It’s been nearly five years since Selena Gomez released what was then the best album of career, Revival. While chatter about an official follow-up has been floating around the ether since 2016, that LP is finally here.
Rare (Jan. 10), released on Interscope, is what Gomez considers only her second album proper — she has released three albums with her band as Selena Gomez and the Scene and one solo album while signed to Disney label Hollywood Records, and serves as her new career high-water mark. Teaming up with a number of pop’s most sought-after hitmakers, including long-time collaborators and pals Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, Ian Kirkpatrick, Mattman and Robin, MNEK, and Finneas, the albums is a distillation of who Gomez is, not only as an artist but as a person. Expertly curated, each song showcases what a dynamic pop star Gomez can be. Likewise, it’s a record that could only come form her, these songs crafted to fit her distinctive, whispery and emotive voice.
13. “Sweeter Place”
While every song on Rare is good, the album’s final track is the one that feels incongruous with the album’s sonic palette. Lyrically it fits the record’s themes, but the scuzzy synths and harsh tilt on the drums puts it at odds with the brighter, staccato production found elsewhere. It also feels like there are probably too many words in line “There must be a sweeter place/ We can sugarcoat the taste,” while Kid Cudi’s verse doesn’t necessarily add much.
12. “People You Know”
Watery synths and echoing guitars give this song a nice texture, and the nursery rhyme-like rhythm of the chorus is stellar work, but unfortunately, it’s one of the only places on Rare that strays into genericism. Lyrically, though, the simplicity of the line “We used to be close, but people can go/ From people you know to people you don’t” makes it all the more cutting, only highlighting how easily the people you surrounded yourself with can leave you devastated.
11. “Crowded Room”
This might be Rare’s most sultry moment, but it’s also the album’s most meandering. Perhaps it’s because the production doesn’t pop as much as it could, but something about it doesn’t quite tick the boxes. While a song like Revival smash “Good For You” oozed sex, the eroticism here feels forced. 6lack’s verse, however, is great, and as the beat picks up it lifts the song’s final few moments.
10. “Kinda Crazy”
There are a few dubious lyrics in “Kinda Crazy,” but there are also some incredible ones, too. “You started getting funny with no jokes/ I started seein’ through you like a ghost” is pure excellence, while the second verse concisely surmises the experience of being gaslit. There’s also the bonus of a trumpet solo, which more pop songs should adopt in 2020. Still, with all that it doesn’t feel like the song ever totally takes off; maybe the trumpet should have been used more liberally for greater effect.
While some might accuse “Ring” from drawing too heavily from “Havana” and “Señorita,” neither of those Camilla Cabello songs have the left-field originality that “Ring” has. In fact, it’s probably closer in form to Santana’s “Smooth” (that final chorus!) than either of those tracks. In some inventive vocal production, Gomez’s voice is tapered and slipped high in the mix, and her delivery has little peaks and pushes, certain words emphasized for no apparent reason other than it sounds good. The production is also theatrical and uncluttered, and you can easily imagine it building up from nothing as dancers slink around the stage. It’s subtle and eccentric and rather brilliant.
8. “Dance Again”
“Happiness ain’t something that you sit back and you wait for,” Gomez sings on the opening line to “Dance Again,” a song that feels like the grown up and weathered sibling to 2013’s “Slow Down.” Replacing the EDM-pop stylings of that banger are slightly ominous tinkles on a piano and slap bass. It’s not as weightless, but given the journey Gomez has been on that shouldn’t be surprising. The lyric “Feels so good to dance again” doesn’t feel hedonistic, but something akin to resilience — you believe her as she sings “All the trauma’s in remission… feels so good.”
7. “Look at Her Now”
There’s a lightness to this track, which was released as a promo single last year and hit number 27 on the Hot 100. Indeed, as a companion piece to “Lose You to Love Me,” it’s striking, taking the raw sadness of that song and packaging it up as pain that ultimately empowers. The scattered and chopped up vocals against the almost two-step beats give everything a propulsive element, while the synths are cloud-like and breezy. The song’s middle eight, a busy cascade of beats, bass and vocals, is perfection.
If you’re looking for the weird, art school energy that exuded from “Bad Liar,” you’ll find it on “Fun,” a song that takes the battles that Gomez has been through and manages to approaches them with wry wink. Here she discusses her mental health, the medication she takes and even her diagnoses, sharing it all with knowing wink that only comes when you’re living with mental health issues. There’s more humor in the way she recognizes that like attracts like, too, acknowledging that those who share that experience often fall for each other. This is mirrored in the production, fizzy with delicious hand claps and punchy basslines, all drawn together by Gomez’s breathy vocals.
5. “Let Me Get Me”
Has there ever been a song that captures the internal battle against your inner critic so energetically? Wibbly guitars and a drunk bassline give this song a frantic energy, as Gomez fights against her inner demons. “Me and the spiral are done/ Burn this camouflage I’ve been wearing for months/ Tryna let a little happy in for once,” she sings, before she tussles with herself on the chorus: “Don’t get me down, I won’t let me get me down.” By the song’s finale, things have become feral, Gomez eliciting a howl before crashing into the last chorus.
There’s so much here that suits Gomez: The hints of Italo disco in this song’s the chugging rhythm, the full drum-circle moment before the final act, the slight hints of tropical house, albeit delivered with a ghostly edge. Vocally, it’s soft and subtle, Gomez’s muted timbre vocoded and gliding just above the production, barely safe from being swallowed up. Fans of fun pronunciation will enjoy how she sings the word “vulnerable,” sounding out every syllable, while the staccato delivery elsewhere is quintessential SelGo. It’s the sort of song only she could deliver and one that finds a perfect home on Rare.
3. “Cut You Off”
The most sophisticated and lyrically astute moment on the album, “Cut You Off” is more than just a song about letting go of a toxic partner; it feels symbolic of the growth that Gomez has undergone since 2015’s Revival. It’s mature and timeless, the descending chord progression and guitar solo blusey and the melody lightly playing with soul. Of course, Gomez’s voice isn’t necessarily that way inclined, but those elements have been warped to fit her whispery and evocative tone, giving the overall effect something closer to Norah Jones’s Danger Mouse-produced album Little Broken Hearts. For whatever follows Rare, it should use “Cut You Off” as a launch pad.
2. “Lose You to Love Me”
In the career of Selena Gomez, this song will likely go down as one of her most defining moments. Vulnerable, painful, honest and raw, it encapsulates everything modern pop culture now worships: relatability. But this isn’t relatability as a commodity, packaged for Instagram stories and #sponcon. Here it’s delivered not with humor but with something more real; there are no pretenses or walls of protection, Gomez’s voice bare until the song’s climactic choral finale. This isn’t anodyne self-help pop. Rather, Gomez, war-torn and tear-stained, is stumbling away from the wreckage, honoring the pain that goes hand-in-hand with healing. It’s majestic.
Is it obvious to choose the title track as an album’s best song? Maybe, but in the case of Rare, it’s also true. While the demo for this song has been floating around for over a year, Gomez’s version is, well, peak Selena Gomez.
Everything about this song is perfect. From the lyrical oddities to the sheer joy of the melody and production, all popping beats and silky harmonies, it’s weird and accessible, a bewildering and brilliantly constructed piece of pop. With lyrical kiss offs to a former lover who doesn’t recognize your unique qualities, it avoids bland self-empowerment with specificity. A future together isn’t idyllic, but grounded in reality with images of burning toast and sexless bedrooms. Unlike her song, Gomez isn’t flawless — but she admits her foibles. It’s the details that makes her special. The production mirrors this, from the odd wobble on the bass to the drum fills at the end of the chorus. Even the vocal ad libs feel strategically placed, not for emphasis or dramatic effect, but to build layers of whimsy.
Sure, “Lose You To Love Me” might come to define Selena Gomez publicly, but “Rare” — cutesy, funny and oddly dark — is Gomez’s artistry in its purest form. It might be her greatest musical achievement yet.