Jennifer Lopez, Latin Music's Comeback Kid

Some of the hottest artists in Latin music descend on Miami for the annual Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards. All week long, host Michel Martin checks in with Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, co-hosts of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast. Today they discuss a surprising musical comeback for pop superstar Jennifer Lopez.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right now, some of the hottest artists in Latin music are in Miami for the Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards. Those awards celebrate the most popular musicians and business innovators in Latin music. But if you are not an expert in Latin music, do not worry. We have you covered.

Here to guide us are Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, co-hosts of the NPR Music podcast Alt.Latino. They are with us this week to tell us which artists to keep an eye on.

Thank you both so much for joining us once again.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Yesterday, we talked about Pitbull. Who are we going to be talking about today?

GARSD: Well, you can't not talk about Jennifer Lopez this year.

MARTIN: Well, everybody's been talking about her, but not necessarily about her music, you know.

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

GARSD: It's been the year of J-Lo's big comeback. She's nominated, among other things, for Song of the Year and Latin Pop Song of the Year for the song, "Ven a Bailar," "On the Floor," featuring Pitbull.

MARTIN: All right. Here it is. Let's hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE FLOOR")

JENNIFER LOPEZ: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: You know, now, Felix, I remember listening to an interview with Beyonce and she talked about how she and her husband, Jay-Z, have always made it a point to have the conversation about them be about their music, not about their business, not about their personal business.

Now, Jennifer Lopez has been very much in the news, you know, because of her divorce from Marc Anthony, also a top singer, a top player in Latin music, her joining the cast of judges on "American Idol." But the music has not been at the forefront. Why do you think - or do you think that she's successfully bringing the attention back to her music?

CONTRERAS: I think that she's done - the short answer is no. I mean, and I think that what she's done is that she's - like, you can't talk about Jennifer Lopez without talking about everything else; her business ventures, her film, you know, all the other media things that she does. So music is just one aspect of it. That's - you know, that's my perspective on it.

You know, if you listen to the music and listen to what's going on, you know, there isn't anything particularly Latin about it. You know, it's contemporary dance music and that's what's keeping her - I think that's what's keeping her in the public eye, is that she's putting stuff out that - it's not any different than what other people are doing.

MARTIN: But, Jasmine, as you told us earlier, these awards are about what's popular and, clearly, something is resonating. So what do you think it is?

GARSD: Well, I mean, definitely, Jennifer Lopez is a brand. She's not only on "American Idol." She's doing "Q'Viva: The Chosen," with her ex-husband, Marc Anthony. Nobody's - I don't think anyone's watching "American Idol" for Steven Tyler. I might be wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GARSD: An, she's, you know, she has commercials with Gillette, L'Oreal...

MARTIN: Fiat, the carmaker. Fiat.

GARSD: Yes. Fiat 500. But it has been a musically successful year for her. This single that we just listened to debuted at number nine in the Billboard 100. It's her highest debuting hot 100 single of her career.

MARTIN: What do you think is the key, Felix, to Jennifer Lopez's longevity? Is it just that she just works so hard and keeps getting up, no matter how many times she gets knocked down? What do you think it is?

CONTRERAS: I think that there's a lot of that, where she works so hard and not just at music, like I said, but all her other media ventures. You know, and I think that there's a connection to her fans in a lot of ways because the things that she's doing on Fox TV, the music show...

GARSD: "Q'Viva: The Chosen."

CONTRERAS: ...where they go out. It's like a Latin-American "American Idol," where they go out and find artists from all over Latin American to bring them back to the United States. She's scoring a lot of points with the Latin audiences. Part of her success is her personal connection to the fans.

MARTIN: How's the show, by the way, Jasmine? Is it mean? Is there anybody mean on it? Does Marc Anthony play the mean one?

GARSD: No. I think it's a totally different vibe than "American Idol."

CONTRERAS: Yeah, completely.

GARSD: I mean, you also - you get this kind of familiar insight into Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, and it's like they're very - they're like best friends and they tease each other. It's kind of like watching your cousins travel through Latin America. It's a totally different vibe.

MARTIN: Are you sitting there asking yourself, if they get along so well, why are they divorced?

CONTRERAS: Well, you know what?

GARSD: Don't ask Felix. He has a crush on Jennifer Lopez.

MARTIN: Oh, no. Snap. Oh, snap. Like you don't have one on Marc Anthony? I'm sorry.

CONTRERAS: Outed me. Yeah.

MARTIN: Hello, hello.

GARSD: It's true.

MARTIN: Thank you, thank you. My point. My point exactly.

GARSD: I've been revealed.

MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd are the co-hosts of NPR Music's podcast, Alt.Latino. They joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Guys, thanks again.

CONTRERAS: Thanks a lot.

GARSD: It's always so much fun to be here.

MARTIN: And we'll go out on Jennifer Lopez's song titled "Papi."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAPI")

LOPEZ: (Singing) Let all the heat pour down. I'm good as long as he's around. He lets me wear the crown. I do my best to make him proud. Now all my super ladies...

MARTIN: Coming up, at 89 years old, acclaimed sculptor Gerson Frank was finally able to marry his longtime partner, Bill. Their relationship has covered three decades and seen many changes in gay rights, but Gerson never viewed himself as an activist.

GERSON FRANK: I'm happy to say that I never pushed myself. I was never flamboyant and people accepted me as I was and who I am.

MARTIN: Gerson Frank shares his thoughts on love and art in our Wisdom Watch conversation. That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: President Obama says he and the first lady understand the burden of student loans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt.

MARTIN: And so do many students graduating now. With student loan interest rates set to double soon, can a political compromise sooth the pain? And, if not, how can students prepare? We'll talk about that next time on TELL ME MORE.

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