chasing ben

An Official Taxonomy of the Bennifer Iconography

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Best Image/BACKGRID and Jennifer Lopez/YouTube

You’re asking me about my theories? I’ve waited years months for someone to ask me about my theories. Since the dawn of Bennifer (2021), for us longtime viewers, the music videos, the films, even the viral photos, have been the heartbeat of this love story. Everything they do is a callback or foreshadowing. So, while it’s exciting and new, the familiarity is what has the world transfixed. In part, it’s also why we can stomach such lavish displays of wealth, love, and unabashed joy right now. Bennifer comes with a canon of motifs and symbols our pattern-seeking minds can’t help but find in their reunion: balconies, robes, small gifts, and plaid shirts somehow all tie back to the celebrity romance to challenge all celebrity romances. It’s like watching for Easter eggs in a highly anticipated reboot, back when reboots were something we anticipated highly. Anyone with a respectable dose of pessimism has questioned whether or not Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have genuinely reunited or if this one expensive long con, citing all the uncanny similarities to their original romance. Except the truth doesn’t actually affect the way we’re obsessing. (Were SZA and Kehlani actually dating that one night Twitter really wanted them to be? Who cares! Did Kylie Jenner’s spoiler-y nails actually lead to TikTok predicting her second pregnancy. Yes! And again, irrelevant to the fun! The theories will persist.)

As fans, we’re often deprived of the intimate parts of a celebrity relationship, the scenes in movies where the music swells and for a moment, the love between two actors feels believable. So we find them in the little things: a watch from 2002, a necklace that spells “Ben,” and so much more. Find them below in this official taxonomy of Bennifer iconography (original and the reboot), starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck.

The Music

“I’m Glad”

“Jenny From the Block” is indisputably the visual most people associate with Bennifer, more so than any film they ever did together. It was the first single from her third studio album, This Is Me … Then, which dropped on November 25, 2002, three weeks after their engagement announcement; the album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with help from the video. But J.Lo wanted to move away from the hip-hop hits she was known for with this album and released “I’m Glad,” her love letter to Affleck, as the album’s third single. Instead of casting Affleck again, director David LaChapelle had J.Lo re-create Flashdance for the music video. Like Jennifer Beals’s white-coded character, who infiltrates the competitive world of ballet by getting into breakdancing, J.Lo hip-hopped her way into mainstream stardom. We’ll never know if Alex Owens got into the ballet conservatory, but J.Lo does get her prize. Shedding “la negrita del Bronx,” as she referred to herself just last year, is a defining characteristic of this era. It’s what allowed her to become the crossover superstar she is today. And it started with Affleck playing “I’m Glad” as he proposed to her. “Twenty years from now, if I give this [album] to one of my kids, I’ll be like, ‘This was me then, at that moment,’” she told MTV at the time. Lopez never performed the song live. That is, until Global Citizen in September 2021. Dedicated fans had noticed her live band practicing it months prior; for its live debut, she wowed with Flashdance-inspired choreography. “Just a little love song,” she told the crowd.

“Jenny From the Block”

Since the reunion, everything reminds fans of the “Jenny From the Block” music video. Sure, maybe they just love balconies. But there’s almost enough Bennifer footage snapped by paparazzi this year to edit together a 2021 remake, ass grab and all. Actual paps caught Affleck’s hand resting on J.Lo’s insurance-worthy butt while they relaxed on a yacht this summer, almost identically to the music video. Theories that the supercouple are re-creating the video span all possibilities, regardless of whether or not the relationship is real. But, frankly, logistically speaking, why go to all the trouble when a single glimpse of Bennifer riding in a car together conjures up the music video in fans’ minds?

“The One”

Big surprise. The fourth track on the album is also a Ben Affleck love song. “The One” lists just about every reason J.Lo will “always be” be his girl:

“The one put her arms around you / The one who lays her head beside you (Your girl) / The one who listens when you need it (Your girl) / When no one else is, I could see it (Your girl) / The one who knows when it’s under control / The one who knows your favorite song (Your girl) / The one you want when you’re feeling lost / The one you place no one above (I wanna be your girl) / The one who’s true to you and down for you / The one who makes you smile and laughs with you / The one who holds you down, I’m there for you.”

Easy to see how J.Lo might have manifested herself a rebound two decades in the making. “The One” also encapsulates some of her early branding struggles: An alternate version of the song (“Version 2” came out as a bonus track on the main album) was used for a Trackmasters remix featuring Nas that was serviced to urban radio, and a separate Bastone & Burnz mix was sent to dance radio upon release.

“Dear Ben”

Originally titled “Perfect,” Lopez reportedly changed the name of this love song to “Dear Ben” the day before This Is Me … Then went to print, making it obvious who she’s simping for. “I write this song to let you know / That you will always be to me,” she sings. “My lust, my love, my man, my child, my friend, and my king.” (Girl, what???) It’s a rare J.Lo track where someone else is the object of desire. She gets to indulge in her “fantasy” instead of being someone else’s. To fans, the starry-eyed ode to Affleck represents how head over heels Lopez was, helping to explain their gravitational pull back to one another all these years later, despite ex-A-Rod’s constant presence.

The Quotes

Compliments

Ben on Jen:
“People were so fucking mean about her — sexist, racist. Ugly, vicious shit was written about her in ways that if you wrote it now, you would literally be fired for saying those things you said,” he said on THR’s Awards Chatter podcast this January. “Now it’s like, she’s lionized and respected for the work she did, where she came from, what she accomplished — as well she fucking should be!”

“I thought I had a good work ethic, but I was completely humbled and blown away by what she was committed to doing day in and day out, the seriousness in which she took her work, the quiet and dedicated way she went about accomplishing her goals, and then how she would go back and redouble her efforts,” he was quoted for her May 2021 InStyle cover. “She remains, to this day, the hardest-working person I’ve come across in this business.”

Jen on Ben:
“Ben is funny!” Lopez told InStyle. “He still looks pretty good, too.”

Jen on Ben’s back tattoo:
“It’s awful!” she, well, admittedly did not compliment him, on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen five years ago. “It has too many colors. His tattoos always had too many colors.”

Foreshadowing

“I would do it all over again, I think. I really would — even the relationship part,” Lopez said back in 2016. “I just feel like everything is part of your story and your journey and is meant to be and helps you grow if you’re willing to look at it, and I’m willing to look.”

“I think different time, different thing, who knows what could’ve happened, but there was a genuine love there,” Lopez also said that year.

“She’s the real thing,” he told the New York Times in 2020. “I keep in touch periodically with her and have a lot of respect for her.”

The Gifts

The Ring

When Ben Affleck proposed to Jennifer Lopez in his childhood home, decorated with flowers by him and his mom, the bride-that-wouldn’t-be was too distracted by the pink diamond ring in his hands to respond. “So many candles, and vases, bouquets. And my song ‘Glad’ was playing … I walk in and I was just, like, overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting it, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’” she recalled in their infamous interview with Diane Sawyer, confirming the engagement. The public had a similar reaction. Two weeks before they shared the secret with the world, Lopez appeared on MTV wearing the “big pink rock,” and it was all anyone could talk about. “While no engagement announcement has been made, Affleck has given Lopez a pink diamond big enough to make Baby from Cash Money drop his jaw,” MTV wrote about the interview. The ring, a 6.1-karat pink diamond from Harry Winston that Affleck paid $1.2 million for at the time, became the love story, glinting so strongly in every photo it seems it only reflected the public’s narrative.

The ring itself sparked a trend toward colored diamonds that persists, although the world’s largest colored-diamond mine stopped production this year. According to “Page Six”’s gem experts, the ring would now be worth between $4 million and $11 million, considering the market and sheer size of Lopez’s diamond. So it’s a good thing she kept it, right? While sources for Affleck say he never asked for it back, in 2004, right before their film Jersey Girl bombed at the box office, ABC News reports that J.Lo planned on returning the ring for “closure.” However, her former publicist Robert Shuter said, as far as he knew, “Jen has never returned the ring.” The ring is almost more conspicuous in its absence from the Bennifer reunion, like Chekhov’s gun waiting to fire. If the relationship is for the cameras, wouldn’t they want to capitalize on it? Or are they saving the rock for an internet-breaking reveal, whether it be an engagement or a “Jenny From the Block 2”? In the meantime, the couple has bedazzled their paparazzi photos with many other nostalgia-inducing gifts.

The Watch

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Bellocqimages/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images and Jennifer Lopez/YouTube

It’s not the items themselves — they can be any material item money can buy. It’s that they’re gifts. Thanks to the ever-vigilant paparazzi, we get both the presentation of the gift and we get to see them wearing it. It started with “Jenny From the Block,” in which J.Lo gifts her movie-star beau a silver Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex on a Chrome Hearts bracelet. The watch’s identity was a mystery until it reappeared on Ben Affeck’s wrist 19 years later, prompting an investigation by Hodinkee. The watch signaled the return of Bennifer before they went Instagram official, with fans swooning at the thought that he kept it all this time. Before there was The Ring, there was The Watch.

Necklaces

Tabloids this time around latched onto Bennifer’s gifts for one another —especially given that their reunion peaked during their shared-birthday Leo season — feeding fans a steady runway of Bennifer paraphernalia. For her birthday, Affleck got Lopez a $45,000 necklace that links together several chains for layers of charms reportedly symbolizing their love with keys, hearts, and precious stones. It was the centerpiece of her Instagram post confirming their reunion: Three photos of her modeling the necklace and one of them kissing. As photos of her wearing the piece became entire blog posts across the internet, she switched to a necklace spelling “BEN” — about as literal a representation of the honeymoon stage as it gets. For Affleck’s birthday, J.Lo and her 13-year-old daughter, Emme, got matching birth flower necklaces for themselves and Affleck’s two daughters with ex-wife Jennifer Garner, Violet, 15, and Seraphina, 12. The kids, including Emme’s twin, Max, whom J.Lo shares with ex-husband Marc Anthony, as well as Affleck’s 9-year-old son with Garner, Samuel, are welcomed into the narrative via Bennifer’s defining love language, gift-giving. Where J.Lo’s birthday present reestablished them as not just a couple, but a hot one, too, Affleck’s introduced their blended family dynamic, giving fans the prospect of this relationship going long term.

The Candids

Paparazzi

The constant paparazzi updates have fans making side-by-side comparisons of photos from the 2000s, romanticizing them like two co-stars. Some things never change, like the way they linger while saying good-bye and their need for a balcony in each destination. But J.Lo is playing into it, too. Her Instagram has “liked” countless Bennifer posts from the many fan accounts she follows. Fans also caught her with a paparazzi photo of them on her lockscreen and a framed old photo of them on Affleck’s motorcycle in the background of a post. Can something be staged when the world is your stage? Would we even care otherwise?

Red Carpets

Photo: Getty Images

We got a master class in red-carpet posing when Bennifer blessed the waters at Venice Film Festival earlier this year. Not only did we get them making out on a taxi boat and forcing Matt Damon to third wheel, we got their 2021 red-carpet debut at the premiere of Affleck’s The Last Duel. Carpets have been their go-to outing since their first debut at Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan premiere, preferring those over any kind of awards show. Posing in front of cameras 20 years later, they still hit their familiar cues — Lopez tucked under his arm, Ben leaning down for a forehead kiss. Despite the cameras on carpets, their glamour comes off as natural.

Yachts

Bennifer loves boats. Yachts especially are the pinnacle of wealth and disconnect, the latter Bennifer has never really been able to achieve. When the audience invades the yacht scene in “Jenny From the Block” — you know, as Ben Affleck rubs J.Lo’s butt — suddenly it’s about our relationship with the couple, not about them. They remain unaware, if unbothered about giving fans exactly what they want. They are, in that scene, both in control and at the public’s mercy, the most realized version of celebrity. Who wouldn’t chase that high, just to feel it one more time? Their re-creation on J.Lo’s birthday, whether intentional or not, represents the way their relationship with the public eye has grown in 20 years. In “Jenny From the Block,” they weren’t bothered by the paparazzi, not the way they were when they decided to call their wedding off in 2003. Now, they’re even more indulgent despite knowing there are cameras. Bennifer’s extravagance, not just the money they spend on each other but their full absorption in Bennifer, is what sets them apart from other celebrity couples of the moment. Anything they tried to promote — a “Jenny From the Block” re-creation, a new movie, even an entire new album — wouldn’t compare to how compelling it is to piece together our own little narratives, find patterns, and ask ourselves over and over if we believe in love, regardless if theirs is to be believed.

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An Official Taxonomy of the Bennifer Iconography