‘Rare’ by Selena Gomez couldn’t sound more commonplace

Stream on Spotify

Rating: 5/10

Add to library: Rare, People You Know, Lose You to Love Me, Look At Her Now

What’s to be done with this Selena Gomez? At best, she’s an impossibly gorgeous singer-actress-TV producer with impeccable taste in A&R teams.

At worst, the 27-year-old validates the views of every pop snob by living up to stale preconceptions of the modern popstar. 

The voice? Paper thin! The songs? Calorie-free! Performance ability? Apathetic to the point of contempt for the institution of music as a whole!!!

Rare is Selena’s first album since the cool, wispy melodies of 2015’s Revival accidentally thrust her ahead of the electropop curve. Rather than grow and course-correct the most embarrassing aspects of her artistry, the campaign has so far been about Selena digging in her heels – which might explain her infamously stiff ‘dancing’ at the American Music Awards last November (a rare bit of promo that Team Gomez has all but scrubbed from the web). 

As much as it pains me to admit, the impact Revival continues to have is difficult to overstate, inspiring everyone from Britney Spears to Camila Cabello (whose worldwide #1 ‘Havana’ pilfered from ‘Same Old Love’), and helped turn songwriter Julia Michaels into a Grammy-nommed star in her own right. I’d go as far as to argue that Selena’s ASMR tease ‘Hands to Myself’ helped pave the way for Billie Eilish’s claustrophobic hellscapes on the charts. 

That Rare should stick largely to the same formula makes sense, both commercially and creatively. Once again, a crack team of songwriters and producers – including Ian ‘New Rules’ Kirkpatrick, Finneas ‘Brother of Billie Eilish’ O’Connell, and Revival masterminds Mattman & Robin – never let the airy, faintly tropical soundscapes overpower Selena’s pipes. There are even moments that appear to make light of their muse’s limited range, such as when shimmery glitchfest ‘Look At Her Now’ preps you for an emphatic chorus… only to drop a laughably basic ‘uhm-uhm-uhm’ refrain. It’s pop trolling at its catchiest. 

When you’re as famous as Selena Gomez, ‘pleasant’ is all your music needs to be in order to gain traction. From echoey ballads (‘Lose You to Love Me’) and lavender-scented midtempos (‘Vulnerable’), right down to the occasional syncopated dance beat (‘Dance Again’, ‘Let Me Get Me’), Rare is blandly pleasant in its execution. ‘Kinda Crazy’ takes the piss with nauseating crazy/baby/shady/lately rhymes, but for the most part, no song on Rare has the audacity to be offensive. That may change come the day Selena must wheeze them out in a live setting.

The 19 niftiest pop numbers of 2019

19. Sturgill Simpson – Sing Along

An embittered electro rampage from the American country singer. The beat is so urgent, you won’t notice you’re dancing on scorched earth. 

18. Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

This feel-good floorfiller is no ‘I’m Every Woman’ or ‘I Feel For You’ – yet if all three songs showed up at the same party, they’d get along swimmingly.

17. Ariana Grande – NASA

Singing what might be the cleverest lyric of the year, Ariana offers the universe to a suffocatingly needy lover. Her price? Just a little space

16. Mark Ronson (feat. Lykke Li) – Late Night Feelings 

For camp melodrama, look no further than this gorgeous 70s-disco expedition. It basically stomps around swigging a glass of wine with mascara running down its face. 

15. Charli XCX (feat. Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy & Pabllo Vittar) – Shake It

In this four-way battle royale between esteemed rappers, Charli plays the part of referee, regularly stepping into the ring to remind you to shake it.

14. Rina Sawayama – STFU!

‘STFU!’ bites back at casual racism with a fiery nü-metal-inspired assault. 

13. Post Malone – Circles 

The singer-rapper’s softboi mumbles are a perfect fit for Tame Impala-lite dream-pop. 

12. Theophilus London – Cuba

A self-described ‘angry lovesong’, spewed out over a warped disco groove steeped in hip-hop fuzz. 

11. Grimes & io – Violence

This trance-pop glitterbomb is relatively generic for Grimes. Yet her erotically-charged account of abuse – sung in eerie, bird-like trills – is something you’re unlikely to hear from any mainstream popstar.

10. Miley Cyrus, Swae Lee & Mike Will Made It – Party Up the Street 

Low-key and hypnotic tropipop laced with laced with Timbaland-esque BVs.  

9. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it

Dressing up existential dread in old Hollywood glamour is Lana Del Rey’s hallmark, but this superbly stark piano ballad doesn’t overindulge. Life sucks – yet hope persists. 

Oh, and here’s a fantastic cover by my friend Shay Khan.

8. Stormzy – Vossi Bop

Does any lyric sum up 2019 better than ‘Fuck the government and fuck Boris’? Um, NOPE.

7. Tame Impala – It Might Be Time

Kevin Parker reinvents his rock-pop project’s neo-psychedelia, adding harsh industrial overtones to highlight the protagonist’s paranoid internal monologue. 

6. Billie Eilish – bad guy

The opening beat thumps like some poor bastard who woke up in a coffin and is trying to bang his way out. The spooky post-chorus riff will go down as one of the decade’s most recognisable.

5. Tami T – Single Right Now

Over a churning bassline and synths that grow evermore anxious and chaotic, Swedish singer/producer and queer femme icon Tami T gives a brutal analysis of the quinntessential young person’s relationship trajectory (‘You wanna be single right now, but then you meet someone…’). The refrain is repeated but Tami swaps in the appropriate pronoun each round, making this song a safe space for everyone to cuss out their ex. 

4. Sir Babygirl – Pink Lite

Sir Babygirl’s music harks back to 90s femme-fronted pop-rock, a magical era when riot-grrrl edge (think: Veruca Salt, Republica) was still commercially viable. 

3. Fontaines D.C. – Boys In the Better Land 

The Dublin rockers write a sneering post-punk postcard from the big smoke. Depictions of an Anglophobic taxi driver aren’t just colourfully written – they’re politically timely too. 

2. Katy Perry – Never Really Over

Classic high-impact pop with a tongue-twisting chorus. I can confirm that it is very satisfying to memorise. 

1. Lizzo – Truth Hurts

Yes, ‘Truth Hurts’ is technically a 2017 song. Yet watching this once-niche banger not only ascend to the summit of the US Hot 100, but also go on to become the longest-running #1 by a leading female rapper (tying at seven weeks with Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’) was a massive win for the millions of music fans worldwide who sees themselves in Lizzo

The 31-year-old Detroit-born singer/rapper/flautist had been plugging away for years before hitting the big time in 2019, and she did so on a platform of love and compassion, both for ourselves and the people around us. 

‘Truth Hurts’ might look like a sassy breakup anthem on paper – ‘Why all men be great ‘til they gotta be great?’ will forever be a question the male race must find a collective answer for – but it plays like a transcendent church sermon. Lizzo isn’t the first popstar to evangelise emotional independence and preach self-help quips, but as a black, plus-size female rapper, the breadth of prejudices she has unfairly had to defy to get where she is today means that, for many people, she might be the first popstar they deem qualified enough to inspire them.