By Leah Greenblatt
January 09, 2020 at 12:30 PM EST
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How could Selena Gomez not be tired? She was, until recently, the most followed human on Instagram; an ambassador for UNICEF, Pantene, Coca-Cola, Coach, and Louis Vuitton; an actress appearing regularly in indie films and animated franchises alike; paramour to equally famous men — Justin Bieber, the Weeknd —and source, over the past decade-plus, of six studio albums, numerous collaborations, and some two dozen gold and platinum singles.

So when the singer canceled extended tour legs in 2014 and 2016, pleading exhaustion and ill health, it felt like a breach of the modern celebrity contract: Show up, share everything. (She shared a lot, eventually; it turned out she suffered from anxiety and depression brought on by the autoimmune disease lupus, for which she also underwent a kidney transplant.)

Now 27 and apparently in a steadier place, the Texas native has settled into the role of Relatable Superstar —exuding a calculated but somehow still tender vulnerability with every goofy spaghetti selfie and real-talk radio interview. For Rare’s lead single, she chose “Lose You to Love Me,” a sparse, striking piano ballad that seemed to explicitly call out her ex, Bieber, for crimes against Selena-nity; it also became her first to top the Billboard Hot 100.

Nearly every song here spells out some lesson in self-love and acceptance, triumph over hardship and haters, and the harsh critic within — from the loping title track’s plea for a partner’s consideration (“I’m not getting enough from you/ Didn’t you know I’m hard to find?”) to the lite–Daft Punk funk of “Dance Again” (“All the drama’s in remission/I don’t need permission to dance again”) and airy-urgent “Let Me Get Me” (“No self-sabotage, no letting my thoughts run/Me and this spiral are done”). There’s even a sweet little slab of whisper-disco literally called “Vulnerable,” in which the line “I stay vulnerable” loops and shimmers like a strobe-lit mantra — earnest bathroom-mirror affirmations shot through an Ibiza glitter cannon.

There’s a different kind of playful defiance in the syncopated strut of tracks like “Ring” and the sinuous kiss-off “Kinda Crazy” and the nonsense chorus of “mm-mmmmmms” in “Look at Her Now,” which works like a sort of giddy hypnosis, repeating until it becomes the pure sound of post-breakup freedom. For all its heavy messaging, lightness actually feels like the album’s hallmark: an anti-weighted blanket of breathy vocals and zero-gravity synths that consistently float above pop’s sonic slipstream. A varsity-squad production team, including various Max Martin-affiliated Swedes and the ace songwriting duo of Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, bring their considerable contributions — though their job, of course, is to make Gomez sound like nothing less than her own woman: a girl interrupted but now returned, in Rare form. B+

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