On the opening track of her second solo album back in 2015, “Revival,” Selena Gomez speaks the lines, “I dive into the future / But I’m blinded by the sun / I’m reborn in every moment / So who knows what I’ll become.” Almost five years later, with the release of her album “Rare” on Jan. 10, it is clear what Gomez has become — a genuine artist. Long gone are the generic pop songs of her first two albums, 2013’s “Stars Dance” and “Revival.” Now, her lyrics are honest and her production original and cohesive. On “Rare,” the singer is resilient, self-assured and confident.
Alongside its release, Gomez called the LP her “diary from the past few years” on Twitter. Listening to it, that is exactly what it feels like — a personal, intimate and real body of work. Over the past few years, Gomez has been in and out of multiple high-profile relationships and battled Lupus as well as mental health issues.
With these issues, she may have experienced pain and heartbreak, but that does not mean she has to write treacly, schmaltzy ballads. Gomez channels her life events into the songs on “Rare,” but she does so with a sense of lightheartedness. The club-ready track “Look at Her Now” finds her reflecting on a turbulent past relationship and how it “made her more of a woman.”
She even goes so far as to make light of her mental health battle in her lyrics. On “Fun” — a song about giving in to a frivolous no-strings-attached relationship — she sings “Put a gold star on my disorder,” “I’m a sensitive situation” and “You get me higher than my medication.” Finding the positive and light aspects in such grave situations is proof of Gomez’s resilience.
Not only is Gomez resilient, she is confident. The album is filled with lyrics of self-empowerment, but the sense of strength on “Rare” does not take the form of generic, one-size-fits-all anthems her contemporaries may release. Rather, her messages of empowerment are real and bite-sized, coming in the form of succinct one-liners. On the title track, Gomez sings the line “Why don't you recognize I'm so rare,” and quips on “Dance Again” that “All the trauma’s in remission.”
Gomez’s self-assuredness shines through most strongly on the production of the album. While it features production credits from a variety of producers such as Mattman & Robin, Sir Nolan and The Monsters and the Strangerz, the album flows seamlessly with each song melding into the next. Overall, the production leans more heavily toward the simplistic indie pop production of her 2017 single “Bad Liar,” particularly with the album’s heavy use of bass and guitar.
A prime example of the production quality is “Ring,” a song in which Selena brushes off suitors whom she has no interest in. The song features a cowbell and cassanets, giving it a Latin flair, but the highlight of “Ring” is a guitar solo towards the end that is reminiscent of 1999’s “Smooth” by Santana.
The simplicity of the production also allows the vocals to shine through. Gomez is not a powerhouse singer, and she knows it. She uses the production to her advantage, making use of creative pronunciation, inflection and ad-libs, so her light, girly tone is not overshadowed by the production. Instead, her voice complements the sound of the album.
In an industry filled with gimmicks, overproduction and messages of empowerment or political statements that seem ingenuine, “Rare” is a breath of fresh air. The album sounds like nothing on the radio currently. The “Come and Get It” singer is not following trends — she is setting them. On “Rare,” Gomez exorcises her demons with dance music, which manages to feel intimate, relatable and catchy — a rare feat indeed.