From my hotel room on the 51st floor of the Mandarin Oriental in New York, the city’s skyline and famous landmarks – for today, anyway – appear dreary. To the left is an obnoxiously jarring, almost villainous, dark brown skyscraper, one we learn is aptly the Trump International building. (Reports suggest when the Mandarin was erected in 2003, the now-President-albeit-all-time-arrogant-republican ordered a sign be splayed across his hotel reading ‘Our view is better’.) Radio City Music Hall, the location for tonight’s MTV Video Music Awards, is just down the yellow taxi-lined street on 6th. There’s the Lincoln center, the Rockefeller tower, CNN’s broadcast studios… the list goes on. And directly below is Central Park; a bucolic idyll hemmed in by this eclectic metropolis. From this vantage-point, it’s clear the entertainment industry’s history in this city is as dense as the mayor’s borough blueprint.
But cast your eye directly ahead – west to east across Manhattan, if you will – and there, at 432 Park Avenue is the world’s tallest residential tower and the AUD $20.95 million home to singer and actress Jennifer Lopez and retired-Yankee beau Alex Rodriguez. Lopez, 49, is being honoured with the MTV VMA’s Michael Jackson Vanguard Award in a couple of hours, celebrating her two-decade career in the music industry. Staring out the window, it’s hard not to be fooled by the rocks she’s got – Jenny From The Block has done good.
No doubt, the singer is in her apartment right now. Perhaps she’s prepping her primed glam team on the copious amounts of bronzer she’ll indisputably wear on the red carpet. Maybe she’s going through last minute choreography for her performance tonight – the first at the awards show since 2001. And surely her fire moves are responsible for the flames I can see billowing out of a nearby apartment, sirens blazing.
It’s a long way from Castle Hill in The Bronx. Like rapper Cardi B, who has a massive 10 nominations tonight, Lopez grew up in a hard neighbourhood. Bathed in the hum and the fumes of the Cross Bronx Expressway close-by, Lopez lived on Blackrock Avenue with her mum, a Tupperware saleswoman and her dad, a computer technician. “I remember growing up in the Bronx – and my mum and dad will hate me for saying this – but I remember having holes in my shoes, right in the ball of my foot,” she recalled to Extra TV. “[I would be] wearing my sneakers out, wearing my sandals out, having one pair… For that reason, shoes have always been symbolic to me, they mean success and being able to provide for myself and having made it some way.”
Known to many as a wallflower – she would stand to the side of the dance floor at parties as a teenager – an 18-year-old Lopez scored her big break after enrolling in dance school and landing a spot as a “Fly Girl” dancer on the comedy sketch show In Living Colour.
Lopez moved to Los Angeles and starred in a myriad of low-budget films (Money Train with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in 1995 and Jack with Robin Williams in 1996). It was in 1997, however, that she became a household name when her film Anaconda (also starring Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz and Owen Wilson) smashed box office sales. In 1999, Lopez merged her new-found fame with her love of music and released the now iconic track If You Had My Love. The song went platinum and made Lopez and Ricky Martin one of the most influential examples of the growing Latin cultural influence in pop music. That same year, her family sold the house on Blackrock Avenue.
The rest as they say, is history. The boyfriends have come and gone (Ben Affleck, Marc Anthony, Casper Smart, Drake) but the hits remain. Still to this day, Lopez’s Love Don’t Cost A Thing, Dance Again, On The Floor, Waiting For Tonight, Let’s Get Loud and Ain’t It Funny track as streaming hits.
Tonight, in addition to the lifetime achievement award, Lopez is nominated across two categories for her new single Dinero.
Peering out the window to her apartment, Jenny From The Block really is sky-high. Gosh, she can probably even see The Bronx from her bedroom window. To Lopez though, the key to success is never feeling like you’re done. “I think in any career, you just have to really work harder than anybody else,” she told MTV recently. “Honestly, that’s been the secret sauce for me. I just don’t let up. I just keep going and try harder and keep trying to evolve and grow within what I’m doing so I don’t kind of get stale and stagnant. I’m always pushing myself.”
“I never think that I’ve arrived.”