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Jennifer Lopez’s Eternal Catch-22

The backlash to J.Lo and Shakira’s ‘Super Bowl Strip Show’ reveals how few people appreciate pole-dancing for the art it truly is

Jennifer Lopez, alongside the spectacular Shakira, won the Super Bowl on Sunday with a vibrant halftime show. They honored their Latina roots — and, in Shakira’s case, Middle Eastern — in a performance full of mostly on-point vocals and flawless dancing. They radiated joy. Quickly, though, the two icons were chastised for their sexuality. Lopez, specifically, was accused of objectifying herself and porn-ifying the Super Bowl by pole dancing on stage.

The critiques are more than sexist and anti-hot. They’re a foundational misunderstanding of the iconographies on which Lopez has built a lasting career through the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s and now the ’20s. Like it or not, pole dancing is part of the J.Lo canon.

The policing of Lopez’s body is particularly egregious considering singer-for-the-straights Adam Levine stripped during last year’s Super Bowl halftime show. Over the course of the 13-minute set, the Maroon 5 frontman peeled off a long black coat and a two-tone, zip-up jacket to reveal a ’70s-home-decor-inspired tank-top. Doffing that, Levine sauntered across the stage in precariously low-rise jeans. (All this occurred in Atlanta, where the temperature at kickoff was 64 degrees.)

That’s not to say Levine didn’t look good. Sweaty muscles are hot no matter whose body they’re on. (IMO, Levine would’ve been wise to take a lesson from stage performers like strippers or drag queens who know the power of a look reveal. Levine offered no striptease or build-up!) Still, USA Today praised his performance without accusing him of needing a parental warning — like the paper did to Lopez and Shakira today.

Throughout her set, the Bronx native Lopez shined a light on each of her talents. She descended from atop an illuminated Empire State Building set-piece singing “Jenny From the Block.” Her cane walk to “Get Right” and gyrating to “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” showcased her dance roots, while the (mostly) live singing silenced the never-ending critique of her pipes. No, Ashanti wasn’t backstage providing vocals for “Get Right.”

But the nod to her legacy as an actress came as a pleasant surprise. Standing on a mountain of hunky male dancers in harnesses, Lopez mounted a stripper pole. She spun and executed a perfect horizontal lean, all while singing in tune to “Waiting for Tonight.” It was the perfect nod to her Golden Globes–nominated role in 2019’s Hustlers.

Lopez is coming off a year racking up award nominations — and her biggest live action movie opening to date — for her turn as Ramona, the ambitious, take-no-prisoners New York stripper in Hustlers. Her pièce de résistance in the film was a pole dance to “Criminal” by Fiona Apple, clad in barely-there rhinestones and a silver bodysuit with a matching jacket and hat.

Joaquin Phoenix is expected to win his first Oscar next week for playing Batman villain the Joker. All awards season, he’s received praise for developing an eating disorder and losing 52 pounds to become the gaunt Arthur Fleck. Recent actors who’ve starved themselves for an Oscar include Christian Bale in The Fighter, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. It’s a tested formula — one that Anne Hathaway also used for Les Miserables. But unlike her male counterparts, she was slammed after her win.

For whatever reason, Lopez’s physical feat to play a stripper in Hustlers was never fully appreciated. Channing Tatum became a Hollywood leading man and started a franchise — including a successful Vegas show and a sequel — after starring in the critically acclaimed Magic Mike based on his past as a male stripper. Having never pole danced before, Lopez learned how to walk and dance in six-inch platform heels, climb and stay on the pole, spin around without falling off and flip herself upside-down all without breaking a sweat. Lopez said in a YouTube video that Cardi B spent years as a professional stripper to master the pole. Lopez had six weeks.

Bringing out the pole for her halftime show and performing without messing up her hair or vocal resonance was the perfect “fuck you” to the Oscars for snubbing her. It’s also a reminder that one of Lopez’s many talents is her physicality.

The green silk chiffon Versace dress she wore to the 2000 Grammy Awards — the impetus for Google Images — cemented Lopez as a sex and fashion icon. She followed up the moment with her first fragrance, Glow, in 2002, which racked up a staggering $100 million in its first year alone and kicked off the celebrity-scent era. Her 25 scents — the newest, Promise, launched last fall — have grossed over $2 billion. There’s also apparel, shoe and makeup partnerships with brands like Kohl’s, Giuseppe Zanotti and Inglot Cosmetics. The success of Lopez as a beauty mogul function on the premise that her body is itself a profit machine.

Male celebrity bodies aren’t held to the same standard. Lopez’s one-time love Ben Affleck can go from People’s Sexiest Man Alive to the owner of a giant dragon back tattoo who drinks Dunkin iced coffees every day and still snag leading roles as an action hero. Meanwhile, Lopez must show off her bedazzled water bottles and outline her skincare routine in interviews to signal how well the 50-year-old takes care of herself.

Lopez knows the economics of her physique dictate the career she’s allowed. It’s why she documents her intense workout routines on Instagram, aware that to remain in the public eye as a female entertainer of her caliber means proving she’s ageless and has what it takes. So she operates in a constant catch-22: Maintaining her body fosters her career prospects, but we take for granted the work she puts in to maintain the performer the public demands.

The women she came up alongside — from Mariah Carey to Gwyneth Paltrow to Jessica Simpson — are all settling into their legacy years or finding new projects to maintain fame. Lopez is reaching her career peak at 50 — the age when female talent across all disciplines in Hollywood are discarded.

She’s also unafraid to make a political statement, and I have a hunch that many critics of her dancing were really triggered by a different sight: a children’s choir sitting in glowing cages as Shakira and J.Lo (clad in a voluminous vest of the Puerto Rican flag) sang. Lopez’s 11-year-old daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, joined her mother for a mashup of her single “Let’s Get Loud” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

Lopez demonstrated what it means to have actually achieved the American dream. You can become a millionaire, be your own boss, own your body, go on an international concert tour to celebrate your 50th birthday, snag a halftime show and be a doting mother all at once.

People tend to shove Lopez’s talent into digestible categories. She’s the “On the Floor” singer, the Maid in Manhattan actress or the “Fly Girl” dancer. On Sunday night, possibly the first time ever on a national stage, Lopez was allowed to be all facets of herself entirely. And she had a damn good time doing it.