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Review: Selena Gomez redefines the break-up album to put heartache behind her

The album unapologetically navigates themes of self love and self worth, unvieling the singer's newfound independance

Selena Gomez poses on a red carpet in Los Angeles on January 11. EPA
Selena Gomez poses on a red carpet in Los Angeles on January 11. EPA

Selena Gomez’s name has been in the headlines since she was 10 years old, from her years as a Disney child star, to her transition to bona fide pop royalty. However, in the past four years the media spotlight on Gomez has intensified.

The tabloids have zoned in on the singer-songwriter’s love life and personal health, during a period when she was admitted to hospital due to depression and anxiety. She also had to deal with her break up with long-term partner and fellow pop superstar Justin Bieber, as well as having a life-saving kidney transplant, so it’s fair to say Gomez has been through a lot since her last album release, for Revival in 2015.

The 'Rare' album is vulnerable and confident at the same time. Courtesy Interscope
The 'Rare' album is vulnerable and confident at the same time. Courtesy Interscope

Last Friday, the singer released her much-anticipated third solo studio album, Rare. Coming a little more than four years after her last album, Gomez’s return is resplendent with newfound peace and independence.

Rare presents a story of empowering growth as Gomez unapologetically expresses self love and self worth.

Over the course of 13 songs, it almost seems as though Gomez is charting the course of her own healing process, trumpeting messages of strength and confidence. But despite tackling some heavy topics, Gomez stays true to her pop roots throughout the album, delivering catchy singles her loyal fan base will appreciate.

The lead single, Lose You to Love Me, was released in October last year and topped the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Gomez’s first No 1 in the US. Fans were shocked by the vulnerable track that paved the way for an upfront and personal album.

“I want people to feel hope and to know you will come out the other side stronger and a better version of yourself,” she wrote on Vevo, as a message to her fans to accompany the release of the song.

Look at Her Now, which was released a day later, highlights the highs and lows of the singer’s adolescence (“Took a few years to soak up the tears / But look at her now”), but retains the pop-heavy, singalong style beat she has become known for.

Gomez has made a name for herself as a bonafide pop star. Reuters
Gomez has made a name for herself as a bonafide pop star. Reuters

Understandably, fans were quick to link the singles, and much of the album, to her break up with Bieber. The lyric “In two months you replaced us / Like it was easy” from Lose You to Love Me is considered a reference to Bieber’s relationship with Hailey Baldwin, who married Bieber in September last year. Other songs on Rare seem to be inspired by, or are a response to, their romance.

The album is real, personal and vulnerable. It’s assertive, without being accusatory. Gomez’s journey, without a doubt, included moving on from heartbreak, but cannot be reduced to simply revolving around it.

Gomez explores toxic relationships in Cut You Off and starting the process of moving on in Dance Again (“Happiness ain’t something you sit back and you wait for”). Ring and the title track Rare are seemingly pronouncements that she knows her own worth, while the final song on the album, A Sweeter Place, wraps the singer’s journey up on a hopeful note.

The album holds a comfortable balance between pop hits and slow songs. Dance Again is reminiscent to her 2013 hit Come and Get It but the crooning Vulnerable will leave you with goosebumps, as the record flows naturally, with no time for fillers as the songs go through varying genres and instruments.

The singer has not simply grown personally, but professionally as well. Rare is arguably Gomez’s best album, in both themes and production. It is sophisticated, written with intent and with expertly produced music. It’s upbeat and pop-laden, but also includes experimentation with electric guitar and rap, featuring cameos from 6lack and Kid Cudi. Gomez’s voice is distinctive and assertive, with strong phrasing and delivery.

Let Me Get Me and Dance Again exemplify her development as an artist, with intricate and tricky melodies.

Gomez both shockingly and ­beautifully unveils a human experience in this album that will resonate with many women. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music about the album, Gomez said she simply wanted to empower people, mainly women and young girls, to know that they are “unique within who they are”.

With Rare, Gomez has redefined the Taylor Swift-style break-up album we are so used to hearing. Gomez has shown the genre can also be about confidence and rebirth, from the perspective of a woman who has experienced heartbreak, struggled with mental health problems and is in the process of healing.

Updated: January 13, 2020 06:24 PM

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