Jennifer Lopez’s Canceled Tour, and Society’s Twisted Pleasure in Seeing Strong Women Fail

For a variety of reasons, one of the biggest stories in entertainment this year has been the precarious state of Jennifer Lopez’s “This Is Me… Now” tour, which was finally put out of its misery yesterday.

The tour, announced in February, came as part of “This Is Me… Now,” a massive, self-celebrating and honestly rather hubristic album/ tour/ two-film project essentially about herself and her romantic reunion with actor Ben Affleck. The films did reasonably well but the album landed with a thud, and before long word crept out that ticket sales for the tour were poor, borne out by Ticketmaster seating charts — which, along with insider reports and rumors, are really the only way for most humans to see how a tour is selling.

As the reports continued, Lopez quietly rebranded the tour to be more about her career’s substantial hits than the new album, and tickets were selling well in a few markets — but terribly in most of them. And yesterday, on a beautiful Spring Friday — which is the ideal time to break embarrassing news — the shoe finally dropped: The tour had been canceled so that she could spend more time with family and friends. No reason for this need was officially stated (“more time with family” is usually what politicians or CEOs say when they’re stepping down from their posts for other, much more embarrassing reasons), but the tabloids were quick to connect it with reports that she and Affleck are splitting. Sources close to the singer were quick to insist how well the tour was doing in markets like New York and Los Angeles, while avoiding how disastrously it was apparently doing in most others.

Just a few days earlier, another major act canceled their own overly ambitious North American tour that was scheduled to hit many of the same arenas that J-Lo’s was — the male rock duo the Black Keys. After that news broke, people asked what that said about the state of the touring business.

But when J. Lo canceled her tour just days later, people asked what it says about her.

“Didn’t she know she had a family when she made tour plans?” one online commentator wrote. “She’s ‘heartsick’ because she couldn’t sell those tickets,” another said. “‘Family’ is a easy go-to for liars”; “Further proof that her marriage is a publicity stunt,” etc.

As a society, why do we do that?

Broadly speaking, the reasons for both cancellations are the same: An artist past their commercial prime makes an overly optimistic projection about the response to their new project, gets it wrong, and pays the price — as do their partners in the enterprise, from promoters and venues down to dancers and truck drivers, because it takes a village to put on a tour of that size, and literally hundreds of people’s livelihoods are affected by those cancelations (which is something conveniently forgotten in the thinly veiled glee much of the public seems to take in such missteps).

Granted, the pop audience that J-Lo is targeting is very different from the more-loyal, less-fickle rock fans the Black Keys were aiming at. The pop world that J-Lo inhabits has the attention span of a smart fish and is infamously unforgiving of perceived transgressions, which can span from intentional factors — like a romantic partner who fans decide they don’t like — to unintended ones like, say, a multifaceted, self-absorbed autobiographical project by someone who famously is not the world’s kindest or most gracious superstar. For all her Bronx toughness and swagger, J-Lo has always been a pop artist and she knows that game and everything that comes with it.

 

But fame and power put people at a remove from reality, and it’s ultimately irrelevant whether everyone in her orbit also thought all this project and tour were a great idea, or whether no one dared to say, “Hey, after the disastrous failure of ‘Gigli’” — the dreadful 2003 Affleck-Lopez film that not only destroyed the pair as a commercial property, but also helped tank the first era of their relationship — “maybe reviving Bennifer as a commercial enterprise isn’t a great idea?” The end result was the same: a canceled tour and a stiff album. Artists make similar miscalculations every year.

 

Yet the online venom and hateration that has surrounded the failure of this enterprise has been epic in scale. The term schadenfreude — a combination of the German nouns Schaden, meaning “damage” or “harm,” and Freude, meaning “joy,” per Merriam-Webster — means taking pleasure, often illogical pleasure, in others’ misfortune. And while men certainly are the victims of it — does anyone remember Martin Shkreli and his unusually punchable face? — society certainly seems to reserve the worst of its venom for powerful, successful, talented women.

It’s a matter of public record that women’s rights are under ferocious attack, from Iran, Afghanistan and Russia to the United States and our arguably corrupt Supreme Court, multiple state governments and even Benedictine College’s commencement. But the hate isn’t coming exclusively from men. At a certain point, we decide we don’t like a public figure anymore without really knowing — or at least without consciously thinking about — why.

Why do we do this to women so often? Is it because the fairer, weaker sex (sarcasm hopefully obvious) makes an easier target? Is it because we somehow resent the fact that women gave all of us life? Is it because science continues to prove that women are actually stronger than men in nearly every way except (usually) physical strength, and there’s some desire for control and putting strong women “in their place”?

Except subconsciously, it’s probably not that deep. Sometimes we just don’t like or get tired of someone’s face (cf. Shkreli, who never had a chance), sometimes we resent their success, sometimes we also resent their happiness, or at least their seeming flaunting of it. In the wider public eye, J-Lo seems to have run afoul of the latter two, and the rumors that she and Affleck may be separating after less than two years of marriage seem an almost inevitable final act before a (probably equally inevitable) redemption chapter, after everyone finally realizes how unfair they were (cf. Britney Spears).

This is a road that Beyonce also went down at the peak of her career. She (apparently) shared the challenges that her own marriage was facing — and intensified her already-deep connection with her audience — in the lyrics of her galvanizing “Lemonade” album and tour… but then made a sort of happy-ending follow-up with her 2018 duet album with husband Jay-Z, “Everything Is Love,” which landed well initially but in retrospect is self-indulgent, treacly and awkwardly self-congratulatory: It’s just hard to have much empathy for two near-billionaires singing about how difficult it was coming through the fire. Their ruling status — and the fact that people are genuinely afraid of their fanbases — enabled them to dodge the storm that usually follows such hubris.

J-Lo, as we’re seeing, hasn’t dodged those bullets. At 54, she’s at a tricky point in a pop star career: Hit singles for artists at that age are as rare as Bigfoot sightings — Cher’s “Believe” and Kylie Minogue’s “Padam Padam,” the two main examples that come to mind, were released more than a quarter-century apart — and only generationally defining stars with enormous catalogs of hits, like Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel can tour arenas into retirement age. What’s missing from that category? Women. Most of the top-grossing female touring artists — Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Pink — are under 45. The only one who isn’t, Madonna, at 65 played to some middling audiences on her just-completed, mostly triumphant “Celebration” tour. She’s weathered all of the above storms — and then some — and come out on top, but it’s taken hurricane-force, once-in-a-generation level of determination (and probably has taken quite a personal toll as well).

It’s hard not to imagine that some troll-like people wake up every day, reach for their phones and just pray for video footage of Taylor Swift — the world’s most successful and ubiquitous entertainer of any gender — faceplanting in mid-strut on the stage of a sold-out stadium on her ongoing, multimillion-dollar-reaping “Eras” tour, hoping for the twisted satisfaction of seeing her leggy, leviathan-like, six-foot-six-with-heels frame taking a spill, just like a normal person. Why? Because it shows she’s not perfect? Because we’re sick of her success and resent her happiness? Or does it somehow make us feel better about our own failures — and what does that say about us?

Variety pursued the reports of J. Lo’s poor ticket sales aggressively, not for reasons of schadenfreude but because such stories are important in our corner of the media world, and it’s a sad fact of our business that bad news gets a lot more clicks than good news. Her fans swarmed on us, which comes with the turf, but the stories were hugely successful. As it does every time schadenfreude piles up on a female public figure, I was reminded of something: During the heyday of Lena Dunham’s TV series “Girls,” there was a video meme — or whatever passed for a meme in 2012 — of young women making comical, snarky opinions about show, with one of them saying, “I’ve never seen it… but I think I don’t like it.”

It was a joke, but still, that statement seems like a sadly perfect distillation of the amount of thought, let alone logic, that goes into the kind of hateration that J. Lo and so many other female public figures are receiving right now. It’s also not hard to imagine that syndrome playing a major role in many other successful women being brought down a peg after a majority of people decide they just don’t like her, not least the defeat of Hillary Clinton by her unapologetically misogynist opponent in 2016.

J. Lo is a great artist and she will be fine, and she’s clearly tough enough to weather all of this. But why should she have to? There’s obviously more going on here than just a canceled tour, and it does make one wonder whether the guilty pleasure of schadenfreude and our role in furthering it is a problem that goes beyond a few “harmless” clicks.

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