THE SALSA-FICATION OF MOTOWN: HOW JLO & THE GRAMMYS GOT IT WRONG

Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am a big J-Lo fan from back in the day. Before she was even “Jenny from the block” she was that cute former “fly girl” dancer from the comedy sketch show, “In Living Colour” who would later shed a few pounds, take acting classes and land the role of a lifetime playing the slain Tejano singer, “Selena”.  

Yes, I have been #TeamJLo since day one, and even with every 2-note, hit pop song and often less -than – stellar film choices (what is a Gili?), she could never do wrong in my book. That is, until her tribute to Motown at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

From the moment it was announced that J-Lo would be doing the Grammy Motown Tribute, my eyebrows went up. Not that I in anyway thought mama wouldn’t slay the performance — that’s what she does. She is an amazing performer with her own signature style of dazzling, glittery Vegas showgirl fierceness, fused with the sultry, big-booty spice of the legendary Iris Chacon. That said, those attributes have nothing to do with the definitive attributes that made Motown the most iconic music brand in the world, and therein lies the problem with Jennifer’s tribute.

To begin with, the Grammy’s took place during Black History month, a national time to honor the great accomplishments of African Americans – past and present, so the selection of a non-African American to head the Motown tribute in itself was an insensitive choice. While the academy perhaps sought to honor the label, which was founded by a black man (Berry Gordy) and built upon the excellence of its black performers, the tribute was devoid of any of those representations — until Smokey Robinson made a brief cameo. Incidentally, Smokey Robinson addressed crticis and defended J. Lo’s Motown Tribute at the Grammys, telling Marc Malkin of Variety Magazine,  “Motown is for everybody. Anyone Who Is Upset with J.Lo’s performance is Stupid’.  I guess he was talking to me then.

 

 

As I already stated, Jennifer Lopez is not known to be a vocal powerhouse, and that’s fine. However, vocal perfection was Motown's calling card, launching some of the greatest voices ever in pop music history. So a Motown tribute headlined by a marginal singer makes very little sense. Still, I hung in there with J-Lo through the early part of her performance. I found it quite entertaining as I knew it would be, but I got really annoyed by the end, when girlfriend went full on Telemundo, complete with a shimmery leotard – body suit thingy, and Mambo King reworking of Motown hits. This all had me wondering, “Wait…when did Motown do Salsa?” I thought I had accidentally turned the channel and landed on “Siempre en Domingo” — a Spanish language show that I loved to watch on Sundays, but baby, THAT ain’t Motown.

With so many more on-brand artists who might have been considered for the Motown tribute, my personal pics include Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Beyonce and Bruno Mars who would have turned it out, giving you the moves of Michael and the vocals of Stevie, Smokey, Marvin AND DIANA – all in one.  Somebody clearly dropped the ball here with the talent bookings.

Black Twitter is still seething from this tribute, which in many ways felt like a slight, an insult to the legacy of what African Americans accomplished in music.  It is seen as another white-washing, in the absence of those who should have been more prominently present in the tribute — black people.

In the end though, Berry Gordy looked happy as this memorable (possibly for all the wrong reasons) nod to his legacy was delivered by the one and only sparkly, crystal-sequenced force of nature known as J.Lo. As for me, I'm still a fan but I won’t be fooled by the rocks that she’s got —  that performance put Jenny on the chopping block!

 

 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

About to hit the red carpet… #Grammys

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This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.

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