Selena Gomez’s solo albums have always had an intensity that’s been largely misunderstood (or simply written off as an attempt to capitalize on her publicly disastrous relationship with Justin Bieber). Her very first, Stars Dance in 2013, came too close on the heels of her almost perfunctory post-Disney rebellious rebirth à la Miley Cyrus in the film Spring Breakers for the peculiarity of its content to make much of an impact. And it’s not like she’s gone on to produce many smash hits in the remainder of her solo career, either. It makes sense, then, that the thematic throughline of her records has gone more or less unnoticed, though listening to tracks like “Write Your Name” from that first album or any number of tracks on the 2015 follow-up Revival reveals a brutal honesty that reflects Gomez’s publicized emotional turmoil. The increasing appearance of Gomez’s name on the writing credits across her three albums backs this up — for the first time, her name appears as a writer on every track on the deluxe edition of Rare, which is in turn probably her strongest collection to date. Lyrically, the album largely covers the familiar territory of declarations of self-worth and the lingering pain of past relationships, yet their articulation here is more cutting and personal than ever before. In the chorus of bonus track “Souvenir,” Gomez’s delivery invests the song with a sense of irreparability, and pushes the cliché “take my breath away” into an extreme description of giving oneself completely over to a lover, while closer “Feel Me” is positively venomous, Gomez punctuating the album by wishing her ex to constantly remember her in place of any of his future lovers. The album overall sports the most consistent production of any Gomez record, its pairing of her tame vocals with a moody, dance-pop sonic palette making the album sound like the first truly distinguished project for the artist. Three years in the making, Rare is the first Gomez album that can truly be called honest, and it’s obvious she knows her strengths.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 25-11.