Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Rihanna: Selena Gomez's Stars Dance is a Damn Hot Mess

Come and get it... July 23.
It's standard for most artists to take two years between albums, so when Selena Gomez announced a music hiatus, nobody thought much of it, even if it did break her three-albums-in-less-than-two-years streak. But since 2011's When the Sun Goes Down, Selena made the leap from 18 to 20, split with her band the Scene, partook in a highly publicized and reportedly tumultuous relationship with Justin Bieber, and distanced herself from her clean Disney days with a bikini-clad, bong-smoking role in Spring Breakers.

So it's not much of a surprise that Selena's first solo effort, Stars Dance, is quite a departure from her kid-friendly catalog. With its hip-hop, dubstep, and house music elements, it takes more musical risks by a Disney-helmed pop album since Hilary Duff's Dignity, a dance compilation released before the genre was commercially viable. Stars Dance presents a more sexually confident Selena, who seems more dependent on autotune now more than ever. And despite Selena's constant accreditation of Britney Spears as the biggest influence on the record, the Queen of Pop's impact is minimal at best. Instead, Stars Dance seems like it was assembled from a pile of leftover Rihanna tracks. (In the case of lead single "Come & Get It", this happens to be true.)

The result is, as the title of this review states, a damn hot mess. Never before has Selena disappointed so much. Her presence on the album is almost non-existent; instead, her weak vocals are processed to hell, and her producers create a slick and glossy package that she slaps her name on. Even her attempts to get personal seem anonymous (more on that later). Still, like is true with too many artists today, Selena's music never has to be good to be catchy, infectious, and, at times, fun, and Stars Dance is not without these moments.

The album opens with "Birthday", a candy-coated, dubstep-laden, rap-infused song on which Selena chants, "Tell 'em it's my birthday/When I party like that." It's like Gwen Stefani meets Rihanna, a fun, albeit quickly annoying, combination. And when Selena musters her best drunken sorority girl impression as she beltches out, "Party ooon, babyyyy" during the verse, one wishes this song was around in time for the Spring Breakers soundtrack.

Other songs also find Selena outside of her musical comfort zone. And sometimes it works. The Middle Eastern-inspired "Come & Get It", a former Jam of the Week, is the album's strongest track. "Save the Day", which is pure dance floor bliss, harkens back to Selena's days with the Scene. "Undercover" is also a highlight, and probably the album's most scandy track. On the song, Selena calls her man a "sexy machine," and declares: "I wanna find a place where we can be alone in the dark/And you can navigate me like a map that you know by heart." It's slinky, sexy, and the closest Selena has ever gotten to getting on Britney's level.

However, sometimes Selena's ambitious musical direction backfires. "Like a Champion" has Rihanna's name written all over it. Selena attacks the lyrics with a laughable Riri-esque accent, and the pitter-patter of those "rom pa pa poms" are ripped right from the Barbadian singer's signature reggae flair. And the numbing repetition of "Forget Forever", a retitled version of the previously-leaked "Rule the World", will have you longing for Rihanna's "We Found Love".

Similarly, "B.E.A.T." mimics another rising pop star. On the track, Selena sings, "I like the lights in my hand and the beat in my face." Does that line remind you of any Dev lyrics in particular? The rest of the album is just as dismissible. The trippy and heavily-autotuned "Stars Dance" and the vacant and familiar "Write Your Name" are both boring as hell.

Good or bad, what all these songs have in common is an airy superficiality. Only once does Selena delve beneath the surface. "Love Will Remember" is obviously about the collapse of her romance with Justin. But the album version of the song is without the alleged Bieber voicemail that was present when the track leaked last week. Without this personal touch, the song is robbed of its identity, and suddenly, the vulnerability of  "Love Will Remember" is about as convincing as that on "The Way I Loved You", a death-of-love song Selena tried to tackle when she was only 15 and hadn't even held hands with someone who wasn't named Jonas.

Even at its best, Stars Dance disappoints. While Miley Cyrus has recently dismissed her old music, and Demi Lovato has never developed the musical identity to match her amazing voice, Selena was lucky enough to perfect her artistry on When the Sun Goes Down, which is bubblegum pop at its finest. Stars Dance undoes this feat, trapping Selena in the same anonymity and incohesiveness she struggled with earlier in her career.

The final verdict: Selena gets major brownie points for her impressive musical risks, but that same ambition costs the album the presence of its star.

1 comment:

Taylor said...

Love Will Remember is a true jam!

Also you have another thing to add to your list of talents: Professional Music Critic!