A decade of i-D covers: Selena Gomez, 2013
In 2013, the Disney princess turned multi-platinum-selling singer and Spring Breakers actress revealed 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 have 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. On the phone from her home in LA, she's musing about her i-D cover shoot, a kind of manifesto of her transformation.
"I love doing shoots overseas. Actually being there and feeling the environment adds a realness to the shoot," she says, her accent bearing more likeness to the dozy, drawn-out vowels of California than her Texas roots. "It's so easy to wear incredible, beautiful dresses that look super glamorous, because you have the power of Photoshop, but a shoot that's really stripped-down and raw is really fun to do. I was being rained on, it was freezing, I was covered in a giant sweater and my hair was all over the place. I got to just be in that moment and feel like I was there." When you're 21 and you're about to go on tour, those moments don't necessarily come by the dozen. "It's been crazy," Selena admits. "I wanted it to be bigger and better than the last tour, so the stage and presentation are gonna be really fun."
I knew it was time for me to have my own individual stamp. I spent the most time I've spent on any record with this album," Selena says, noting how she took out six months in the studio. 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 bounce all over the place!" she laughs. Selena lists Rock Mafia and The Cataracts as her favorite producers on an album which breaks with the common preconception that the type of pop star Gomez represents spends little time on the creation of her songs. "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 publicized, controversial acting move instilled a different kind of drive in the performer.
"The reason why I wanted to be part of Spring Breakers was that artistically — my mom and I talked about it — it would be a good opportunity for me as an artist 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 a 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 her 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 that go," she says, her 21-year-old voice showing no signs of left-behind introversion.
Selena's mother Mandy, who recently gave birth to her second child, was just 16 when Gomez was born in Grand Prairie, Texas in 1992. The family's financial situation wasn't exactly cushy and Gomez's childhood was a stark contrast to glitzy Hollywood. In 2002, Gomez 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 Gomez part of the most famous teenage relationship in the world. "She don't like the lights," Justin Bieber wrote on his last album about Gomez and her desire to keep their fling under wraps, or so rumor has it. After the couple went public in 2011 — to the heartbreak of hordes of squealing tween girls and Beliebers, who labeled the relationship 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 fantasizing about the "Jelena" constellation, word on the street being that Gomez wrote on of the more heartfelt songs on the new album about Bieber. "Some of my favorite lyrics on the entire record 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. 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."
She may be the poster girl for a new generation of sane Disney child stars, who've slipped into adulthood with little trouble, but the poise of Selena Gomez can seem too good to be true. While she doesn't give it away easily, even this balanced example of young Hollywood stability must have witnessed her share of the difficulties that come with growing up in the spotlight. On her latest album, Demi Lovato — a part of Gomez's group of friends, which also includes Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus — has been frank about the drug habit which landed Demi in rehab as a teenager. "I'm very proud of Demi and her being able to accept the challenges she went through, but also for staying a good role model to people who do struggle with the things that she's gone through," Selena says. "I've always been taught you are who you surround yourself with. So if you surround yourself with good positive people you can only do good things for them and they can only do good things for you. It is frustrating at times when certain things are being said, but other than that I'm just a normal girl living a normal life."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Scott Trindle
Styling Elgar Johnson
Selena's hair and make-up Lisa Laudat at Frank Agency using L'Oreal and Nars
Additional hair Mari Ohashi using TIGI Bed Head
Additional make-up Laura Barrow using M.A.C Cosmetics
Nail Technician Lucy Tuckers at Lovely Management using Nails Inc
Photography assistance Mark Simpson, Richard Pilnick, Philip Banks
Digital operator Neil Pemberton
Styling assistance Bojana Kozarevic, Warren Leech
Casting Elgar Johnson
Production Annabel White at Rosco Productions. Pandora Graessel at Management Artists.
Production assistance Zoe Vintilescu
Models Anthony at The Eye. Amy and Chris at Anti-Agency. Otis at Select. Ruby at D1.