Pop is changing. Not only are genres like electronica, trap, flamenco and country dispersing influence into pop’s sonic atmosphere, but pop is becoming more lyrically attuned to its millennial and Gen Z audiences. The hyper self-awareness of the digital age is reflected in its biggest artists. Billie Eilish croons about jumping off the Golden Gate bridge over a haunting piano loop on “everything i wanted.” Charli XCX speaks of falling into heartbreak induced K-holes on “February 2017.” And who could forget Ariana Grande’s “I’m a motherfuckin’ train wreck” lyric, less than 10 seconds into her latest smash hit “boyfriend.” It makes sense then, after her public battle with lupus and breakup with R&B artist The Weeknd, that Gomez would have her own piece of the decade’s confessional pop pie.
However, “Rare” is not a diamond in the rough but rather a mass-manufactured cubic zirconia in a polished display case. While its production value is clearly high, it suffers from unoriginality and fails to achieve its goal of being emotionally honest.
For all the songwriters credited on this album, the lyrics are incredibly bland and the hooks — mostly forgettable.
At times, the two are inversely related; for instance, on the title track, the chorus is ridiculously catchy, but the lyrics “Baby, you’ve been so distant from me lately / And lately don’t even wanna call you ‘baby,’” make me think the song was more inspired by Rhymezone.com than Gomez’s personal life.
At other times, the two collide to create insufferable grocery store checkout music. “People You Know” and “Let Me Get Me” are repetitive and annoying and feel long despite their short run times.
At its absolute worst, the project blatantly rips off other top 40 hits. “Ring” is a carbon copy of Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” right down to the “oh na-na,” and the chorus lyrics on “Kinda Crazy” sound a little too reminiscent of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child.
In addition to its mediocre writing, the vocals are pretty lackluster. It’s no secret that Gomez’s vocal power is average, which is fine — not every artist can nor should belt like Beyoncé — but she doesn’t compensate for it. There are few moments on “Rare” where I feel her voice truly shines. Instead, it feels lost in a sea of overproduced filler littered with ear candy.
Perhaps the most unsurprising aspect of this album is its production. Gomez and her producers have every resource at their disposal to make a record that is both innovative and still true to her, yet what they have created is an ordinary byproduct of the music industry’s increasing push toward streamable three-minute bangers.
“Vulnerable” is a disappointingly safe collaboration with Jon Bellion, accurately described by him as, “sonically … an all white beach party in Dubai.” “Crowded Room” and “Cut You Off” are unconvincing Grande impersonations, the latter carrying some of the most boring percussion on the record. When “Rare” does show off its impressive production value, it is often overshadowed by other elements, like obnoxious lyrics or mind-numbing vocal chops.
Despite its pitfalls, there are a couple gems. The verses on “Look At Her Now” sound like ecstasy, with gorgeous flowing synths and excellently mixed vocals. My favorite track on “Rare” is her single “Lose You to Love Me.” I love the swelling strings and plucky piano moments, as well as how dramatic the chorus vocals are. Although she doesn’t exactly dive deeper than the surface level analysis of heartbreak, the grandiose production makes the song sound beautiful and honest to her.
Is Gomez talented enough to create a record that finds power in risk-taking and vulnerability? Yes. Does she do that here? Unfortunately, no. “Rare” is nothing new or special. It’s for previously established Selenators, not those looking to expand their musical tastes with genre-bending, insightful pop.