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Selena Gomez Dances Through Familiar Territory on Rare

on January 13, 2020, 12:00am

The Lowdown: Rare is the first album pop star Selena Gomez has released since her public battle with lupus, which left her out of the spotlight for several years. Her 2015 album, Revival, featured a collection of impressive hits like “Same Old Love” and “Good for You”, which finally helped Gomez gain recognition beyond her Disney Channel star status.

The highly anticipated Rare starts out the same way Revival did: a title track that acts as a quiet but impactful self-love anthem, where Gomez realizes her worth through the use of minimal drum kicks and breathy vocals. Much of Rare reflects on lost relationships — both romantic ones, like on the emotional lead single “Lose You to Love Me”, and failed friendships, like “People You Know”, which features an infectious chorus about growing apart.

The Good: To produce her latest album, Gomez enlisted a group of pop royalty, including friend and Grammy-nominated songwriter Julia Michaels and Billie Eilish sibling collaborator Finneas, to create incredibly infectious hooks and melodies that make the album flow perfectly from track to track.

Gomez has never been known for belting out powerhouse vocals. Instead, she quietly delivers memorable dance anthems in an almost talk-singing voice. She commands attention, not with loud, over-the-top choruses, but with impactful and emotional lyrics sung with a sense of vulnerability, like on the aptly named “Vulnerable”, a smooth synth track about letting your guard down.

In-between the raw and emotional tracks are songs that show off new levels of Gomez’s self-assurance. She asserts her confidence on the cheeky track “Ring”, singing, “Yeah, I received your message, all 23/ You know I’m Jordan with it, G-O-A-T,” about screening calls from someone who is supposedly trying to propose. On the club-pop track “Dance Again”, Gomez gives a nod to her emotional side while still maintaining strength: “Vulnerable ain’t easy, believe me, but I go there.” It seems to be a common theme on the album — acknowledging past trauma, but still pushing through and dancing anyway.

One of the album’s highlights is the unexpected collab with Kid Cudi on “A Sweeter Place”, featuring layered vocals over dark, yet cathartic, synths that almost feel other-worldly. It’s one of the only moments on the album where it feels like Gomez stepped out of her comfort zone to deliver something entirely new for her, a song dedicated to finding something good among the bad over dreamy instrumentals. It’s what Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener” should have been.

The Bad: As exciting as Gomez’s album may be, parts of it feel just like a B-side to 2015’s Revival, leaving little room for growth or experimental sound. The album perfectly reflects Revival’s themes and music, but doesn’t go beyond that. It’s not a terrible thing —  when you have something that works pretty well, why change it? But Gomez has the potential to go bigger, which means her next album could be something game-changing. Between Revival and Rare, Gomez released a number of collaborations that hinted at new sounds and show that she is capable of experimentation, which means she has a next-level album in her. She just needs more time to get there.

The Verdict: Gomez’s return is filled with some great pop music, but falls short of what we suspect she’s capable of. She sticks to similar themes as she did on Revival, instead of exploring different sounds as she did with 2018 single “Back to You” and 2017’s “Bad Liar” (which are included on Rare’s deluxe edition). Still, Rare is made up of near pop perfection: catchy songs with fun hooks and dance-y tracks, all with emotionally charged, relatable lyrics that keep her dedicated fanbase coming back.

Essential Tracks: “Cut You Off”, “A Sweeter Place” (feat. Kid Cudi), and “People You Know”

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