Although she's been in the public eye for over a decade as a child actress-turned-pop star, Selena Gomez has always come across as somewhat hard to decipher compared to her fellow ex-Disney peers. Sure, she has a very public relationship with Justin Bieber under her belt, and a supporting role in the girls-behaving-very-very-badly thriller "Spring Breakers," but she's remained virtually scandal-free compared to, say, Miley Cyrus or her "Spring Breakers" co-star Vanessa Hudgens.
Those looking for additional insight, then, won't find much of it on "Stars Dance," billed as Gomez's "solo" debut after three albums of dance-pop with former backing band The Scene. There's a pair of danceable breakup ballads that address her dissolved romance with Bieber, but without the real-life voicemail message that was apparently removed from album closer "Love Will Remember," even they feel vaguely impersonal at best, despite co-writing credits from Gomez herself.
What's left, then, is a collection of 11 shinily produced pop songs that find Gomez trying on a series of different personalities with her slight-yet-capable vocals. Lead single "Come & Get It" is one of several attempts at Rihanna's brand of world pop, club bangers "Birthday" and "B.E.A.T." see her trying Dev-style EDM, and the title track is a nod to Skrillex, who also composed the dreamy score to "Spring Breakers."
Which songs are the best on "Stars Dance"? Read on for our track-by-track review of Selena Gomez's latest.
1. Birthday - "Tell 'em that it's my birthday/When I party like that," Selena coos on "Stars Dance's" club-ready opening track, named and sequenced to coincide with the singer's 21st birthday on July 22, the eve of the album's release. There are beats built around police sirens and a rallying cry of "party onnnn, baby!," the proceedings never get more risqué than "blow your dreams, blow your dreams, blow your dreams away."
2. Slow Down
"If you want me I'm accepting applications," Gomez proclaims on this peppy, dance-pop rave-up courtesy of Far East Movement/Dev producer the Cataracs, nodding to her newly single status. As far as current trends go, "Slow Down" checks each one on the list — a pseudo-dubstep pre-chorus breakdown, stretched-out staccato vocal loops and not-too-naughty-for Disney lyrics ("You know I'm good with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation") for good measure. Harmless, frothy fun.
3. Stars Dance - With a fuzzy, mid-tempo beat similar to "Come & Get It," the title track channels the dreamy dubstep of Skrillex but also features one of Gomez's most distinctive vocals. Layered with Rock Mafia's signature drum beats, "Stars Dance" is a stylish standout.
4. Like A Champion - The Rihanna-esque portion of "Stars Dance" kicks in with "Like A Champion," a reggae-lite confection from co-writer Peter Thomas (Betty Who, Victoria Justice) that ultimately falls victim to too many references to the Barbadian pop princess — right down to the lyric "shine like diamonds in the sky." Though a little island flair ultimately suits Gomez well, "Like A Champion" doesn't do much for establishing her own musical identity.
5. Come & Get It
Originally written for Rihanna, "Come & Get It" is the biggest hit of Gomez's career, although it doesn't quite pack the punch of 2011's excellent "Love You Like A Love Song."
6. Forget Forever - The first track to directly address her split from Bieber, "Forget Forever" finds Gomez mourning its loss and also pointing fingers. "Our love was made to rule the world / you came and broke the perfect girl…you left me wanting what we were" she sings on the chorus as squiggly beats and Electric Daisy-ready piano flourishes pile upon each other.
7. Save The Day - Co-written by Livvi Franc, "Save The Day" never approaches the level of sass shown by the "Now I'm That Bitch" singer a few years back, but borrows the same kind of gym-friendly beats. Though Gomez doesn't pitch in on lyrical duties here, there's still vague references to Bieber sprinkled throughout ("Just tell me it's not over / and we'll never reach the end.")
8. B.E.A.T. - Was Dev's "Bass Down Low" really a big-enough hit to warrant a knockoff? That appears to be the case with "B.E.A.T.," which practically rewrites every line of the hook on Dev's solo breakout but throws in a couple innocuously sung verses by Gomez.
9. Write Your Name - Gomez re-teams with songwriting duo Dreamlab ("Hit The Lights," "Magical") on this charming dance track.
10. Undercover - After a while, "Stars Dance" begins to sound like an exceptionally produced Disney workout playlist. "Undercover" supports this theory, but could perform well as a standalone single with the right treatment. The synths are heavy enough, and there's plenty of latter-period Britney-isms (the vocal warps on "you can keep it undercover") to spare.
11. Love Will Remember
The closest thing to a confessional moment on "Stars Dance," "Love Will Remember" finds Gomez retracing the steps of what went wrong with Bieber. "The trips we dreamed of taking / The tacks left on the map / What happened to that?" she sings sadly over an otherwise-thumping beat, later adding, "I used to think that I was irreplaceable / We lit the whole world up / Before we blew it up / I still don't know just how we screwed it up." Though it ends an otherwise peppy collection on a bittersweet note, "Love Will Remember" may provide some solace to the hordes of fans still mourning the loss of "Jelena" themselves.
- Pop