On the opening title track of her new album Rare, Selena Gomez asks a distant, uncaring lover why he doesn't recognize how rare she is. However, the next 39 minutes of the album provide the listener with little to no further evidence for this claim. Rare, despite its name, fails to make Gomez stand out as a pop star among her peers.
Over the 13 tracks, Gomez shows emotional maturity and self–love, hard–earned qualities that are diluted by bland songwriting and trite lyrics. Unlike her colleagues Ariana Grande and Beyoncé, who have both suffered publicly through their art, Gomez has kept her romantic and personal issues like her ongoing battle with Lupus and depression private, until now. While Rare is no thank u, next or Lemonade, it is still worthy of a listen. Even if it lacks the emotional and political weight of the Ariana and Beyonce's albums, Rare is at least consistently catchy and danceable. With the exception of the lead single—the ballad "Lose You to Love Me"—this is an album meant to make you move.
Rare's strong points are the subtle production touches which bolster the emotional accuracy of each track. Take, for example, the blink–and–you'll–miss–it drum roll which introduces "Rare," or the almost acoustic bass groove of the hook in early highlight "Dance Again." Rare relishes in the filigree of a well-made pop song. Stand–out, "Fun", uses a subtle guitar flourish to great effect within the first minute, while Gomez boasts of the personal strength needed to handle an uncertain future with a suitor.
However, Rare's reticence on who Selena Gomez is as a person holds the album back. The only thing one can learn about Gomez from her songs is that she likes to party. Perhaps the song that most obviously alludes to her life is "Lose You to Love Me," which many have interpreted as her farewell to her first love and now ex, Justin Bieber. "Dance Again" and "Let Me Get Me" could be seen as self-empowering anthems to dancing through pain, while the title track is a blatant ode to self-love. Yet, even these songs lack the emotional depth to truly connect the listener with Gomez's personal life.
The rest of the tracks, especially "Cut You Off" and "Kinda Crazy," add almost nothing to the narrative around Rare besides showcasing self-confidence, something that she has worked mightily towards as she sought treatment for depression. But none of this pain and adversity is readily apparent. None of the songs on this album sound lived in.
Where Rare falls short in lyrics and substance, Gomez makes up for this in vocal performance. On "Ring" and "Vulnerable," Gomez wields her voice in contrast to a sultry whisper on the rest of the album. She belts hackneyed lyrics about keeping men at bay while showing honest emotions to an unrequited lover. Yet, it still seems like Gomez is holding something back as if there is more she could say but is reluctant to tell us. Gomez has said that she took more creative control of her album this time around, but the listener is still unconvinced that she is a rare pop star.