Review Summary: Stars Dance is more offensive in its mediocrity than anything else.
Fresh off her much-publicized role in this year’s Spring Breakers, Selena Gomez turns to music to continue her transition from Disney starlet to edgier territory, albeit not as violently as other female celebrities of yore (Britney Spears being the most efficient example). The good-girl-going-bad period always seems to signify a public figure taking more control of their image, and Stars Dance is no exception. This is Selena Gomez on her own, without The Scene backing her up, making it her debut studio album. That’s a ripe chance for reinvention, but Stars Dance doesn’t give us a Selena Gomez 2.0 so much as it simply pushes her through the motions of Top 40 vapidity.
Album opener ‘Birthday’ sets things in motion, with Selena calling out “Tell ‘em that it’s my birthday!” over handclaps and harsh synths before collapsing in a heap of pop music tropes. It’s messy and predictable, and it’s probably the most intriguing thing on the album. It’s reminiscent of Rihanna’s far edgier ‘Birthday Cake,’ but before anything steamier than “Blow your dreams away with me,” is chanted, the album moves to more dubstep-laden territory with ‘Slow Down’ and the title track (which, as title tracks go, is pretty limp). Not much else on the album goes to any length to break through the heavy electropop production, and by its conclusion, Stars Dance is completely waterlogged by its own design.
Plenty of tracks here are catchy, but that’s a minimum requirement for a pop record, and most of the catchiness is borrowed from other, better songs. ‘Walk Like A Champion’ awkwardly mimics Rihanna’s Caribbean delivery. ‘Come & Get It’ opens with a distinctly Indian sound (embarrassingly called both ‘Middle Eastern’ and ‘Tribal’ by Gomez herself), similar to ‘Gotta Have It’ from Watch the Throne. ‘B.E.A.T.’ is a blatant rip-off of ‘Bass Down Low.’ The comparisons go on and on, and they only further solidify Stars Dance as a checklist of pop music clichés to be endured, rather than enjoyed.
But the biggest problem with Stars Dance has more to do with Selena herself than the music. She doesn’t have any writing or production credits here, leaving her at the mercy of those that do. As a result, there’s no personality on display. Gomez seems content to sound like anybody else, and every one of the tracks on Stars Dance could have been sung by any run-of-the-mill female pop artist. She’s working strictly off of templates here, and it shows.
The bonus track ‘Nobody Does It Like You’ has Selena softly singing “I wanna be a bad girl.” But does she? Even her role in Spring Breakers had less edge than those of her co-stars. She took hits from a bong and got drunk and partied on screen, but she was established early on as a good little church-goer (her name was Faith, for crying out loud), and she was the first of the girls in the story to ditch the party scene and return home when her morals kicked in. On Stars Dance, there’s light talk of partying, bodies touching, coming and getting it, and wild sides, and that’s about it. Miley Cyrus’ Can’t Be Tamed, a dud if there ever was one, had more bite. Gomez, it would seem, is trying to have her cake and eat it too: she’s embracing more risqué career choices, but is keeping it watered down just enough, should anybody get too offended. Stars Dance may boast more aggressive and clamorous beats than her past work, but the passivity on display here signifies that Selena isn’t taking any more control of her image than she’s allowed.