In 2020, Selena Gomez released her third studio album, Rare, which is a breath of fresh air compared to her previous musical ventures. Growing up in the world of Disney has flipped many artists from innocent and controlled under strict guidelines to wild and overly inappropriate. However, Selena is the exception to this unwritten rule. This album is a blend of the negatives of growing up and evolving into adulthood mixed with the positive tones that one associates with Selena and her music and overall brand as a public figure.
Compared to her previous albums, Stars Dance and Revival, this album feels much more authentic to her newfound freedom from the chains of childhood, old relationships, and personal struggles (Moreland). Her previous sounds have focused more on electro-pop and the menial ballads designed for the pre-teen audience she had grown so accustomed to. In her previous album, Revival, she told the listener she was promising to take better care of herself in both a physical and mental capacity. She has now put her words into action in Rare through the ruthless lyrics in which she encapsulates the “fuck you, I love me energy” according to an album review published in Rolling Stone (Spanos). Her evolution is obvious through her new focus on what is best suited for her voice; the deep and breath-focused tones that are curated to discuss common struggles of a young adult woman in today’s society through painting pictures for the listener.
Selena Gomez has used her personal struggles to catapulte her into a different genre and level of music. She has dealt with chronic illness, a very messy public breakup, and struggles with mental health. Personally, I can relate to her struggles with crippling anxiety, and I can deeply appreciate her move to take time off from music and other celebrity ventures in order to seek treatment for this as I did as well in my personal life. Listening to this album and her give no fucks attitude was inspiring to me, and I can imagine countless others, in my journey to recovery. Celebrities often don’t discuss mental health struggles in such a public manner, so it was nice to gain perspective on how someone, who on the outside seems to have it all, struggles with the same things that I do as well. Not only did her hiatus from the public eye heal her mentally, but it also helped her musical and lyrical styles turn into something that emotionally connects her to many of her listeners.
The sounds utilized in her album Rare are a combination of upbeat and charismatic. The use of these upbeat chords paired with melodramatic, and for lack of a better word, depressing lyrics provide an interesting moment of clarity for the listener. If listening to the musical background alone, one would expect pop sounding and lyrics filled with songs of love and scenes of a party. However, most of her lyrics focus on the more melancholy aspects of a relationship, as if she is conveying her search for a companion and also the celebration of her newfound freedom as an individual. My favorite song from this album, one I have been listening to for months on repeat is “Lose You to Love Me.” While experiencing a breakup of my own, I found this song as a reminder of the emotional pain I had endured throughout the relationship, as Selena had as well. One of the most striking lyrics from the song, “I’d put you first and you adored it. Set fires to my forest, and you let it burn”, reverberates the pain of suffering in an emotionally abusive relationship throughout the song. This song, as do many others on the album, show an extremely advanced approach from the typical post-breakup ballad. These lyrics focus more on her personal growth and the lessons she has learned from a toxic relationship, not the typical sappy “I miss you” one would expect from this type of song. She rather reflects on the negatives of the past and the traumas that have accompanied it, while also highlighting the importance that self-reflection and growth have had on her in the aftermath of these toxic interpersonal relationships.
Rare is a combination of pain and suffering but hope and positivity as well. Many of Gomez’s lyrics are filled with somber lyrics such as “pull up to the mirror, staring at my face gotta chop off all the extra weight I’ve been carrying for 1460 days” in her song “Cut You Off”. These lyrics strongly hint at the notion that the “extra weight” she has been carrying around is actually depression and anxiety. It is a metaphor that has been used time and time again, alluding to the fact that she is finally at a point in her life when she can release these extremely negative thoughts and feelings. Ann Cvetkovich brings an interesting perspective to the notion of depression when she states “affective investment can be a starting point for theoretical insight and that theoretical insight does not deaden or flatten affective experience or investment” (Cvetkovich 10). This analysis of depression accounts for the fact that although Gomez is sharing her raw emotions and experiences with the listener in this album giving them insight into her struggles with depression, the listener can learn about her experiences without them being invalidated as they are still real, solely from her perspective.
However, this album would not be what it is without the uplifting point of view as well. In her song, “A Sweeter Place”, a feature with Kid Cudi brings a hopeful tone when he raps the lyrics “we will find our way, we’ll find the things we seek”. This feature brings a breath of fresh air and a hopeful excitement for the future to the album.
The main focus of this album seems to be her distancing herself from a past version of herself. It is a proclamation of change and growth; however some lyrics highlight a less completed version of total self autonomy. In her song, “Vulnerable,” one of the lyrics that stands out the most is “if the only other option is letting go, I’ll stay vulnerable”. This proves that although she has done much work in her personal life on past traumas and mental health issues, there is still a lingering sense of putting another, most likely in a romantic relationship, ahead of herself and her own feelings. Selena Gomez has grown innumerably, both as an artist and an individual, and it seems as if she won’t be stopping anytime soon on her path to happiness and well-being.
Moreland, Quinn. Selena Gomez: Rare. 14 Jan. 2020, pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/selena-gomez-rare/.
Spanos, Brittany. “Selena Gomez Moves Past Her Pain on the Resiliently Upbeat ‘Rare’.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 18 Jan. 2020, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/album-review-selena-gomez-rare-935984/.
“Introduction.” Depression: A Public Feeling, by A. Cvetkovich, Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 1–15, books.google.com/books?id=qn9jSPVRcDMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=affective%20investment&f=false.