The stars of the Disney Channel’s early-’90s The Mickey Mouse Club reboot shaped the way we as a culture think about teen-pop on a foundational level. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but even several generations of teen idols later, Britney Spears still feels like the surest shorthand for “young female pop singer,” and even more so, *NSync remains the definitive boy band, the baseline to which all descendants are compared. That’s partially because that Total Request Live-era resurgence was the last time teen-pop maintained such a prominent place in the public consciousness, and well over a decade after Justin Timberlake went solo, its archetypes linger. But it’s also because those Mickey Mouse Club stars, Spears and Timberlake in particular, established a template that several waves of later Disney Channel stars have followed: First you jump from kids’ TV to a teeny-bopping music career. Eventually you toss a few teasing winks at sensuality into your music — nothing explicit, strictly double-entendres and such. Maybe you chastely date a fellow teen-pop star along the way. And finally, around the time you hit drinking age and finally lose your baby face, you make the plunge into adult content, often while indulging in some tabloid-ready public behavior on the side. Miley Cyrus is currently developing the PhD program for this particular school of pop stardom.
Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato have been through all that, minus the sketchy Flaming Lips alliance. The Disney Channel alums’ respective 2013 albums solidified their places on the pop-star playing field, and now we find them at their FutureSex/LoveSounds phase, sharing statement albums designed not just to infect top-40 radio but reflect a point of view. Gomez released Revival last Friday; Lovato’s Confident is out tomorrow. Both projects are intended as coming-out parties — Gomez sings, “The light inside me is bursting, shining/ It’s my time to butterfly,” while Lovato insists, “I’m not going back to my old ways” — and in that respect, both succeed. From blunt proclamations to bold album covers, there’s no mistaking these former child stars for anything but grown women in command of their message, their sound, and their bodies. And although Revival and Confident present significantly different visions of growing up, their arrival at the same time represents the latest incidence of Gomez and Lovato’s weirdly inextricable career paths.
As Stereogum commenter silas wegg noted earlier this week, Gomez and Lovato’s professional lives have eerily mirrored each other. Both were born in 1992 and grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Both got into TV early with roles on Barney & Friends and followed that up with starring roles in Disney Channel series — Gomez on Wizards Of Waverly Place, Lovato in the Camp Rock TV movies (alongside the Jonas Brothers) and then Sonny With A Chance. They made the requisite kiddie records during those years, and in 2011, each became the subject of tabloid drama, Gomez for her tumultuous romance with Justin Bieber, Lovato for an eating disorder and substance abuse that landed her in rehab.
In 2013, after ending their Disney runs, they each launched their first albums aimed at a more grownup audience. Gomez’s Stars Dance was preceded by the titanic finger-beckon “Come & Get It,” a Stargate production with Indian flourishes that sounded like it was originally written for Rihanna. Most of the album was boilerplate electropop stuff with a dark tint, written and executed professionally enough. Lovato’s Demi mined similar territory, but singles “Heart Attack” and “Really Don’t Care” were brighter and more rock-oriented. Around the same time they took on more mature TV and film roles that further cemented their respective personas, with Gomez co-starring in Spring Breakers and Lovato doing stints on The X Factor, Glee, The View, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now, even as Gomez and Lovato further fan out those differing aesthetics, their career benchmarks coincide again. They may not be speaking anymore, as Lovato told Complex, but they seem to be continuing in parallel.
On Revival, Gomez continues her chameleon routine to an extent. She tries on Lana Del Rey noir, all the way down to the A$AP Rocky guest spot, for lead single “Good For You,” whereas Charli XCX and friends seem to have penned “Same Old Love” with Gwen Stefani in mind. The brisk, whistling “Kill Em With Kindness” could pass for Tove Lo; “Me & The Rhythm” sounds like a late-’90s Jennifer Lopez hit, and the rhythmically charged “Body Heat” is the kind of updated Latin pop Lopez should be making today; “Survivors” plays like Kesha as remixed by Ibiza’s most tasteful DJ; the Max Martin co-write “Hands To Myself” was built to thrive in a post-Lorde world.
Yet for all its variety, Revival has a distinct sound and feel, a crisp, stylish minimalism and twilight shading that position it as one of the hippest-sounding pop albums of 2015. It’s one of the best, too, and not just thanks to Gomez’s crack team of songwriters, producers, and arrangers. She’s magnetic throughout, fully embodying the role of a confident introvert who casts come-hither glances and disgusted sneers in equal measure, and her subtly commanding performance makes sure all that pretty packaging doesn’t go to waste.
I’m not as ecstatic about Confident. Lovato has long been following in Katy Perry’s footsteps, a feisty personality unafraid to let her music hit with the subtlety of a cartoon rainbow — or to let rainbow-colored social politics affect her complicated relationship with Christianity. But from its bi-curious lead single “Cool For The Summer” to Lovato’s recent pop-art photo spread in Complex, her album and its promotional campaign have essentially amounted to Perry cosplay. That extends to the deep cuts, several of which find Lovato flexing her gospel vocals over churchy piano ballads or the big-budget synth-pop equivalent. She’s getting the most out of her gargantuan voice, yet even the weirdly conservative sonic palette smacks of Perry’s adult-contemporary-damaged Prism.
“What’s wrong with being confident?” one might ask, and the answer is: nothing, but please select more compelling songs next time. The ones that do connect are definitely bangers, especially the triumphal title track, which boasts hooks on hooks, snazzy finger snaps, mammoth harmonic swells, and a drum part that turns Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” into a jock jam. Most of the rest are highly competent, soulful pop-rock tracks, and if you’re looking for pop music to take you to church, you might quite like it. Even “Cool For The Summer,” despite being an obvious “I Kissed A Girl” bite with corny lyrics, is irresistible from a pleasure-receptors standpoint. But Confident never takes my breath away like Revival does; the former is too familiar where the latter feels charmed with unknowable mystique. And in that sense, maybe these albums finally mark Gomez and Lovato’s fork in the road.
Here is one weird truth: With a fourth week atop the Hot 100, “The Hills” has surpassed “Can’t Feel My Face” as the Weeknd’s longest-tenured #1 hit. Here is another: By climbing to #2, the pretty-good-but-have-you-heard-other-Drake-songs viral hit “Hotline Bling” now matches 2009 breakout “Best I Ever Had” as Drake’s top-charting solo track. Billboard speculates that “Hotline Bling” could even dethrone “The Hills” next week to become Drake’s first solo #1. (He did make it to #1 once thanks to his appearance on Rihanna’s 2010 jam “What’s My Name?”) Other hot singles action: Silento’s “Watch Me” shoots back up to #4 largely thanks to this viral video, and Billboard pegs the following songs as likely to hit the top 10 eventually: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ guest-heavy “Downtown” (#14), iLoveMemphis’ “Hit The Quan” (#15), and Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” (#16 in reality, but #1 in my heart).
Over on the albums chart, Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable enters on top with 116,000 equivalent units (109,000 in pure sales). As Billboard reports, it’s Jackson’s seventh #1 album, and it makes her only the third artist to tally #1 albums in each of the past four decades along with Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand. Also, Streisand and Madonna are the only women with more #1 albums than Jackson, 10 for Streisand and eight for Madonna. There’s only one other top-10 debut this week — Tamar Braxton’s Calling All Lovers starts at #5 with 43,000 units — but notably, Taylor Swift’s 1989 logs its 50th straight week in the top 10. With the Weeknd, Drake/Future, and Fetty Wap at 2-3-4, rap and R&B dominate the top 5 for the first time since 2007. Back then the titles were Omarion’s 21, Akon’s Konvicted, the Dreamgirls soundtrack, Nas’ Hip Hop Is Dead, and Young Jeezy’s The Inspiration — man, 2007 was a different time.
Ellie Goulding – “Something In The Way You Move”
It’s not a Beatles cover, and it’s not as striking as Goulding’s previous single “On My Mind,” but damn if “Something In The Way You Move” doesn’t take standard synth-ripple dance-pop and turn it into a jam. Really excited for her new record.
Nick Jonas – “Area Code”
We’ve heard the Jonas version of a Weeknd song, a Miguel song, and a Justin Timberlake song. Now we get… Nick Jonas does Future? And it’s kind of decent? What a time to be alive.
Silento – “All About You”
Does the world really need a midtempo Silento love ballad? Well, the world is getting a midtempo Silento love ballad. It’s fine.
Andrea Bocelli & Ariana Grande – “E Più Ti Penso”
Grande’s got the voice to keep up with Bocelli here — impressive! Give the woman a role in the next Disney cartoon and write her a “Let It Go” to call her own.
Also, this video must have been recorded before Ariana Blonde (which, I realize, doesn’t rhyme with Grande but work with me here).
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Miranda July interviewed Rihanna for the Times, and people liked it a lot more than their Nicki Minaj profile. [NY Times]
- Also, Rihanna’s Anti reportedly will not come out on 11/6. [Billboard]
- Prince serenaded Madonna at an intimate Paisley Park show. [The Current]
- Due to its Christian connotations, Justin Bieber’s Purpose is not welcome in the Middle East. [TMZ]
- Good to see Ellie Goulding can laugh at herself. [HuffPo]
- Taylor Swift has the most AMA nominations. [ABC]
- Swift is also co-chairing next year’s Met Gala. [Fashionista]
- And her new single “Wildest Dreams” got a rare official remix. [DJ City]
- And completing our Swift news trifecta, her (ex?) boyfriend Calvin Harris is threatening to sue media outlets over reports that she dumped him because he got a “happy ending” at a Thai massage parlor. [Billboard]
- Adam Levine has been writing songs with Joe Pesci. [Us]
- In other Levine news, Maroon 5’s super fake “Sugar” video has inspired a reality TV show. [Variety]
- Harry Connick Jr. has parlayed a successful American Idol judging stint into his own talk show. [TV Line]
- Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and the Weeknd will perform at 2015 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. [Ryan Seacreast]
- Britney Spears is in the studio with producers Burns and Mischke Butler. [Instagram]
- Wiz Khalifa wizzed in the wrong place. [Us]
- Speaking of Wiz, his and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” joined YouTube’s billion view club, so I guess he wizzed in the right place with that one. [Rolling Stone]
- Lastly, here’s everything you wanted to know about Poo Bear. [NY Times]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
.@justinbieber dad tweeted he's proud of his son's penis size. I think the biggest dick in this situation is the dad who abandoned his son.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) October 10, 2015
HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME
"Pixels" was actually a pretty original idea for a film.
— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) October 10, 2015