Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato are two stars who were groomed by the Disney machine. But in recent years they’ve jettisoned their Mickey Mouse ears by going for pop stardom. If this scenario sounds like a throwback to another Mouse House era—starring Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera—well, it looks like history is repeating itself. And just as gossipmongers were always eager to pit Brit-Brit and Xtina in an imagined never-ending feud, Gomez and Lovato are the subject of similar scrutiny. It may not help that they’re releasing their records one week apart, but judging by their latest albums, the two are going down very divergent paths. And they’re succeeding on their own terms.
On her fifth album Gomez goes for mood-setting, and the result is a gripping batch of sultry pop jams that are more “Netflix and chill,” less “Let’s hit the clurb.” Since her 2009 debut Gomez, now 23, hasn’t always come across as a powerhouse singer, so she’s wise to team up with studio pros like Stargate and Rock Mafia, whose glossy, insanely catchy production (a whistled hook here, a cool, pitter-pattering groove there) keeps Revival from becoming a bore. Gomez’s high-profile celebrity—she’s Justin Bieber’s ex and Taylor Swift’s BFF—may be off-putting for aesthetes and music snobs, but they’ll be missing out: Revival is as fresh and forward-thinking as the music of indie darlings Tove Lo and FKA twigs.
If Gomez is going for a lazy-Sunday-with-rosé vibe, Lovato is blaring a loud-AF air horn at a house party. Confident, released by Disney’s Hollywood Records, bursts with titanic melodies from songwriters like Max Martin and Ryan Tedder, and the 23-year-old’s unstoppable vocal power imbues these songs with an exciting rock & roll edge. On the aggressive “Waitin for You,” Lovato attacks her haters with her gale-force voice—she’s like the pop version of MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. “Knuckles out and a guard in my mouth,” she bellows, “When you’re hungry for the next round/ I’ll be waitin for ya!” Over 11 tracks Lovato’s energy is unwavering, sometimes to a fault. So it’s a welcome relief that she takes a moment to reveal a softer side on the gospel-tinged ballad “Father,” a tear-jerking tribute to her estranged late dad.
Taken on their own, Gomez’s and Lovato’s albums aren’t breaking any radical new pop ground. In fact, both could have benefited by taking inspiration from the other. (Fans could easily make their own Selemi Gomato playlist—and the result would be killer.) But what’s most remarkable and exciting about Revival and Confident is how two talented women who may have seemed like carbon copies of each other at first are becoming individual artists. Not unlike Britney and Christina.