You knew it was going to happen--after Jennifer Lopez announced her split from husband Marc Anthony, people would start scouring her album for clues--any clues--of the impending breakup. This is only slightly more useful than numerological analyses of the Bible, but has that ever stopped anyone? Why, the album title's got a question mark at the end, like a scythe! The song "Starting Over" is all about a man who's a "player" and a "dog," and the singer, who is definitely J.Lo herself, has kids and can't leave! Never mind that J.Lo didn't even write "Starting Over"--the proof is undeniable! So says just about everyone. MTV, for instance, even dug up a quote where J.Lo was questioning the true meaning of love! You've gotta read this gotcha quote:
"I'm excited for everyone to hear all of the album, but I think in particular some of the songs like 'What Is Love?,' 'One Love,' 'Run the World,' 'Papi,' 'Starting Over,' especially," she told us at an album-release event in Los Angeles in May. "They all express different moments in love and that's what this album was about. You know, sometimes it's difficult, sometimes it's amazing, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes you just don't know what to do. And I hope that I captured all of that on this album."
There are many differences between saying "They all express different moments in love, and that's what this album is about" and questioning the meaning of love, not to mention saying "This album was inspired by my rocky relationship with Marc Anthony." These differences are known as everything. As it turns out, love is at times overwhelming, difficult and amazing, and anyone who tries to reduce it to one (or three) adjectives is lying or learning. But let's suppose that this quote was J.Lo being cryptic, and that J.Lo's Love? is in fact filled with veiled clues about her impending breakup that are now suddenly obvious. Everyone's so late to them! Instead of looking for clues after the breakup, why not do the useful thing and look for clues about artists' breakups before they happen?
By these standards, we should be really worried about Beyonce--by all indications, happily married to Jay-Z--singing "ain't nobody tell me this is love--you're immune to all my pain" or "you used to be in love, but now you don't care no more!" or--in a single! how public!" "Thank God you blew it; thank God I dodged a bullet." Think Jay ever picked up all his stuff from the box to the left, or that everything he owns could fit into a box? We should ask Russell Brand whether he knew what Katy Perry did last Friday night or that she had a ramshackle bully of an alter ego, not to mention that she expressed more serious misgivings in "Not Like the Movies." We should also probably start hunting for Blake Shelton's dead body but probably shouldn't feel too sorry for him; after all, Miranda Lambert sang "He slapped me and shook me like a rag doll--doesn't that sound like a real man? I'm gonna show him what a little girl's made of: gunpowder and lead." Such a perfect crime--there isn't even a police report, and that Blake Shelton impersonator who's been on live TV and all over the radio is amazing!
There's a classic scam where you tell 10,000 people a stock's going to go up and 10,000 others that it's going to go down. Depending on what happens, you take that half, split them up and repeat the process. Eventually you'll have a couple people who think you're psychic when all you did was play the odds. Then you take their money. (Don't actually do this.) Biographical criticism is like this--it looks impressive when it works, but only because you've left out all the cases where it doesn't. You know what else is on Love? Single "I'm Into You," featuring such harrowing words of relationship troubles as "You got me hooked with your love controller.... I feel lucky like a four-leaf clover. I'm into you." (We never said they were good words.)
How can love songs coexist on the same album as breakup songs? Songwriters--for instance, the dozens employed for Love? have lots of experiences to work from, including current relationships, past relationships, imagined relationships or even nonexistent relationships. For every Taylor Swift who gives map legends of all the exes in her songs--and even she exaggerates--there's Diane Warren, one of the most prolific writers of love ballads who says she's never been in love.
Plenty of breakup albums do exist, and thank God for them. And of course artists write or gravitate toward material that speaks to them. But it's rarely as complicated as pointing to an isolated lyric or song and using it to explain everything about the singer. We don't know Jennifer Lopez's inner feelings; in fact, her persona's always hidden even her outer ones. Even more seemingly forthcoming artists embrace artifice, whether it's Lady Gaga's costumery or Katy Perry's pinup roleplaying or Britney Spears' vocal and personality manipulation. Maybe Lopez will clarify things herself; she probably does associate Love? in some way with her breakup. But that association definitely isn't contained in a question mark.