Selena Gomez has seen it all. Lupus, a kidney transplant, publicized battles with anxiety and depression, an on-again, off-again ex-boyfriend who, you know, just happens to be Justin Bieber. With her latest album, Rare, she puts it all out on the table.
“Oh, why don’t you recognize I’m so rare?” Gomez asks on the title track and album opener. This question and recognition of self-worth permeate through every song on Rare. Accompanied by soft, often midtempo, bubbly production and Gomez’s tendency to whisper and shout as much as she sings, this album crafts an atmosphere that feels prismatic. It’s pink and green and nice to float around in for an hour. It’s a celebration: both for Gomez’s hard-fought self love and for everyone else to realize their worth alongside her.
On “Ring,” Gomez plays the bored and adored subject of many admirers’ attention. “Wrapped ‘round my finger like a ring, ring, ring,” she sighs. The ring in the song later becomes the sound of the phone calls suitors keep making, but she doesn’t feel like bothering with. The production is playful, and it’s nice to see Gomez own her power after she’s claimed it for herself.
However, Gomez jumps back into self-defense on the addictive track “Vulnerable.” She declares her openness to the vulnerability of love, considering that “the only other option’s letting go” of the relationship. Gomez interrogates her potential lover at a rapid pace before diving into the chorus. “If I give the opportunity to you then would you blow it? / If I was the greatest thing to happen to you would you know it?” she demands. Gomez makes the choice to fall for someone, feeling like they’re about to run away together on a secret mission.
“People You Know” is simple and almost painfully repetitive, yet Gomez gets away with it. “We used to be close, but people can go / from people you know to people you don’t” she sings with indifference. The topic matter is so relatable that little else needs to be said for the message to resonate. It feels a little lazy to outline the arc of a relationship so succinctly, but it’s also fitting and upsettingly truthful.
In “Cut You Off” the listener hears the end of the Bieber-Gomez saga once and for all as if it’s going down in real time. “Gotta chop-chop all the extra weight / I’ve been carrying for fourteen-hundred-sixty days,” she admits to the mirror. The way Gomez slinks into this gradual realization is pleasantly reminiscent of her friend and singer-songwriter Julia Michaels’ style.
On the closing track, “A Sweeter Place,” Gomez yearns for an escape. The song ascends above the already gooey, clap track, bubblegum tone of the album’s creation into a more sugar-coated heaven. Kid Cudi’s feature feels a bit out of place in Gomez’s daydream, but not enough to distract from what she’s getting at. Lyrics like, “Is there a place where I can hide away? / Red lips, french kiss my worries all away,” show that despite all of her previous growth, she’s still growing.
Perhaps the best evidence of this need for further growth is in Rare’s missteps. “Kinda Crazy” kicks off to an intriguing start with juicy, imagery-filled lyrics, but falls flat into a clunky chorus. “Crowded Room” gives Gomez’s vocals space to breathe and even shine, but does little else despite a feature from 6lack.
Rare is a building block for Gomez. It’s sticky sweet. Sometimes so much so that it can feel stuck in self-empowerment, no matter how important that theme is. And yet, Rare is necessary to the arc of both Gomez’s career and personal journey. An artist equally gentle and empowering, a person who has endured a lot but remains well-intentioned, Selena Gomez is truly rare, and we should appreciate her for it.