Here is a young woman who, at just 23, has lived more than half her life in the spotlight, having grown up on the Disney series Wizards of Waverly Place, starred in more than a dozen movies, and sold nearly 12 million records.
She’s famous around the world — and famously wary of reporters, because we poke around in her personal life, specifically, about her past relationship with a certain Canadian pop star and which famous friend she is supposedly feuding with.
So, for her to casually hand over a device that is undoubtedly a repository of some of her most fiercely-guarded secrets — selfies? Taylor Swift’s phone number? — is a pretty radical act of trust. We’re talking about her new single, “Same Old Love,” which is already stirring speculation about Justin Bieber references (more on him in a moment). “I can’t wait for you to see the video,” she says, her deep-set eyes widening to take up even more real estate on her heart-shaped face. “Here, you can watch a rehearsal.”
So here I am,
holding her iPhone 6. It’s encased in a basic black cover, incognito in a way that she can’t be anymore (even here, at a quiet rooftop restaurant in Beverly Hills). When the video starts playing, she looks across our table a few times to peek at the screen. So, I get up and crouch down beside her, and together, we watch her slink around a mirrored studio while a reverse harem of male dancers contorts around her. “I’m so stoked,” she says with an air of nonchalance. I’m not sure if this is cool confidence or anxiety. Both would be appropriate.
I can see why she wouldn’t be into talking to me, another nosy reporter. So, I’m pleasantly surprised when she arrives and greets me with a warm hug that lasts longer than I expect it to. Her raven hair and impossibly long eyelashes are every bit as dazzling in person as they are in her glamorous Instagram selfies. Save for a bit of sparkle shadow on her lids, she appears to be makeup-free. She is only 5-foot-5, but she seems statuesque in her cropped sweater, high-waisted leggings, and heels. The outfit gives the illusion that she is nearly all legs.
After the hug, Gomez sits down, tucks her hair behind her ear, folds her hands — nails painted a deep, slate gray and carefully filed into pointy talons — and waits for the first question. She’s all business. After spending years being judged in the press and media-trained by the Disney machine, she has built up a protective wall that can seem impenetrable. Finding out who she really is — beyond the gossip — is like digging for fossils with a Q-tip.
But by 20 minutes in, we’re getting somewhere. We talk about the complexities of female self-confidence — at best, it’s schizophrenic — and we laugh about an Amy Schumer joke that she roughly translates as, “Some mornings you wake up and you’re like, ‘Everything about me is amazing!’ And the next morning you’re like, ‘How did anybody ever sleep with me?’”
After an hour, Selena Gomez is giving me a tour of her tattoos. There are six in all: a tiny music note on her right wrist was her first. “I wanted something small to test the waters,” she says. “Now I’m addicted.” There’s the initial “G” behind her left ear for her 2-year-old sister, Gracie; her mother’s birthday in Roman numerals on the back of her neck; a Bible verse on her right hip that reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The date on her left hip represents when she met one of her best friends eight years ago, and the phrase in Arabic on her back means, “Love yourself first.” She’s contemplating getting a seventh tattoo to celebrate her own revival — the album and the personal reinvention.
For all her supposed skittishness, Gomez actually wants to show the world who she is — and, in the coming months, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that. Besides the new album, she’s joining The Voice as an advisor, handpicked by Gwen Stefani for her “confidence and creativity,” Stefani said via email, adding, “Selena is incredibly passionate about her craft, and her talent far exceeds what one would expect from a woman her age.” Gomez will also appear in four upcoming movies, including a hush-hush part in December’s financial-crisis drama The Big Short, starring Brad Pitt and Christian Bale.
And, in a role that seems to be the definition of “giant leap,” she portrays a Depression-era young mother in the onscreen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, a performance her director (and Spring Breakers co-star) James Franco promises will reveal the depth of her acting talent.
“If she were allowed to play [more] roles beyond just teenagers with teen interests, she would show her innate maturity and strength,” Franco said via email. “She has had to face pressures and scrutiny at a young age that most never face in a lifetime. So when she is able to display the strength and leadership she has developed, she shines.”
So yes, you might say this is a big moment for Selena Gomez. After a rough 12 months, she’s picking herself back up and taking control of her career.
Not bad for a 23-year-old who got her big break dancing with a plushy.
The video to that song features her rolling around on a couch, the floor, and in the shower. The artwork for the album’s cover is a black-and-white portrait of her sitting cross-legged and topless, staring into the camera. It’s not a come-hither stare. The expression seems to say, with self-assured attitude, “Yeah…what?”
“It’s not something where I’m like, let me glorify what I do in the bedroom,” she says. “But I think I have a very healthy perspective on my sexuality. It’s part of being an adult, and I’m still figuring out how to be one of those, too.” (A happily single one, at the moment. She issues this PSA to potential suitors: “Do not try to date me right now.”)