NEW YORK (AP) – While other celebrities have taken pains to keep their public life under wraps, Jennifer Lopez always seemed to relish the white-hot spotlight.

Whether she was frolicking with Ben Affleck in a music video, wearing a barely there outfit to drive the paparazzi wild or gushing about her latest love in a magazine, Lopez was willing to let the public share in her private life.

“I grew up in New York and was very out there and outgoing. One of my main things was I’m not going to let this business change me, you know what I mean?” explains the Bronx-bred Lopez, 34. “That was always one of my mantras.”

Today, though, as Lopez promotes her fashion line and new album, “Rebirth,” she’s sticking by a new mantra – keep her private life private. It took her eight months to finally acknowledge her June wedding to singer-actor Marc Anthony, and she still won’t talk about it. Instead, Lopez is trying to put the focus back on her career.

“I don’t want to talk about anything that is personal or private at all, because what’s the use? You’re open with people, and then they try and make a soap opera out of your life,” Lopez said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Then it’s not about your work anymore, it’s not about the movie you’re promoting or the record you hope your fans will enjoy, it becomes about other silly stuff and it’s damaging. It’s damaging not just to your career, but your person.”

For a while, Lopez’s stardom seemed to grow in tandem with her tabloid persona. She sold millions of albums, had No. 1 hits and enjoyed box-office success with movies such as “Maid in Manhattan” as the public became more interested in J.Lo, or Jenny From the Block – the woman dating and breaking up with P. Diddy, embarking on another quickie marriage or setting fashion trends with her awards show attire.

But her image started to suffer in 2003, when Lopez was in the midst of a very public romance with Affleck – the “Bennifer” pairing was that year’s Brad-and-Jen frenzy. The couple’s overexposure, followed by the and the release of their bomb “Gigli,” drew both more scorn than anything. Though the couple split and Lopez later married Anthony – her third husband – the sting from the tabloid attention still lingers.

“I think it got really loud for a minute for me, and it became not about my work anymore. And the reason why I was in the public eye to begin with is because I was in movies, I was making records,” she said. “And all of the sudden it wasn’t anything about that. And I didn’t want it to be about anything else but that.”

So Lopez took a six-month break from Hollywood last year to regroup.

“For me, what it was it was about kind of being alone, and thinking, and realizing that for me it was really a time for me to realize why I was in the business in the first place,” she said. “How do I keep the focus there, and still maintain my life and the privacy of myself?”

Lopez – who has released five movies and three albums in the past three years – also felt like she was jamming out projects instead of spending time to reflect on what was right for her.

Lopez made sure her fourth studio album, “Rebirth,” didn’t suffer from those circumstances. The star spent several months on it and had a greater role in its production – which boosted her confidence.

“I think musically, the first time I made an album, I had never even been in a studio, or behind a mike before. The first time I ever sang live was at Madison Square Garden,” she laughed. “You develop this insecurity, and then kind of have to build yourself back up.

“I’ve become more confident as a musician and as a co-producer and as a vocalist, whereas before I was a little more insecure, and kind of so worried about people criticizing me for this or that or whatever.”

Lopez has taken her share of criticism over the years – from her feather-light voice to even her acting abilities. But Rich Harrison, who produced Lopez’s new hit “Get Right,” said the hits Lopez have taken has only made her stronger as an artist.

“She knows what people tend to say about her and it makes her work so much harder, that much harder in the studio,” he said. “She’s not satisfied until it feels right, until it feels good.”

And Lopez is happy with “Rebirth.” It incorporates the hip-hop/dance vibe that’s garnered her so much success over the years, but also blends in other genres, including ‘80s pop-rock. Lopez calls it a more risky album.

“It’s not so safe as my other ones were,” she said. “These are things that are a little funkier, a little deeper, and yet still danceable in a way.”

She’s still willing to take risks with her career. But as far as her personal life – she’s playing it safe.

“I used to be the kind of person who would talk about a lot of things, but as I’ve matured I’ve realized that’s not the best way to go,” she said. “You have to set boundaries … you have to protect what’s sacred to you.”

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