Selena Gomez released her third studio album on Jan. 10, four years after releasing her sophomore record “Revival.” Gomez seems to have had more influence on this third album as she is listed as co-writer for all the songs, unlike on her debut album “Stars Dance” — for which she wrote none — and “Revival” — where she’s listed as co-writer for 12 out of its 16 tracks. “Rare” covers everything from her love life to her relationship with social media, but overall, it focuses on her journey to self-love and acceptance with a new chill pop sound that matches this mood.
The title track “Rare” starts with a melody of bongos and bass, somewhat reminiscent of her 2017 single “Bad Liar.” With lyrics like “It feels like you don’t care / Why don’t you recognize I’m so rare?,” the singer’s soothing voice describes the feeling of being unwanted. Although the song beautifully combines dark lyrics with a strategic production, “Rare” does not compare to “Bad Liar,” which could be due to the latter’s flawless sampling of the Talking Heads’ 1977 hit “Psycho Killer.” The album’s title track is nice and soothing, yet it does not make up for its title. She’s rare, but why?
This album appears to be the first time Gomez opens up about her tumultuous 10-year relationship with Justin Bieber. In a Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, the artist admitted that the relationship inspired some of the songs on the album. This is evident in the singles “Lose You To Love Me” and “Look At Her Now,” where she sings about learning to love herself as well as her growth after leaving a toxic environment. The artist continues to sing about letting go of a bad partner in the second-to-last song “Cut You Off.” Gomez expresses how she needs to release herself from an unhealthy partner: “Professionally messin’ with my trust / How could I confuse that shit for love?” Musically, this R&B-inspired song stands out from the rest because of Gomez’s unique low-register vocals and slow rhythm that match Frank Ocean’s 2012 “Super Rich Kids.” “Cut You Off” is easily the album’s best song.
There are only two features in the album, “Crowded Room” with 6LACK and the closing track “A Sweeter Place” with Kid Cudi. In the former, Gomez and 6LACK sing to each other about falling in love again. It is evident in the chorus that Gomez is not dependent on auto-tune, which has been a signature ingredient for previous albums, such as “Stars Dance” and “A Year Without Rain,” her second album with The Scene.
Her collaboration with Kid Cudi is a contemporary R&B piece where she sings about wanting to find a place to “hide away” to keep her “worries away.” Here, the artist appears to be describing her issues with social media as she sings, “Up in the clouds, far from the crowds” — far from the judgment she has received online. Gomez is known for expressing her discontent with social media. Last October, she told the Wall Street Journal that she plans to quit Instagram after releasing her album because her relationship with the platform could be “unhealthy.” Later in the song, Gomez sings, “Have no fear / Heaven is near / Head is so clear,” as if to let her listeners know that she is doing okay despite constantly being a victim of public scrutiny.
Her fifth track “Ring” is an acoustic piece in which she recounts her ability to seduce men: “Wrapped ‘round my finger like a ring, ring, ring / They just like puppets on a string, string, string.” Similar to “Crowded Room,” it is difficult to identify any form of autotune as this song showcases her voice singing in a comfortable vocal zone.
“Fun” has a similar instrumental mixing to that of Prince’s 1986 hit “Kiss.” She lyrically communicates her relationship with someone who loves her more than she does them. In “Kinda Crazy,” she sings about someone acting “super shady” towards her. Although it is not clear who she’s singing about, some of her fans have speculated that the former is about her short relationship with The Weeknd and the latter is about Charlie Puth. “Fun,” “Kinda Crazy” and “Rare” are the most similar-sounding songs and they serve the same purpose as her single “Hands To Myself”— they are catchy pop songs that will most likely become fan favorites. However, the production and background vocals to “Hands To Myself” flow more effortlessly and better rhythmically than these new editions.
Gomez reveals herself in each of her songs and owns them all vocally. The entire record tells a story of leaving a toxic relationship, having loved ones turn to strangers and, overall, finding self-love, a concept shown in lyrics like, “Took a few years to soak up the tears / But look at her now, watch her go” (“Look At Her Now”) and “Burn this camouflage I’ve been wearing for months / Tryna let a little happy in for once” (“Let Me Get Me”).
Although these songs are Gomez’s most intimate and unique songs, one wonders what could have been had she continued the era she unintentionally started when she released “Bad Liar” and the seductive “Fetish” in 2017. “Revival” is a tough-to-follow album, but she manages to somehow outdo it with “Rare.” But maybe, just maybe, she could have done better with an album for the music she dropped years prior. Her comeback could have been not just rare, but truly special.