Selena Gomez Revival
Demi Lovato Confident
Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato have been on parallel career tracks since they were 10 years old. That’s when they both appeared as part of the kid ensemble on Barney and Friends; subsequently, they both went on to star in Disney Channel sitcoms (Gomez on Wizards of Waverly Place, Lovato on Sonny With a Chance) and launch careers as pop singers. Now 23, they’ve both released their fifth albums within a week of each other, with similarly empowering titles (Gomez’s Revival, Lovato’s Confident) and similar efforts at mature reinvention following personal struggles (Gomez’s treatment for lupus and turbulent relationship with fellow pop star Justin Bieber; Lovato’s stints in rehab for substance abuse and eating disorders).
Both albums feature a sometimes fascinating, sometimes frustrating combination of shrewdly calculated pop accessibility and genuine personal vulnerability. Although both singers have a number of co-writing credits on their albums, even the songs they had no hand in writing sound like they’re commenting on the difficulties the singers have gone through. Partly that’s because many of the songs are full of lyrical platitudes, and the army of pop producers and songwriters (including at least two who worked on both albums) often create the same kinds of songs for other artists. In particular, Katy Perry is an obvious touchstone for both singers, and songs like Gomez’s “Rise” and Lovato’s “Confident” could be cousins to Perry’s mega-hit “Roar.”
Musically, the albums are split between club-ready dance numbers and adult-contemporary-friendly ballads, with plenty of hooks (courtesy of those armies of writer-producers) in both. As is common for pop albums created by committee, both Revival and Confident are inconsistent, with driving, catchy dance-pop songs like Gomez’s “Sober” and “Survivors” and Lovato’s “Waitin for You” and hit single “Cool for the Summer” (easily the best song on either album) existing alongside overwrought ballads (Lovato’s melisma-filled “Stone Cold”) and generic club numbers seemingly created only for trendy remixes.
At their best, though, the albums show Gomez and Lovato bringing distinct perspectives to music often designed to be indistinct. Neither one has the songwriting skills of Taylor Swift or the singing voice of Kelly Clarkson, but they take their own self-expression and the feelings of their impressionable young fans seriously. “I got so much sh*t to say/But I can’t help feeling like I’m camouflaged,” Gomez sings on the quite lovely “Camouflage.” With these albums, she and her longtime friend and colleague slowly pull back some of those layers.