On her Interscope Records debut, multi-platinum singer Selena Gomez redefines her role as a pop artist and offers her most complex and compelling album so far. Powerful and passionately charged, thrilling and sophisticated, Revival finds the 23-year-old co-writing with the likes of A$AP Rocky to channel raw emotion into her lushly arranged brand of pop music. Gomez’s newfound creative control and strengthened command of her soulful vocals are more than evident in lead single “Good for You,” a snap-beat-driven slow-burner that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s digital songs chart and landed on Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 Best Songs of 2015 So Far.
Throughout Revival, Gomez explores the excitement and struggle of coming into your own, a tension that’s embodied in the first lines of her album-opening title track (“I dive into the future/But I’m blinded by the sun/I’m reborn in every moment/So who knows what I’ll become”). “Making this album was the first time in my life that everyone looked at me and asked, ‘What do you want to do?’” recalls the Grand Prairie, Texas-raised Gomez, who began acting at age 10 and released her first album at 17. “It was a whole different kind of challenge for me,” she adds. And though Gomez admits that challenge was daunting at first, she soon embraced her creative freedom. “So much of my life has been public, and I’m at the point where I want to be able to talk about things that matter to me without being afraid of how people are going to perceive it,” she says. “Because one thing I can’t do is fake it—everything I’m singing has to be completely me.”
The follow-up to 2013’s Stars Dance—which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s album chart and spawned the triple-platinum #1 hit “Come and Get It”—Revival matches that gently fierce spirit with lyrics both intensely personal and outward-looking. “For me the heart of the album is my perspective on how people treat other people, in friendships or relationships or just in everyday life,” says Gomez. By way of example, she points to a hard-hitting yet hypnotic track called “Sober” (“You’re like a wasted dream/I gave you everything/But you don’t know how to love me when you’re sober”). “‘Sober’ is about social awkwardness and feeling like you have to drink to loosen up,” Gomez explains. “It’s a dope song with this great beat and great melody, but it’s got a message that’s probably pretty relevant to a lot of people listening.”
That strong-minded sensibility also fuels songs like “Kill ‘Em with Kindness,” a gorgeously sprawling and synth-washed track that twists its potent lyrics into a whole new breed of dance anthem (“Your lies are bullets/Your mouth’s a gun/No war in anger was ever won”). On “Same Old Love” (a groove-heavy but haunting piece of piano-laced electro-pop co-written by Charli XCX), Gomez looks at the darker dimensions of love and finds empowerment through the release of pain. “That song’s partly about how things from your past can really affect your relationships now, how they can have this big impact on your life without you maybe even realizing,” Gomez notes.
With its seductive beat, sleek textures, and elegantly breathy vocals, “Hands to Myself” has Gomez slipping into a brighter and more blissfully lovesick mood (“You’re metaphorical gin and juice/So come on, give me a taste”). The first single, “Good for You” (featuring a guest appearance from co-writer A$AP Rocky), infuses sultry energy into a stripped-back serenade. The song debuted at #1 on the Billboard Digital Songs Chart and drew in the biggest first-week sales for any digital single.
Whether she’s taking on a torch song or club-ready track, Gomez maneuvers through each song on Revival with a dynamic vocal presence that’s gracefully restrained. “My priority in making this album was to figure out my strengths, and one way I did that was to explore this lower vocal register of mine,” she says. “I’m really proud of that, and I think it helped me deliver the best performance I could.” Another major point of pride: shaking off her fear of laying her soul bare in her lyrics. “There were moments when I felt uncomfortable about addressing certain things in my life, so I had to work on letting that go,” says Gomez. “Eventually I learned how to break down those barriers, and I’m so grateful for that. It was all very emotionally draining, but in a good way.” That process sometimes called for creative problem-solving, such as when Gomez and her team halted production for a spur-of-the-moment, head-clearing trip to Mexico. “I’d recorded about 17 songs and felt like there was still something missing,” she says. “So I asked some of my favorite writers and producers to come down to Puerto Vallarta with me, to get out of L.A. and out of our comfort zone. We ended up coming up with four new songs and recording a bit, and it’s also where we came up with the title for the album.”
Revival marks the latest chapter in a career that’s brought Gomez from starring in her own Disney Channel show at age 15 to taking a central role in Harmony Korine’s 2012 cult classic Spring Breakers—all while selling more than 21 million singles worldwide. “I’m so excited to share this album with my fans who’ve been with me for so much of my life, to give them this new piece of my story,” she says. “But I’m also excited for people who’ve never heard me before to put their headphones on and experience that story too.” According to Gomez, the strength of that story has much to do with allowing herself to be utterly vulnerable in her music. “There’s an honesty in my voice here that I’ve never completely felt before. So even though everything I’ve released in the past has been something I loved and cherished, I don’t think I really knew how to tap into this deeper part of myself until this album,” she says. “I definitely don’t think I’ve got everything all figured out, and I’m going to just keep on constantly learning and growing—but this album is absolutely where I’m at right now.”