THE WASHINGTON POST – Until the release of her newest and best album, Rare, Selena Gomez’s career as a pop singer was the least interesting thing about her.
An actress, brand ambassador and one of the most followed celebrities on Instagram, Gomez has also been a reliable, if not thrilling, provider of whispery pop hits. Her often multi-tracked vocals are thin as paper; she isn’t really a dancer, or an electrifying live performer, or the possessor of a singular creative vision; and her awards show performances tend to look like hostage videos.
In spite of, or maybe partly because of, her obvious ambivalence toward pop stardom and her triumphal backstory, Gomez inspires a fierce combination of affection and worry and protectiveness not seen since the turbulent heyday of fellow child performer-turned-pop star Britney Spears.
Like Spears, she devoted many years to a famous Justin who was unworthy of her and publicly contended with mental and physical health issues (Gomez had a kidney transplant after being diagnosed with lupus and sought help for her depression and anxiety at an inpatient mental health facility).
Last November, Gomez landed her first No 1 hit, Lose You to Love Me, a skyscraping ballad about letting go of a toxic relationship to save yourself. It’s not just a great song, it’s also a nifty summation of most of what Gomez has been singing about for years. It’s a “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read”) of her entire career. After years of skillfully made but forgettable pop, Lose You feels consequential and adult, the midcareer reset Britney never got.
It’s also the best thing on Rare, a modest, likable collection of come-ons, kiss-offs and dance floor self-affirmations. Lose You excepted, these aren’t dig-deep internal excavations. Rare is more interested in new beginnings than in breakups and places a premium on self-love. The disco-inspired Dance Again and the understated Let Me Get Me (“No self-sabotage/No letting my thoughts run/Me and the spiral are done”) are the #selfcare Instagram tag in musical form.
Though it’s vague enough to allow the listener to see themselves in it, Rare often toys with tabloid perceptions of Gomez’s relationships. Look at Her Now details a fast-burning romance (“Shiny till it wasn’t/Feels good till it doesn’t”) with a troubled bad boy (“Fast nights that got him,” sings Gomez, sounding sympathetic. “That new life was his problem”). The slinky, somewhat lesser Cut You Off (“Emotionally messin’ with my health/How could I confuse that for love?”) examines the resulting wreckage.
Rare offers no bangers, but no dead weight, either. It places more emphasis on flyweight dance pop than on the arguably more adventurous, EDM-influenced tracks that have populated Gomez’s catalogue. Two of her biggest and best recent electronic collaborations, with Marshmello (Wolves) and Kygo (It Ain’t Me) are relegated to bonus tracks.