Key Tracks: “Birthday,” “Nobody Does It Like You” (Bonus Track)
No one can blame Selena Gomez for wanting to grow up. She got trapped in the Disney Channel at a young age. And now she has had to watch two former channel-mates attempt the transition into adulthood: The Jonas Brothers, who played the Hanson route of simply growing older without changing anything, and are slowly fading into obscurity, and Miley Cyrus, whose public outbursts flip-flop between emotionally human and dementedly perverse have left bad tastes in the mouths of people who enjoy watching celebrities break down. Gomez, who can legally drink as of only yesterday, found a proper route of simply maturing. Her music and personal life are more mature than previous, without being interesting to the paparazzi. Spring Breakers was a major advancement (and for her co-star, Vanessa Hudgens, who is navigating the same path), placing her in a sexual and bleak, very-very-hard-R-rated movie. But her proper debut album, “Stars Dance” is not very interesting, either. It nails the transition into adulthood, as she creates big-beat dance songs but plays everything safe for the potential younger audience. “Safe” just goes a little too far.
There is a song on the album called “B.E.A.T.” that is vaguely about sex, direct enough for the proper audience but maybe still over the heads of any kid listeners. The chorus actually eschews Gomez’s voice briefly for a repetition of beats that represent something or other, but they are just beats. Lyrically and musically, it is very safe. Gomez never reaches for high notes. In fact, her voice is never even prominently featured. It sounds phoned in at points. The only point where it doesn’t is the bonus track “Nobody Does It Like You,” where she stretches out a little. Her voice, the beats and the lyrics are the three components of the album but none are the focus. Weak lyrics can’t make up for the weak songwriting. All of the tracks are underhand pitches thrown at the listeners. It is all completely average.
That said, it is a transition album, perhaps. It could at least be seen that way. She is still young, and much of her fanbase, younger. Safe may have been the only option. Anything more than that, and she’s the next Miley Cyrus. While the album’s bland nature might sound tedious to some listeners, it might be experimental for Gomez. This is her first time truly branching solo, and the album does a successful job treading the moderate path between Cyrus and Jonas. Unfortunately for Gomez, average is the only safe route for her to take. Blame Disney.
-By Andrew McNally