July 23--Selena Gomez really wants to be a bad girl. She's just not very good at it yet.
The Disney graduate's fourth studio album, "Stars Dance," is a bit like her performance in this year's "Spring Breakers" -- all tease and no real payoff. Gomez, 20, disappeared less than halfway through the film, before any of the real action started. "Stars Dance" has hints of a more mature vampiness, but Gomez seems afraid to take it too far. (This is being called her "debut" solo album; the previous three were billed as Selena Gomez & the Scene.) She spends much of the time making like a lightweight Rihanna or Britney Spears who, despite their own issues, know how to sex up a pop track.
"Birthday" boasts a few moans and a droning groove, Gomez cooing suggestively about "cake and cream." She's in full-on Spears mode during "Slow Down" and even adopts a Rihanna-esque island patois during "Like a Champion." These aren't terrible songs, but they aren't terribly original, either. Gomez still has no clear idea of who she is as a singer or even a pop star. She seems content to ride the current EDM (electronic dance music) craze without actually contributing anything new.
At her best, the Dallas native has a chirpy, cheerful personality exemplified on tracks "Save the Day" and "Forget Forever," a big, lush dance anthem that plays like a Coldplay remix. Slinky, Bollywood-inspired single "Come and Get It" has proven her biggest hit to date and emits a certain summertime charm.
And, yes, there are songs here that could be loosely alluding to Gomez's on/off relationship with Justin Bieber (see album closer "Love Will Remember"). But it hardly matters, since the lyrics don't go more than skin deep. Gomez doesn't have a single writing credit here, and maybe that's the problem. Her input might have given the material a much-needed gravity and more of a personal connection.
She's still doing her best pop-tart impersonation on "B.E.A.T." -- "I like the lights in my hand and the beat in my face" -- but the bass-heavy groove is at least an interesting contrast to Gomez's baby-doll delivery. Maybe fellow Mouse House refugee Miley Cyrus could give her pointers on how to stage a real career breakout.
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