“What a thing to be human, made her more of a woman.”

If it feels like it’s been awhile since Selena Gomez’s last studio album, that’s because a lot has happened in those four years. She’s fought a battle with the autoimmune disease lupus, which had caused adverse health effects that led to the cancellation of several legs of her last two world tours, and ultimately resulted in a kidney transplant in 2017. She had highly publicized on-again-off-again relationships with The Weeknd and Justin Bieber, the latter of which has come to define most of her public image over the last decade—from her evolution as a Disney star to a chart-topping pop star, actress, and over 140 million followers on Instagram, the stress of being in the public eye began to take its toll.

Gomez has been in and out of treatment facilities for depression and anxiety for the last several years, and has recently been advocating for ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. But never fear—thanks to the advent of the music streaming era, the singer has never quite been off the grid in terms of musical output: in addition to the solo singles “Bad Liar” and “Fetish,” Gomez found significant commercial success with her collaborations with Kygo and Marshmello in 2017—“It Ain’t Me” and “Wolves”—as well as “Back to You,” a single from the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack the following summer (a series on which she served as an executive producer), and “I Can’t Get Enough” with Benny Blanco and Tainy early last year. Even if Gomez was dealing with a mountain’s worth of hardships in her personal life, her record label and Spotify were never far behind in convincing us that she’s never too far away from another hit single.

The singer both embraced that narrative and turned it on its head with “Lose You to Love Me,” the powerful ballad that serves as the lead single from her third solo album Rare—as well as her first single to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. A past version of Gomez might have had us convinced that her first number one single would have been something more commercially catchy, like “Good For You” (her collaboration with A$AP Rocky from her last album Revival) or even the sassy, passive-aggressive dance-pop anthem “Look At Her Now,” which immediately followed “Lose You to Love Me” last October. But no: Selena Gomez has proven once and for all that in order to reach her strongest point yet as a musician, she had to live through what she went through. In other words, she had to get perspective, and she had a little growing up to do.

Rare 1

“I feel like I was supposed to go through everything I’ve gone through,” she said in a new profile with WSJ Magazine. “I had low self-esteem, and that’s something I work on continuously. But I feel so empowered because I’ve gained so much knowledge about what was going on mentally.” In the interview, Gomez also revealed that her new album Rare is her most personal and authentic in more ways than one, admitting that before this record, most of her music was packaged for her. “There was a lot of putting my music together for me, and I didn’t have much control,” she said. She referred to one song in particular as “so not [her] personality”—her 2013 hit “Come & Get It,” which was the beginning of Selena Gomez as a solo star, since she had done three albums with her Disney-curated band The Scene between 2009 and 2011.

By contrast, Rare is definitely Gomez’s most personal and autobiographical album to date, offering a new sense of artistry that was rarely felt in her previous work: not to discourage her previous two albums, Stars Dance and Revival—both of which solidified Gomez’s strength in dance-pop—but looking back, it’s evident that there was a certain personal aspect missing from her previous work that is front and centre for us to see on Rare. The album’s title track might feel like a love song, but Gomez is telling us that we don’t even realize how rare this moment is: how rare it is to be vulnerable, to wholly feel our emotions, to express them, to have something to say. By attempting to embrace the flaws that she had been battling—or at least acknowledge that they’re there, and keep dancing anyway—Gomez has tapped into a vein as an artist that we’ve truly never heard before.

The up-tempo bop “Dance Again” kicks off the rest of the album, the kind of dance-pop track that you would expect from Gomez, with an added layer of authenticity. “Lose You to Love Me,” which hits at the perfect moment around the middle of the album, continues to strike a remarkable balance between the singer’s own struggles and journey for peace, and the tabloid drama about her that is out of her hands. We’re left to assume the song is about Justin Bieber, but it’s the kind of breakup ballad that resonates even if you aren’t experiencing a breakup—it captures the feeling of learning to separate your own health and happiness from everyone else’s, and figuring out how to stop being a supportive character in your own story. Gomez is allowing herself to be vulnerable, quite literally on the track of the same name, emphasizing that perhaps when we debunk the misconception that vulnerability equates weakness, we realize that sometimes we are at our strongest when we are most vulnerable. To quote Franz Kafka, “I have the true feeling of myself only when I am unbearably unhappy.”

Gomez is both passive-aggressive and unbothered on Rare, evidenced best in both “Look At Her Now” and “People You Know,” another somewhat breakup song that we are, again, left to assume is about Bieber (although my first thought was that people were going to make it about her supposedly broken friendship with Demi Lovato). But if I may borrow a line from Taylor Swift’s latest album Lover, “it isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference,” I believe that Rare, in the same vein, is about indifference: a place of being both over your grudges while still very vividly remembering the details, but generally in a state of acceptance that we can’t control the past, and having zero tolerance for negativity in the future.

Other highlights and strong points on Rare include “Let Me Get Me,” an honest offering about being at war with oneself, and “Cut You Off,” which articulates the necessity of eliminating negativity as best as anyone can. If Revival was the longer, more commercially viable Selena Gomez album, Rare is its distant first cousin: a shorter, less flashy record that makes up for lost time in terms of autobiography and personal revelations, and I mean that as the highest compliment. The time spent with less control over her music and years of personal struggles was necessary to lead Gomez to where she is now—an accomplished, stronger, and more mature young woman who went through the storm and is ready to tell us about how she got through it, and where she is now.

Jeffrey’s favorites from Rare: “Rare,” “Dance Again,” “Look At Her Now,” “Lose You to Love Me,” “Vulnerable,” “People You Know,” “Let Me Get Me,” and “Cut You Off”