Earbuddy processes a lot of music, but we’ve neglected to talk about most of the stuff that actually sells well. We’ll cover stuff like Yeezus and Daft Punk, but those are products born out of alternative thinking and don’t sell as much as devotees like to think (even Justin Timberlake’s last album, which is still selling well, is laid out in an absurd fashion). Film critics don’t just review art films and book critics aren’t doing their job if they ignore the New York Times Best Sellers List, so why should we turn a blind eye to what is selling well? As such, I decided to make time to listen to Selena Gomez’s first proper solo album, Stars Dance, and to my surprise, it is a refreshing slice of dance-pop that straddles the line between projecting a light-hearted atmosphere and offering a sharp commentary on today’s youth. It is an important album as well, and I think this might be one of the best albums of…nah, I’m just kidding, the album sucks.
To be clear, I don’t hold this album’s low quality against Gomez. She talks about music as though she actually loves it, she has co-writing credits for songs that don’t suck, she’s about to go on her first solo world tour (that will last four months), and she could probably make more money with less effort by starring in low-brow, low-risk films, so I reject the idea that Stars Dance was made purely to make a quick buck. It is easier to lay blame at the feet of the dozens of writers involved in the making of this album. Gomez doesn’t have a single writing credit for any of the songs on the vanilla edition of Stars Dance, but none of these songs are credited to fewer than three writers, and two of them, “Like a Champion” and “Forget Forever”, credit six writers, which is particularly astonishing by the two songs not sharing any of the same writers. I don’t think that any musician’s work is less valid if their material was written by someone else, and I don’t think that a song with six writing credits is bad because of its lengthy credits, but the latter serves as a symptom of Stars Dance’s bigger issues.
The folks who made this album have bullshitted about how they took inspiration from several different genres of music, but to me, this album’s influences are Rihanna, Skrillex, and the song “Better Off Alone”. Like Rihanna, Gomez’s voice is used as a guilding force—she doesn’t so much sing as serve as the last piece added to a framework, and if Gomez can sing, she isn’t allowed to offer much evidence of her capabilities beyond holding a note. Skrillex’s brand of the most predictable kind of dubstep is co-opted for pop thrills here, which might have been acceptable in more capable hands or if most of these songs didn’t share similar song structures. For all of the names that are on board, the lyrical content might be the most lacking element here. First rhyme of “Slow Down”, which has five writers: “Now that I have captured your attention / I want to steal you for a rhythm intervention”. The first few lines of “Like a Champion”, which has six writers: “Tonight we come alive / Stand up cause you got that pride / Dancin’ and the sweat don’t dry / Once shot, so baby hit it right / No doubt ’cause we’re young and free / Walk like you run the city / Write your name in the sky / Live it up, cause baby it’s your time”. From “Undercover”, which has four writers: “I wanna find a place where we can be alone in the dark / And you can never get me like the math that you know by heart”. I didn’t go into this album with high expectations towards its lyrical content, but this material is well below the bar set by Katy Perry and Rihanna, and that’s saying something.
Stars Dance’s biggest shortcoming, though, might be its lack of personality or purpose. At no point during this album did I feel as though the songs needed to be on the same album and listened to in a specific order, and for an album that features Gomez’s face plastered on its cover, album title stuck in its corner, I didn’t get much of a sense of Gomez’s persona. She is happy sometimes, she is sad sometimes, she hints that she likes to fuck in bathrooms sometimes, and sometimes she likes to scam places by lying about when her birthday is. Selena Gomez’s Stars Dance is a clumsy celebration of the party lifestyle, which was recently deconstructed in a visible, polarizing film called Spring Breakers…starring Selena Gomez. I’d call this hypocritical, but I honestly don’t know how much, if any, creative control Gomez had in this project, and as I understand it, Gomez is a normal kid with a devilish sense of humor who doesn’t like to rock the boat that much, so I doubt that this album is representative of her actual personality. It is way too easy to imagine much of this album being birthed in a manner not unlike that one scene in the second season of Louie where C.K. and a room of paid help try to patch up a broken script. The only two songs that I liked were the title track and “Come & Get It”, both of which “only” have three writing credits. Stars Dance is bland, hollow, glossy, poorly constructed, and yet isn’t bad enough to work as a guilty pleasure. Also, it is the #1 album in North America, and I’m sure I can’t swing a cat in FYE without hitting three popular albums with similar flaws. I can’t get too mad at the folks who bought this album—we’ll always buy stupid shit—but, well, I thought there was a time when our standards were higher than this.
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Read past editions of Own It or Disown It