Lady Gaga’s brand is too faux-arty and specific to encourage imitators. Katy Perry’s is too candy-coated, too reliant on schtick. But Rihanna’s dead-eyed, dancehall-tinged electro-pop is an empty suit anyone can try on.
What else was a girl like Selena Gomez, a thoroughly adorable graduate of the Disney Channel Tween Princess Finishing School supposed to do? Burdened/unburdened with no real identity of her own — at least until she began dating Justin Bieber — she was defined by who she wasn’t, the girl who wasn’t Miley Cyrus or Demi Lovato.
“Stars Dance,” 21-year-old Gomez’s first solo album (she recorded three with her old band, the Scene), may only deepen her identity crisis in the long run, but for now it’s the pop cultural motherlode, the gift you never knew you wanted: songs about Justin Bieber sung by someone imitating Rihanna.
It’s the best of a recent fleet of albums, mixtapes and singles that feast on Rihanna’s scraps with varying levels of obviousness. Gomez herself has described it as a “baby dubstep” offering influenced by Skrillex and Britney Spears, which is a discouraging way to describe an album that’s actually quite good. An exercise in just the right combination of Twitter-baiting sad songs, homogenized, screw-it-let’s-dance dubstep and stiff-upper-lip breakup anthems, it gets almost all of the surface aspects right.