown, curly hair, a celebration your ethnicity. It”s not that as a Latino woman you can”t style your hair in any way you want. It just reminds me of seeing a roommate”s issue of Cosmopolitan at an angle.

I couldn”t discern who the cover woman was, with light skin and honey colored hair. Mariah Carey? Heather Graham? It could even have been you, white-washed away. It just seems unfortunate that you”ve assimilated so easily, just become lost in a sea of blondes with toned buttocks and tight abs. I thought fierceness was about independence, not assimilation?

But who am I to make cultural judgments? Really, I”m interested in something else. More burning questions arise, keeping me awake at night: Who is Jennifer Lopez? Not in any way that I”m particularly interested in your personal life, as much as I”m searching for a hint of personality. What works for you in film, that quiet presence, is actually just a blank canvas that draws people in.

Andy Warhol predicted the cult of personality, but it seems to have dissolved away to a cult of images. Your blank-canvas persona may work wonders in film, but as “personality,” it serves as an empty void, a zen sand garden to be raked through.

Even Shakira, though criticized similarly for going blonde, has managed to maintain her fiery personality, her cultural heritage and audacious sexuality. And the public is to blame, really, for swallowing whole such an easy, malleable ideal. You are at once the girl next door, the from-the-streets bad girl, the realization of Selena”s dreams. Being nothing, you are strangely, though artificially all things at once.

Salma Hayek, of course comes to mind as well. Rumors had it the two of you were competing over the role of Frida Kahlo in a new biographical film. Salma Hayek, now shooting the film, is embodying the Mexican artist who, with dreamy self-portraits, uni-brow and dark black hair, has captured generations as much for her art as her troubled personal life. For the role, Salma is willing to endure a loss in beauty for a thick, caterpillar-like uni-brow, and is not portraying a more blonde version of a woman la Madonna”s slightly anglicized Evita.

But it”s in this actual use of the uni-brow that Salma becomes more beautiful: More sympathetic, sophisticated and real. I can”t help but feel that you couldn”t be convinced to have a uni-brow unless it was projected as the forthcoming spring”s fashion trend. Jennifer, J.Lo, my friend, uni-brows will not be in fashion until: A) hell gets a reputation of a steam-bath laden health spa, B) *NSYNC is recognized as the Beatles” rightful predecessors or C) you grow a personality that has greater depth than mud puddles.

A few days before her death, Frida Kahlo wrote in her journal, “I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to come back.” I have a hard time imagining you saying that without spitting milk out my nose.

And, still, I keep hearing the remix of your anthem, “I”m Real.” Your album version features an “80s new wave style with vocoded phrases. After it flopped, you tried another angle, a low-tempo sweet groove of a remix with Ja Rule. It drips as much sweetness as it does irony. As you moan, “I”m Real,” I can”t help but think you doth protest too much.

The song itself represents a desire to please all people at once, with no hint of real character. While Salma Hayek may not have as many box-office smashes, billboard 10s, or TRL appearances as you, she has the role you wanted the role you were too blonde, too nondescript, too ghost-like to portray. And that”s exactly why I”m screenprinting her onto a T-shirt instead of you.

Best Wishes,


Japiya Burns is currently growing out his uni-brow. He can be reached at japiyab@umich.edu.

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