At the conclusion of Selena Gomez’s new album, “Rare,” Spotify autoplayed a song from her previous full-length, 2015’s “Revival,” that sounded almost sophomoric by comparison. It’s hard to think of a more dramatic example of how far Gomez has come musically in nearly five years: “Rare” is one of the best pop albums to be released in recent memory, and — as it does for artists ranging from Robyn and Charli XCX to Max Martin’s more adventurous productions — it feels like that term does a discredit to this sophisticated, precisely written and expertly produced music.
Gomez has been leaning that way for the past few years, particularly on collaborations with songwriters Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels like 2017’s excellent “Bad Liar.” While that song isn’t present on “Rare”’s basic tracklist (it and several other extraneous tunes are available on the extended Target edition), it’s a very clear signpost to this strong and remarkably consistent album.
Highlights include “Dance Again,” a low-key yet deeply infectious dance track with a mellifluous melody and Cure-like bass that might be the best song she’s recorded; at the other extreme is the hit “Lose You to Love Me,” a celestial ballad with an orchestra and choir-like backing vocals. Somewhere in the middle are the deceptively simple-sounding title track and the Taylor Swiftian “Cut You Off,” along with two Latin-inflected songs, “Let Me Get Me” and “Ring,” the latter of which (probably intentionally) recalls Santana and Rob Thomas’ 2000 hit “Smooth.”
Tranter, Michaels and “Bad Liar” producer Ian Kirkpatrick are present on “Rare,” but so are at least a couple dozen others, including Simon Says and Sir Nolan, Mattman & Robin, the Monsterz & Strangers, rappers Kid Cudi and 6lack and, on “Lose You to Love Me,” Billie Eilish’s brother/collaborator Finneas (whose contributions sound nothing like his sister’s music) — impressively, Gomez herself has a writing credit on every song.
In fact, while the album has a remarkably unified sound considering its many cooks, Gomez, now 27, holds it all together. Her voice is neither powerful nor possessed of a wide range, but it’s distinctive and assertive; her phrasing and delivery are strong, and she deftly handles the intricate and tricky melodies on “Let Me Get Me” and “Dance Again.”
Five years ago, saying that Selena Gomez had released one of the best pop albums in recent memory probably would have invited skepticism at the very least. In 2020, believe it.