Revival allows Selena Gomez to shed Disney image, find own voice

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Selena Gomez is all grown up — at least, that’s what she’s trying to prove on her latest album, Revival, released Friday.

For Gomez, the transition from Disney Channel actress to full-fledged pop sensation has been gradual but undeniable. Although the former “Wizards of Waverly Place” starlet avoided the shock tactics of fellow Disney alums such as Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, Gomez has seen her share of media scrutiny.

Criticism of her very public relationship with Justin Bieber and her recent weight gain in tabloids and from Internet gossipers fuel lyrics throughout the album. “Rise,” a positive-attitude anthem with a chorus reminiscent of Ellie Goulding, features lyrics such as, “The Earth can pull you down with all its gravity/And the measure of your worth is sometimes hard to see.” After almost a decade in the public eye, it’s no wonder the 23-year-old is already in need of a “revival.”

At its best, songs such as the album’s title track let Gomez simmer over a relaxed groove, while downplaying her vocal shortcomings. However, the record’s more disappointing moments — such as the bland “Survivors” — can’t overcome weak lyrics and overt attempts to make an artistic statement.

The most blatant examples of Gomez’s artistic overreachings are the album’s spoken-word interludes. The first ten seconds of the LP feature her saying, “I dive into the future/But I’m blinded by the sun/I’m reborn in every moment/So who knows what I’ll become.” Although these moments were likely intended to come across as inspiring, they wind up sounding more pretentious than poetic. 

The album’s first single, the A$AP Rocky-assisted “Good For You,” builds on Gomez’s momentum from last year’s chilled-out smash “The Heart Wants What It Wants.” With its sexed-up and breathy vocals, the tune also serves as a jumping-off point for what the singer’s signature sound should be.

For her first release since leaving Disney-owned Hollywood Records, Gomez worked with a slew of producers and hitmakers to attempt to create her own distinct style. Instead of developing an original sound, however, she crafts songs that borrow heavily from other current artists. 

The most notable of these producers is Max Martin, the Swede behind Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” Martin’s stamp on the radio-ready “Hands To Myself” elevates the song by relying on an infectious beat instead of depending on Gomez’s vocals. It’s a model that works again on the catchy, danceable “Me & the Rhythm” and less so on “Kill Em With Kindness,” which overuses a stale, whistled hook to carry the song. 

Gomez collaborated with Charli XCX for the album’s second single, “Same Old Love.” The single, which is one of the best songs on the record, features backing vocals from Charli, as well as a songwriting assist. As a result, it sounds like it would be more at home on Charli’s album than Gomez’s.       

Overall, Revival excels in establishing Gomez’s sound. In her first release as executive producer, Gomez makes stylistic choices that suit her. Mid-tempo rhythms and a laid-back approach set Gomez apart from recent, over-the-top pop divas. But Gomez’s emphasis on creating a serious, adult pop album keeps the record from reaching its potential as a collection of modern pop anthems. 

Revival

  • Genre: Pop
  • Tracks: 11
  • Rating: 3/5 stars