Selena Gomez’s second album with Interscope Records looked like it would first arrive two years ago. Starting in the summer of 2017, almost two years after the release of her last album “Revival,” Gomez released a string of singles, such as “It Ain’t Me” and “Bad Liar,” that appeared to be building to something.
But a long-form project never coalesced. There was little promo for the tracks, and they all performed well, but not to the heights that “Revival” had. Gomez continued to dip her toe into the music world every couple months for the next two years, releasing a single for the Netflix show she produces and appearing on big collaborations for DJ Snake and J Balvin. But mostly, she stayed quiet.
A lot can happen to a person over the course of four years. And when you live in the public eye the breakups, make-ups, changes, tribulations and even just the outfits are well documented. Your highs and lows are on display for everyone.
Selena Gomez is keenly aware of this. Once the most followed person on Instagram and half of one of the most talked-about relationships on the planet, Gomez has faced more than her fair share of public scrutiny. And for the four years between her albums “Revival” and “Rare,” Gomez faced emotional trials along with life-altering health struggles.
Gomez revealed she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder, in 2015. Complications from the disorder caused her to need a kidney transplant in 2017 and have deeply affected her mental health. Despite mostly stepping out of the spotlight during this time, every move she made was still breathlessly covered by the press.
On her new album “Rare,” Gomez shares her side of the story. It is an honest and reflective album that shows a huge amount of growth for Gomez as an artist and as a person.
“Rare” is a straight forward pop album. It doesn’t take the listener on a deeper journey, and every song can stand alone. Like her past albums “Revival” and “Stars Dance,” the album explores various subgenres throughout its tracks. It is sonically diverse, but never strays too far from a center just left of mainstream.
“Lose You to Love Me” is the only ballad on the album. As the lead single, it was an odd choice. There are more obvious easy radio hits on the project, including “Look at Her Now” which was released the next day as a promotional track, but the track ended up being Gomez’s first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is produced with a captivating atmosphere, and the lyrics are relatable for many.
“Lose You to Love Me” is one of Gomez’s strongest vocal performances in recent memory. The late album track “Crowded Room,” a collaboration with 6lack shows off an assured falsetto range that is not present anywhere in her catalog.
The title track, “Rare,” opens the album. The track is about feeling a romantic partner has grown apathetic. Gomez is stating quite simply that she expects to be treated better. “I don’t have it all / I’m not claiming to / But I know that I’m special,” Gomez croons in the chorus. Gomez has learned her worth and is embracing a new sense of confidence.
This sentiment is echoed on the track “Vulnerable.” The song feels trite at first, but further listens pull you deeper into the lyrics and the spacey groove of the sonic palette. Co-written and produced by Jon Bellion, the song explains to a potential significant other that Gomez is willing to reveal all of herself. She is willing to “show all of her demons,” but she expects the other person to reciprocate.
Tracks like “Dance Again” and “Let Me Get Me” embrace finding yourself after emerging from the dark times. These tracks impart her wisdom gained from her own experience and explore the connection between her physical being and her mentality. “I kickstart the rhythm / all the drama’s in remission / no I don’t need permission” she sings in the pre-chorus of “Dance Again.” There is an intoxicating sense of power and freedom within these tracks.
“I think I was really kind of hurting, and I think that prevented me from doing a lot more creatively,” Gomez said when talking about the long gap between her albums to Beats 1. When listening to the album, this concept is perceptible. While the songs are dealing with her struggles in a very real way, the songs have a certain levity that can only happen when you have healed from the wounds.
“Rare” is an interesting contrast to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” in this way. Grande created her album in the midst of her trauma. The emotions were visceral and honest, and the more frivolous tracks had a sense of escapism and denial.
“Rare” is no less honest than Grande’s work, but it is approaching the material with distance. Gomez seems to have found a sense of healing and acceptance in respect to what happened. And she’s looking forward, not backward.
As a result, the songs are not as deep, and sometimes that is a detriment. “People You Know” is one of those tracks. It lacks a sense of detail to cement the song emotionally. Instead, it relies on vague metaphors and a repetitive hook.
Part of this lack of detail though can be attributed to the fact that through the media, it is already obvious who these tracks are about. Any little details that Gomez drops into her lyrics — “Gotta chop-chop all the extra weight I’ve been carrying for 1460 days” from the penultimate track “Cut You Off — are morsels that give just enough context, but not enough to inspire a hundred speculating think pieces.
The album’s closing track, “Sweeter Place,” is the album’s standout. It is the most experimental production-wise, and the melodies stick in your brain.
The Kid Cudi collaboration asks all the questions presented throughout the album, and in a way also answers all its questions. At the beginning of the hook, Gomez questions “Is there a place where I can hide away?” And by the middle of the same hook, she has deduced that “There must be a sweeter place.”
This place is where Gomez is and where she is headed. She is moving onward and upward from a tumultuous period in her life with refined confidence and a renewed sense of self.