Selena Gomez is the Disney princess turned multi-platinum-selling singer and actress. From Barney to Bieber and Spring Breakers to Stars Dance, she talks us through her teenage dreams.
When Britney Spears first emerged in her high school uniform circa 1999 and belted her way into the hearts of the world with her all-American messages of virtue and teen power, a seven-year-old girl from Texas was watching her every move. “The Baby One More Time… concert was amazing. I sat all the way up in the nosebleeds and I could barely see her, but I remember it being the best day of my life,” Selena Gomez reminisces. “I had my hair in a ponytail and I knew all the words to the songs. I’ll always remember it.” The icon of the post-Janet Jackson generation, Britney paved the way for an era of tiny Disney superstars whose images would become even more protected than that of their precursor. But like Janet before her, the gilded birdcage became too much for Britney, who decided to take control and, well, lose control all at once.
Britney’s legendary meltdown was part of a learning curve for her more famous fans, a sort of How Not To for child stars who suddenly find themselves all grown up. Selena Gomez, for one, paid close attention and now at 21 she’s seemingly well balanced in her celebrity. Her break with the cutesy Disney image that catapulted her into global stardom has been as smooth as Britney’s was rocky. In the course of a year, she has gone from voicing the animated family comedy Hotel Transylvania to starring in Harmony Korine’s guns-and-nudity spectacle Spring Breakers, and from singing about PG-13 crushes to seductively cooing, “When you’re ready come and get it” on her debut solo album Stars Dance. When Selena materialised at the Billboard Music Awards last May in golden armour like a bionic Helen of Troy, her performance signified an exciting new beginning. Basia Richard is the stylist who took Gomez’s look to bold new heights for her reinvention, just as they’ve collaborated on every look throughout her career. “I’m an Italian designer girl for sure,” Selena says. “I love Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana. I have a whole folder on my computer of random people from photo shoots. More photos than I do of me and my friends… which is probably not a good thing!”
"I was actually really shy as a child. My first audition did not go well. It was in front of a bunch of suits at Disney and I definitely thought I blew it."
Selena spent six months in the studio recording Stars Dance, and the result is an eclectic mix of musical cultures, which sees Gomez paying visits to corners of the world far beyond the Bollywood beat of Come & Get It. “I spent the most time I’ve spent on any record with this album,” she confirms. “I bounce all over the place!” Selena lists Rock Mafia and The Cataracs as her favourite producers on an album. “I have never written as much as I did for this album, which was great because I never had the opportunity to do that. It was fun for me to be in control but also learn from some of the greatest.” If being in control came naturally to Gomez, there’s no doubt that a certain highly publicised, controversial acting move instilled a different kind of drive in the performer.
“I wanted to be part of Spring Breakers because artistically it was a good opportunity to step into a whole new light and work with some of the best,” Selena says of the Harmony Korine film in which she plays the religious teenager Faith, one of a group of bored girls whose decision to rob a diner and head on a debauched spring break gets them involved with a sinister gangster and all the weapons and sex that come with it. Part social realism and part bubblegum violence, it’s a far cry from Gomez’s teen TV years on the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place. “I was very nervous,” she admits. “I was very comfortable being on my TV show and I was very comfortable doing the parts in movies that I already played. So for me to take it to a whole new place was scary, but it was what I needed.”
This was a sizeable comfort zone to step out of, especially for someone who spent their adolescence as America’s most beloved sweetheart, with all the clichéd but very real child star frustrations it entails. For Gomez, life in the spotlight wasn’t as effortless as she made it seem. “I wasn’t very comfortable,” she says. “That’s what was interesting. I was actually very shy. My first audition did not go well. I was very awkward. I was in front of a bunch of suits who were the top of Disney and I definitely felt like I blew the audition. It took me a long time to let that go.”
"Seeing Britney Spears in concert was amazing. I sat all the way up in the nosebleeds, I could barely see her, but I remember it being the best day of my life"
In 2002, Selena landed her first part on the kids’ show Barney & Friends and was soon snapped up by the Disney machine, which eventually secured her the starring role on Wizards. She even got a Disney boyfriend, Nick, the youngest of the Jonas Brothers, but it was a different scale of celebrity romance that would make Selena part of the most famous teenage relationship in the world. “She don’t like the lights,” Justin Bieber wrote on his last album about Selena and her desire to keep their fling under wraps, or so rumour has it. After the couple went public in 2011 - to the heartbreak of hordes of squealing tween girls and Beliebers, who labelled the constellation a PR stunt - it’s been a strenuous ride for the young performers, and while Bieber would Instagram an ‘it’s back on’-style picture of the two just days after Gomez spoke to i-D, her team made it clear that all things Biebs were off limits.
It hasn’t, however, prevented fans from fantasising about the ‘Jelena’ constellation, word on the street being that Gomez wrote one of the more heartfelt songs on the new album about Bieber. “Some of my favourite lyrics are on a track called Love Will Remember,” Selena says, referring to the love song in question. “I think it’s really beautiful and people can relate to, you know, having someone pass or losing someone that you love, from friends to relationships. ‘Somewhere forever we’ll dance again because love will remember,’ and that’s the most important part, because they won’t ever forget - and you won’t ever forget - the love that was there.” For Gomez, who already lived under a magnifying glass pre-Bieber, the ensuing fame circus and media attention has intensified dramatically these past few years.
When you’re a young artist whose work depends on you keeping up with the creative vibes that run through street culture, it can’t be easy being the most famous 21-year-old in the world. “I think sometimes my life can be a little abnormal,” Selena says. “But, at the end of the day, I’m still the girl from Texas. I work really hard and I’ve got great people around me that inspire me and make me better every day.” It’s words like these that have come to illustrate her level-headedness, which no one expects from someone who grew up in Hollywood. When you’re constantly being watched and don’t have access to the youth culture from which your work evolves, there must be moments of despair? “It’s something I try not to acknowledge,” she confesses. “I don’t know if it’s thinking highly of myself or just not being aware, but I don’t ever wanna focus like that. I don’t ever think, ‘Oh no, people are watching.’ I have my moments. I’m not perfect. I just enjoy.”