Even with Puffy's trial looming, some think ''The Wedding Planner'' star may succeed

By Liane Bonin
Updated January 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Lopez: Armando Gallo/Retna

There may not be an All Jennifer Lopez, All The Time channel on your basic cable lineup yet. But just wait: The multimedia star storms record stores Jan. 23 with her new album ”J.Lo,” then arrives in movie theaters three days later with her romantic comedy ”The Wedding Planner.”

To promote both projects, Lopez will be plugging away on ”LIVE with Regis” (Jan. 23), NBC’s ”Tonight Show” (Jan. 25), ”The Late Show” (Jan. 31), the ”Today” show (Feb. 1), and ”Saturday Night Live” (Feb. 10). And you thought that low cut Versace dress was overexposure. ”You work hard, and when it’s time for things to be released you get either very excited or very scared,” says Lopez, 30, who is planning to tour in late summer. ”And right now I’m more excited than anything.”

But the Bronx native has every reason to be a little scared, too. Some of last year’s biggest acts have seen disappointing album sales in 2001, with Ricky Martin’s ”Sound Loaded” slipping to No. 53 on the Billboard Hot 200 after just eight weeks, and recent releases from 98 Degrees, the Wallflowers, and Limp Bizkit falling well short of expectations.

Lopez has more at stake this time artistically as well. ”I wrote seven songs on the album, so this is much more my point of view,” she says, adding that her lyrics explore her feelings about the ups and downs of love. ”Whereas the first album was more experimental because I was really finding my sound, this is exactly what I want to say.”

But Lopez hasn’t had as much control over the glare of the media spotlight. The former Fly Girl has been embroiled in scandals that Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera could never dream of, like being hauled into police custody alongside boyfriend and music mogul Sean ”Puffy” Combs after a November 1999 nightclub shooting. Combs, who faces 15 years in prison if convicted of bribery and gun possession charges, will stand trial on Jan. 23. (Lopez was not charged and is not scheduled to be called as a witness.)

”The media usually wants to write about negative things and your clothes and who you’re seeing,” says Lopez, who refuses to comment on the case on the advice of her lawyers. ”You just hope your work speaks for itself, and since that’s the only thing I have control over, maybe that’s why I work so hard at it.”

Critics are already predicting the hard work may pay off. EW gave the album’s first single, ”Love Don’t Cost A Thing,” a grade of B for its ”bold message” about male hip hoppers (while knocking its ”standard fare booty thump funk”). And Billboard’s director of charts, Geoff Mayfield, suspects ”J.Lo” will blow away her debut album, ”On the 6,” which opened at No. 8 with 111,000 copies sold (the album went on to sell more than 5 million). ”She’s done a lot of the right things,” Mayfield says, noting that all the publicity, both good and bad, has made her a household name. ”And even if she’s not No. 1, it will be a conspicuous debut nonetheless.”

What are the ”right things” Lopez has done? For starters, there’s her top 10 single, which will propel fans into stores. Plus, her timing is good. While moving 1.6 million records, as the Backstreet Boys did in November, can be seen as lackluster during the frenzied Christmas shopping season, the pressure is off in January, when sales numbers return to normal. ”When you have a name artist debut this month, it’s very easy to stand out,” says Mayfield. And while Martin’s ”Sound Loaded” went head to head against major competition (a long awaited Sade album, a Beatles greatest hits disc, and the more bang for your buck ”Now 5” compilation), ”J.Lo”’s only real fight is with boy band O-Town’s self titled album.

And at least one music watcher thinks even Lopez’s outlaw boyfriend may help. ”Good or bad, I think Puffy makes her a little more street, which some could see as a little more legit,” says Casey Keating, program director of San Francisco’s top 40 station KSQZ 95.7. ”Whereas Christina and Britney would never get their fingers as dirty, this relationship makes Jennifer more interesting.”

But if Puffy lands behind bars, she may want to keep her distance. ”On our morning show, a lot of listeners call in to say they think he’s bad for her, and that he’s not going to give her the right image,” Keating says. ”But he’s a great producer, and people see them as fun to gossip about.” At least until Lopez dons another Versace dress.