This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Jennifer Lopez has a new project out, and it is my religious obligation to histrionically champion it.
The thing about Halftime, the Netflix documentary about her career centered around her incredible last few years of success, is that it doesn’t make me work hard to do that. It’s a damn good documentary, and it makes a damn good point: We don’t appreciate Jennifer Lopez's talent enough.
For whatever reason—her tabloid celebrity, dismissal of the rom-com genre, latent misogyny—it’s been discounted. Call it narcissism or call it empowerment, now she’s demanding the credit that she’s long deserved. It’s fascinating to see her be so vulnerable and candid about it…and then see raw footage of her working harder than should be humanly possible and absolutely slaying it in order to back it all up.
J. Lo has, for as long as I can remember, been an icon. It’s about time we also think of her as a talent.
Halftime, as its title suggests, spotlights the arduous creative process behind Lopez’s explosive 2020 Super Bowl halftime performance with Shakira, with the accolades and awards buzz she received for her performance in Hustlers serving as not so much a parallel storyline, but a victory lap. Any good documentary, of course, needs dramatic tension, and Halftime sets a compelling narrative: Both triumphs were rife with struggle.
Being asked to share the Super Bowl bill was considered a slight. “It was an insult to say that you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done,” her longtime manager Benny Medina says.
And the Hustlers praise reopened old wounds from the insults she had received for her acting over the years, and, of course, ended in heartbreak: The Oscar nomination she was told by the entire world was a shoo-in to receive didn’t happen. Watching that take place all over again is a wrenching experience. (I almost had to turn off the film when the timeline approached nomination morning, it was so upsetting to relive.)
Naturally, the documentary features a checklist of all her history-making achievements: Breaking barriers for Latina actresses with her $1 million quote, proving wrong all those who said “huh?” when she announced she wanted to be a recording artist in addition to acting, and, at one point, having the number one film and record at the same time.
But it cuts all of those superlatives with the cruelty she had been on the receiving end of, in spite of the fact that she was a blockbuster movie star: The way that the attention paid to her personal life and diva rumors overshadowed her career. How the cultural obsession with her curves ended up defining her: “It’s hard when people think you’re a joke. Think you’re a punchline.” And how all of that coalesced into an assumption that, whether it was her singing voice or action chops, she has no talent. She was merely famous. “I believed a lot of what they said, which is that I wasn’t very good,” she says in the film.
It should come as no surprise that Halftime leaves no question that she is, in fact, extremely good. Watching her film Hustlers is spellbinding, and a sequence showing her rehearsing for the Super Bowl that’s set to her song “On the Floor” is so transfixing and astonishing that I didn’t even realize I was moved to tears while watching it. (Who wants to guess how many times I cried while watching a documentary about Jennifer Lopez?)
Sure, Halftime is a PR piece. But sometimes you have to correct the record.
Granted, I’m already an unapologetic J. Lo fan. (I don’t not own her Glo face serum because I once watched an Instagram video of her demonstrating how to apply it while drunk and purchased several bottles.) But I can’t imagine watching this film and, if you were a skeptic or one of the people who had contributed to that career-long diminishing of her talent, walking away without a newfound appreciation for her.
For people like me? Well, it just enables our exaltation and amplifies it to insufferable levels. Who cares about R8? Cute of Beyoncé to announce that new album now. (This is blasphemous, and I confess my sins. Everyone knows a Holy Trinity needs three cross points. In the name of the Beyoncé, the Rihanna, and the Holy J. Lo, Amen.)
My favorite part of the documentary is when she talks with remarkable honesty about her feelings being asked to share the Super Bowl gig with Shakira. It’s important to note that she never slights Shakira. But on principle, it’s another example of her being undervalued.
Yet another through line of Halftime is a recognition that, at this point in her career and life—she turned 50 when all of this was going on—things seemed to fall into place for her in unexpected, yet correct ways.
The double bill really worked. Which has me thinking, who next? Mariah Carey and Céline Dion. Pink and Kelly Clarkson. Brandi Carlisle and Dolly Parton. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Olivia Rodrigo and Alanis Morissette. Ariana Grande and Kristin Chenoweth. Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Brandy and Monica. Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore (but they only sing Britney Spears songs). Vanessa Hudgens, Stockard Channing, and Rosie O’Donnell, the All-Rizzo Edition. Nicole Scherzinger and Jessie J, the Why Only Making Hits in the U.K. edition. Dear GOD, no men though. (I could do this exercise for weeks, and it would be the most enjoyable time of my life.)
There’s something that really struck me about all of this, albeit taken with a Costco-sized container of salt, as this is an incredibly famous and rich person that a plebeian like me is attempting to relate to. We all—or at least me and J. Lo—are working really hard. We’re spending the time and doing the work. But out of the corner of our eyes, we see the other people. They’re happy. Sometimes, so happy. They’re getting the things we want. They have it figured it out: how to get the thing that you always strived for, that thing you have long since given up on happening for yourself. Why them and not me? Why not Kevin, or…um, for the sake of this metaphor…J. Lo?
I’m not being glib. It’s an emotional thing, to assume you’re not going to receive the happiness, let alone the validation, worthy of what you put out into the world, and then to have to convince yourself to be OK with that. Something powerful happens in Halftime. She never stopped doing the work, but she had stopped the delusion she was going to get that. Then, lo and behold, she does (Oscar snub aside).
It’s a gorgeous and inspiring testament to that work. To that tenacity. To the armor you have to put up to weather the digs and the judgment, to stay inspired in spite of the failures, and continue to think you deserve to be seen for your greatness even if, at times, you’re the only one who does. Maybe, and dare I say probably, one day it will come around. Others will see it, too. And as Halftime proves, there’s nothing wrong with demanding that they do.