Selena Gomez is quite an anomaly in pop music. After four years since the release of her last studio album Revival, Gomez had all but disappeared professionally as her personal life seemed to swallow her whole. A lupus diagnosis, rocky relationships (both romantic and otherwise), Gomez seemed extremely unsure of herself, evidenced strongly by the plethora of different genres that she dipped her toes into across the numerous stand-alone singles released randomly across the four years since Revival. On Rare, Gomez returns triumphant and sure, proving that slow and steady truly does win the race.
The album’s two singles ‘Lose You to Love Me’ and ‘Look at Her Now’ showed two very different sides of the same coin. The former, Gomez’ first number one in the US, a towering ballad about finding oneself in the face of heart-breaking turmoil, and the latter, a stuttering dance track showing a heart rebuilt. Both some of Gomez’ finest work, the only question was which direction the rest of the album would go. The answer is that among the thirteen tracks, ‘Lose You to Love Me’ is a sonic anomaly, being the only ballad in a sea of dance-pop. The album’s production is truly remarkable, each track seeming fresh but cohesive, a tight unit that changes it up enough to keep you on your toes but not seem disjointed. Much of the record is full of vibrant pop of all varieties blending instruments with electronic production fabulously, from the club-ready electro-pop of ‘Dance Again’ to the twangy, Latin-tinged ‘Let Me Get Me’.
Lyrically, the album distances itself slightly from the more pointed lyrics of ‘Lose You to Love Me’, reflecting more deeply on Gomez herself and her relationships currently. Its full of strong, confident songs that show Gomez fully embrace her self-worth, refusing to accept anything less. “I know that I’m special, and I’ll bet there’s somebody else out there, to tell me I’m rare”, she declares on the album’s title track; “I’m one in a billion, baby, don’t you agree?”, she whispers on ‘Ring’. The album is full of declarations of “I’m me and I’m amazing” that shows a much more mature woman than the one that released Revival.
The album is full of pop gems that prove Gomez’s unique ability to scratch the pure pop itch that her contemporaries have refused to itch as of late. ‘Kindy Crazy’ is a scathing take-down of a boy who goes from wooing her to shading her. If the lyrics didn’t point to Charlie Puth, the production does, taking the sound that he used to diss Gomez on tracks like ‘Attention’ and ‘How Long’, and making it actually sound original. ‘People You Know’ is a marvelous throbby EDM number about losing people, while ‘Cut You Off’ is a snare-lined, stripped back track about cutting toxic people out that has a wonderful funky guitar solo. ‘Vulnerable’ is a career highlight, a nu-disco/dance-pop number that is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s ‘Delicate’, a unique instance of pop production reflecting the fragility of their lyrics.
The album’s two features defy the odds to not reduce themselves to the mere “pop songs with a rap verse to help boost sales” stereotype. The 6lack feature ‘Crowded Room’ a wonderfully chilled moment, which feels like Gomez and 6lack are merely having a conversation at the party the song describes. ‘A Sweeter Place’ feels very collaborative, with the Gomez bouncing off each other for the album’s closing number.
Rare isn’t a ground-breaking or super innovative album, but it reminds us of a very important lesson. Not everything has to be ground-breaking or innovative to be wonderful and special. The record never feels painfully modern nor particularly rooted in music of past either. Instead, Gomez has curated different sounds from the 80s to present day and made them her own. In an era of genre-blending and pandering to the masses, Rare is fabulous reminder just how amazing pop music can be when it simply exists, how amazing it can be when it isn’t trying to be R&B, or trap, or something else. Rare is a great pop album – and these days, there is nothing rarer than that.