Interview: With ‘A.K.A.,’ Jennifer Lopez Is More Herself Than Ever

"You can't make an honest record if you just let people submit songs. You've gotta get in there with them and let them know who you are."

By Courtney E. Smith

If there’s a definitive narrative for Jennifer Lopez has strived to create for herself, it is one of authenticity. From “I’m Real” to “Same Girl,” one of the teaser, early release tracks from her new album, she stays on message about giving the world the most truthful look at herself that she can in her music. It looks like she’s sticking with that game plan for her next step into the spotlight.

Earlier this week, Lopez announced the title of her 10th album, A.K.A., and its release date, June 17. It was also announced that the Idol judge and 75 million-selling pop sensation will be the recipient of this year’s Billboard Music Icon Award.

With so much exciting fare on her plate, Lopez took a few to chat via phone with and let us in on what inspired her newest single, “First Love,” what she was going for with the fiery A.K.A. album art and why opening up to her collaborators on this album was a must.

What’s the inspiration behind “First Love”?

“First Love” is a record that I did with Max Martin. I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time, so it was great to have that experience. We were all in the studio, talking. It was one of those in-between times, where you’re working on something and you stop for a second and start having a conversation. We were talking about relationships and my producer Cory [Rooney] and Savan, the writer who wrote the record, they’re married and we were talking about how relationships can be difficult and you have to work at them. And how, when you finally do find that person you wish you  had found them years ago.

A couple of days later, Savan and Max call me and they’re like, “We have a song.” I was like, “What?” They said yes, from the conversation we were having the other night in the studio. I was on the set of Idol, doing Hollywood Week and they wanted to come over and play it for me, they were so excited. They came over at lunch time, to my small dressing room backstage at Idol to play this song and I just loved it. It captured this great feeling in a simple way. I feel like the best songs are like that. It was pretty exciting, we recorded it in the next couple of days.

It’s funny, that story sounds a lot like Taylor Swift’s experience working with Martin on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Where the song he extracts from a conversation becomes a clear picture of a person.

Oh yeah? Yeah, for sure. It was.

Can we expect more love songs like this on A.K.A. or was that an anomoly?

Yes! Whether it’s a hip hop song or an R&B mid tempo song or a big pop song like this, they all are kind of love songs. [Laughs]

A.K.A. has a hot album cover. Are you playing a she-devil in that shot?

A she-devil! That’s funny. No, that wasn’t my intention. I was going more for a ’90s Versace supermodel vibe.

That’s not too far off from she-devil. Versace played a lot with themes of dominance and female sexuality in the ’90s, didn’t they?

I guess. That’s one of my favorite fashion eras, anyway; Versace in the ’90s.

JLO_AKA_620(Courtesy of Capitol Music Group)

We’ve heard about tracks from this album with a lot of different producers: Diplo, Detail, DJ Mustard, Max Martin, Harmony — what attracted you to these people? 

When you’re working on an album, you take a journey where all these things happen. We had our Mustard moment, then we had our Diplo moment, then we had our Max Martin moment [laughs]. There was our Harmony moment that was different. You get in there and you explore with them and see what comes out of it. I was lucky enough to work with pretty much everybody that I wanted to work with on this album; I was really spoiled that way this time. Maybe because it’s my 10th album, I was like [talks franticly], “It’s my 10th album, I want to work with you!”

Sia is also a collaborator, did you write together?

She was there in my house, she came over and we spent a few days together. Then she came back again. We would listen to tracks and from there she was like, “What do you want to talk about?” We’d talk for awhile and then she’d start writing. I’d be like, “No no, say this!” And she would. It was a great collaboration. She’s an amazing songwriter and the way she layers her harmonies is so unique. It was great to watch her work.

It sounds like you really opened up to some of your collaborators on this one, was that hard?

I feel like it’s necessary at this point in my career. You can’t make an honest record if you just let people submit songs. You’ve gotta get in there with them and let them know who you are and what you’re about when you’re in that moment. Great writers can channel that.

What was the first thing you thought when you heard you were going to be the Billboard Music Icon Award honoree this year?

“Really?” [laughs] I was flattered, obviously, but I was also floored. It’s a tremendous honor. It feels surreal. Like, “This is my life? Wow. This is awesome. I’ll be there!”


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