Selena Gomez – Revival
Released: October 9, 2015
The meticulously engineered Disney route to pop stardom is flat, predictable, and only occasionally ends someplace interesting. Miley Cyrus’ shockingly impressive Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a wild exception to the rule. Recent material from the current crop of post-Disney starlets (Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, etc.) has been largely unremarkable, despite their collective streak of wildly successful singles. As recovering music snob, I am always trying to keep an open mind and 2015 has already had a few delightful pop surprises (I’m looking at you Carly Rae Jepsen) so I decided to give Selena Gomez’s sophomore album a spin based on the strength of the lead single “Good For You”. A perfect summer single, “Good For You” is powerful, sexy and confidently understated. There is a palpable tension that lingers throughout the song and the lack of a zeitgeist pandering drop is entirely refreshing, even with A$AP Rocky’s entirely unnecessary verse tacked on to the end. In other words, “Good For You” was good enough for me to give Revival a try.
Revival is a surprisingly chill album. It’s not overtly saccharine or peppy and as far as pop albums go, this one is pretty laid back. Gomez leans on R&B influences in a transparently motivated move away from the electro-pop of her previous records. Even when she aims for the dance floor, the production is refreshingly lean if not completely minimal. Revival is engineered to help her transition from fluorescent teen pop to adult pop and to that end the album is moderately successful. However, Gomez still sounds naive, even when her lyrics are supported by a more mature production style. The best example of this contrast is the mid-tempo electro pop ode to being nice “Kill Em With Kindness”. Her lyrics are largely devoid of weight and poetry but the song sounds fantastic. With the Prince Pop Paradigm as my critical lens, the distance between producer and performer is too obvious to ignore on much of Revival. I like a lot of Revival‘s sound, but I have a hard time shaking the sensation that the credited artist deserves only a small slice of the credit for what I am listening to.
All snobbery aside, I like Revival for what it is. It’s an easy listen, a popcorn album that doesn’t demand a lot from the listener and in that way it loyally serves a fundamental cultural need. The world needs the To Pimp A Butterflys and Carrie & Lowells just as desperately as it needs albums like Revival. The same escapist urge that moves us towards sci-fi and action movies also drives us towards the ecstatic pleasures of pop music. But pop music’s universal accessibility presents a conflicting hypocrisy – art made for everyone is art made for no-one in particular. As Gomez moves into a new phase of her career, she has to define her audience as much as she has to define her voice and the understated pop-R&B of Revival is a respectable, albeit unremarkable, direction for this talented young artist.
Top Tracks: “Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)”, “Kill Em With Kindness”, “Revival”