When you think about it, Selena Gomez is really in a fairly undesirable position. Just turning 21, she’s navigating this awkward transition place between shedding the sweet Disney kid image and being viewed not only as a serious pop star, but as an adult. And the on-off-on-off relationship with Justin Bieber is a double-edged sword, because while it’s given her some natural publicity and gotten her name known—it also means that all eyes are on her while she makes the transition.
Gomez’s latest release, Stars Dance, unfortunately, only adds to the awkwardness of the moment. Positioning itself squarely as an electro-dance club party album, it really does no more to help her case than did her role in the ill-advised party movie Spring Breakers. Rather than making her appear like a serious adult pop star, the album comes across more like a Disney kid trying to break bad. It’s just unconvincing.
Undoubtedly, it’s not all Gomez’s fault here. Someone needs to tell the production team that when you pitch-shift the word “sexy” (in “Like a Champion”), it doesn’t sound the least bit sexy. Or that the lyric “Blow your dreams, blow your dreams, blow your dreams away with me” on opening track “Birthday” is most definitely not a good lyric flow. Or that the effected moans in said opening track, no doubt intended to be seductive, are just plain uncomfortable.
But really, all this is nitpicky compared to the real issue with Stars Dance. By the numbers, it should be a success (and financially, probably will be, on name recognition if nothing else). It’s got current sounds and trendy dance rhythms, including plenty of dropped bass and world music elements, crystal-clean production value, and so on. But the flip side is that because it sounds so much like everything else on the market, it has to have something more—some kind of spark, some kind of connection—to make it stand out. And that part falls not on the production team, but on Selena Gomez. She has to make a connection with her audience, not just in concert, but also on the record itself.
And that’s really the rub. It’s difficult to describe why, because it’s so intangible—but ultimately listening to this record, it feels like Gomez has somehow failed to make that connection. It feels like we are set at a distance, watching her, listening to her, even enjoying the beat once in awhile, but not attached in any way. We hear her lyrically move around the familiar electro-pop territory: dance all night, feel the beat, show the boy you’re ready to get it on, blah blah blah…but it sparks no emotion. The party bus left the station, and we weren’t on it.
The one exception to this is the album’s advance single, the Bollywood-esque “Come & Get It.” This is the album’s one shining moment where everything feels like it comes together, and we are in the moment with Gomez. Well-crafted, well-performed and having a great hook, it is the one place where we feel this girl really has the potential to make it through this transition and to shine as a star.
But alas, the moment passes, and we are left with the rest. One really good single is the only real takeaway, and among what remains, Stars Dance is forgettable in its better moments, and just uncomfortable at its worst. This won’t be a career-killer for Selena Gomez, but she needs to find a way to connect to her audience in a deeper way if she’s going to come to the next level of stardom.
Oh—and some people ought to be fired before planning the next album. Just saying.