For every Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera — former teenage stars who have managed to sustain their careers, and fame, into adulthood — there are plenty of washed-up pop stars wondering where it all went wrong. The takeaway for celebrities currently trying to manage the transition from teenage stardom into real fame is clear: either grow up or remain forever in the wasteland of irrelevance with other teen stars who could not successfully make it to the big leagues.
After many years in the spotlight as a Disney star, Selena Gomez was at a crossroads. With four studio albums to her name — three with the manufactured band Selena Gomez & the Scene and one cookie-cutter solo effort — Gomez needed to show she could evolve in the ever changing pop landscape in order to escape irrelevance.
Selena Gomez’s “Revival,” which was released Oct. 9, does this by announcing Gomez’s full-fledged arrival into adulthood with perhaps her most personal and cohesive set to date. Using the road map drawn by Aguilera’s now iconic “Stripped” (2002), Gomez is largely successful in her mission. She artfully articulates her newfound sexuality and maturity while also avoiding the burning-bridges approach of fellow pop star Miley Cyrus on her own highly controversial “Bangerz” (2013).
Gomez seeks to bring her loyal listeners along with her on this path of re-discovery. She sets the album’s tone on the title track by telling them, “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.” With this declaration of diving into the unknown, Gomez begins to reveal more about who she is behind all the glitz and glamour that accompanies her public persona. “Revival” paints her as a real woman who, just like everyone else, experiences the highs and lows brought by love and heartbreak.
“Good For You,” the lead single off “Revival,” however, is just about sex. While the song is a rather tame sexual statement in comparison to, say, Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from the aforementioned “Stripped,” “Good For You” makes for a fascinating choice as the project’s lead single. With a slinky beat and sensual lyrics, it is unlike anything Gomez has done before. The song itself sounds more like something that would have been recorded by FKA Twigs or Lana Del Rey than a former Disney starlet. Yet Gomez owns the song just as she owns her sexuality, and she effervescently glides through the Hit Boy-produced track.
Speaking of collaborators, Gomez wisely sought the aid of other famous hitmakers, including Norwegian duo Stargate and Swedish producer Max Martin, in order to create a more expansive and varied sound on “Revival.” Even though Gomez worked with Stargate on the wildly catchy “Come & Get It” (2013) from her last album, her two new songs with the duo stand out as some of the album’s most personal tracks. The first of these, “Same Old Love,” is a bubblegum pop tune co-written by the spunky Charli XCX of “Boom Clap” (2014) fame that references Gomez’s clear frustration with a boy who is clearly no good for her (here’s looking at you, Bieber). Even more devastating is the second Stargate-produced track, “Sober,” which is a catchy yet extremely depressing song about a boy whose love for the singer is not the same when he is sober. In other words, it is emo pop at its finest.
The highlight of album comes with the Max Martin-penned “Hands To Myself.” He is the man responsible for launching Spears’ career and Taylor Swift’s pop reinvention, and here Martin works his magic once more. The song itself is one of the album’s most subdued moments, but the magic lies in the numerous hooks scattered throughout the song ensuring all it takes is one listen to sing along. The track’s most brilliant moment comes at the tail end, as Gomez goes from whispering to shouting “Can’t keep my hands to myself / I mean I could, but why would I want to?” in one breath.
“Revival” declines slightly in its second half, as the consistent midtempo nature on the songs makes them blur together. While nothing comes off as particularly bad, nothing is particularly great, which is a letdown after the album’s impressive opening tracks. Prime examples of this are “Me & the Rhythm” and “Survivors,” which are relatively cute but unexciting numbers.
Despite these missteps, “Revival” is an effective introduction to Selena Gomez the woman, and she emerges at the end of the album’s eleven tracks as a legitimate pop diva. While the album is a solid effort that will allow her to maintain her place in the upper echelon of pop, perhaps now Gomez can do what other successful crossover teen stars have failed to do: create her magnum opus. Clearly, Gomez is a star. But can she be an artist?