For Selena Gomez, quietness has become a part of her appeal in recent years. The 27-year-old has chosen to live reclusively after high profile breakups and makeups with Justin Bieber and The Weeknd, mental and physical health struggles, and an onslaught of negative social media trolling. The once most followed person on Instagram now uses the platform when she has something to promote, like her album Rare which was released on January 10.
Rare, a follow up to 2015’s Revival, sees Gomez switching up seductive bangers for powerful confessions and reassuring mid-tempo tracks. “Why don’t you tell me I’m rare?” Gomez asks in the chorus of the title track. Minimalistic kickdrums combine with Gomez’s relaxed vocals to make it sound like she’s in a daze. Despite the questioning, Gomez assures herself (and her fans) that “there’s somebody else out there,” who will call her rare.
And indeed, Gomez is a rare type of popstar with vocals as soft as a whisper and an ability to tranquilize listeners into making her songs chart toppers — as was the case with “Lose You To Love Me.” The song, written by Gomez and long-time collaborators Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, hit #1 on Billboard shortly after its release last October. To be fair, Gomez was never the strongest vocalist in comparison to her peers, but she managed to deliver personality and varied vocals on previous hits, “The Heart Wants What It Wants” and “Bad Liar,” that are sorely lacking on Rare.
It’s almost as if Gomez got bored in the recording studio and chose to put in as little effort as possible. It wouldn’t have been a problem had Gomez committed to a full dance album where emotional deliveries were not necessary, but Rare was supposed to be her diary sung out loud—yet there were no emotions to be felt. Tracks like “Vulnerable” and “People You Know” aptly expose the lack of emotional and lyrical depth. “We used to be close, but people can go / From people you know to people you don’t,” Gomez sings on the latter track. Guest appearances by 6LACK and Kid Cudi on R&B-lite tracks “Crowded Room” and “A Sweeter Place” also don’t add much to the album apart from clout. Gomez would’ve been better asking “Taki Taki” collaborator Cardi B for an empowering verse.
Despite the uninspired features and Gomez’s ASMR-like vocals, Rare does have a few bright spots. “Dance Again” — a French disco-inspired dance number — sees Gomez commanding more of her voice as she celebrates her newly found freedom. On “Kinda Crazy” — a psychedelic funk number — Gomez sings about a guy gaslighting her: “Made the move, asked me to be your babe / And now you’re treatin’ me like I’m insane.” Looping choruses and warm synths showcase Gomez at her best because she’s able to let go and have fun without worrying about whether her vocals or lyrics resonate on an emotional level. Unfortunately, Gomez’s strengths are underrepresented on this mid-tempo heavy album.
Near the end of Rare, Gomez confesses that she’d rather stay vulnerable. Maybe so. But it’s difficult to take Gomez’s vulnerability or musical identity seriously when Rare doesn’t offer any real perspective on self-love or acceptance apart from surface level clichés atop generic beats. Rare should’ve been another revival for Gomez, but it flatlines on execution.