Few pop stars make you want to take care of them as much as Selena Gomez does. It’s her adorable heart-shaped face, the way she sometimes tears up mid-performance, almost a decade’s worth of paparazzi footage in which she’s just trying to get to her car, guys, a tender and tumultuous young love played out in spectacular fashion at the dawn of the social media age. A beautiful baby bird caught out in a storm—or at least that’s how I imagined her.
I was wrong. After talking to the 23-year-old singer, actor and Pantene ambassador, there’s no doubt: Gomez is in control. With a voice that sounds as deep and rich as barrel-aged bourbon and a plucky sense of self-awareness, she tells me she’s fighting hard to be seen for her accomplishments rather than for her very famous ex, whom neither of us mention by name. She also says that in the past year she signed with a new label (Interscope) and manager, wrapped five films (including The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving with Paul Rudd and The Big Short with Brad Pitt) and, for the first time, executive-produced her own album. Revival (Universal, Oct. 9), a moody R&B- and rap-inflected pop record stacked with power collaborators like A$AP Rocky and Charli XCX, is her most spare and emotionally raw album yet. By turns unapologetic, empowered, seductive and—yes—vulnerable, it reflects, as Gomez tells me, who she is now.
You recently tweeted that you’re disappointed with interviews that are basically the same as the ones that were printed when you were 16—that you wish the media would talk about who you are now. So, who are you now?
This has been a transitional season for me, personally and in my career. I had multiple revelations and big accomplishments in my life: a new label and a new team; I’ve been working out more and focusing on my music; and I got to do a couple of movies. I was really fighting for this transition. Then, it was frustrating to see how the media was portraying me; it was defamation of character. I’m young: I’ve lived my life in the public eye, and I’ve had to figure out how to do that. Ultimately, I am 23 and figuring out my life. I feel confident, I feel empowered, I feel in control.
You transitioned out of your Disney persona a couple of years ago with Spring Breakers. Do you still feel like it’s hard to bring the public around to understanding you’re an adult artist now?
I think people are growing up with me, actually. Obviously, there are moments when people see me do something different and they’re just not used to it but, ultimately, I’m not 16 anymore. I’m a young woman, and I’m growing up and trying to do it in a way I feel comfortable with.
It sounds like you really took charge of your life this year. What were some of the decisions you made?
I just signed to Interscope Records. [Gomez recently ended a seven-year contract with Hollywood Records, the pop division of Disney Music Group.] And there was this moment when we were in the studio for a few months, and everyone felt really great about the songs, but I just didn’t feel right—I didn’t think I had found the heart of the album. So I asked if I could executive-produce it, and I didn’t know what they were going to say, but they liked the direction of the music and trusted me. That was a big deal, because they were partnering with me as opposed to trying to mould me or shape me into something. Now that the record’s done, I look at it and I’m excited that it was all me. It was all my choice.
What was your vision for Revival?
I wanted to make an album—I didn’t want to make just a million singles—and I wanted it to be rich with emotion. The titles of the songs speak to where I am in my life: One is called “Kill Em With Kindness”; another one is called “Rise,” which is about life, about everything I’ve been through; another one is called “Survivors.” And the album title came out of a moment I had in Mexico. I had taken a few of the producers there because I wanted to remove everybody from their environment in L.A. While we were away, I was getting criticized [by the media] because I had gained weight. I was really bummed when I found out all that stuff was going on, and that’s when I was like, “I’m so tired of feeling like I’m being pulled down by something.” “Revival” is the first song on the album, and the first lines are, “I feel like I’ve awakened—the chains around me are finally breaking.”
I previewed some of the songs yesterday, and I noticed there’s a real balance of strength and vulnerability.
That means so much to me. I’m not the best singer—like, I know I’m not Céline Dion. Ever since I was 16, I’ve had this lower register, what I thought was a very manly voice, and I was insecure about that. But once I started acting more, I realized it was an asset, and I didn’t want to force myself to aim for the highest note possible. My strength is translating emotion, because I’m such a feeler. I’ve felt so much in the past two years, from being super in love and then dealing with things to getting older and all these beautiful experiences that were complicated and exciting. That’s what I wanted the record to feel like.
The video for “Good for You” is definitely sexy, and the album cover is, too. [In the video, Gomez writhes around on various surfaces, first in a silk robe, then in an oversized tee sans pants and then in the shower, shot from the shoulders up. It’s all very lusty, but tasteful.] Is that something that comes naturally to you, or does it push you outside your comfort zone?
I have my own definition of what I think is beautiful and sexy. That’s why, in the video, I didn’t wear lingerie and I didn’t have a guy in it. It’s a woman in one of those raw, bare moments; she’s vulnerable, and that’s sexy. I’m inspired by women who are able to be themselves—like, all of themselves. I feel like that’s the place I’m in. I’m not going to sit down and promote something I don’t care about or talk about something I don’t mean.
A lot of the stuff you’re talking about—about empowerment and being yourself—makes me think about the friendship movement happening right now. I know you’re friends with Taylor Swift, and it seems as if she and other young, famous women are celebrating female bonds, speaking up and generally putting up with less bullshit.
I hope it happens more and more! A bunch of women I look up to and admire are supporting one another, and Taylor has such a beautiful way of bringing people together. That was good for me, because the more I started working, the more uncomfortable I was. I wouldn’t trust people, and Taylor has a way of stripping down everything and just getting down to being human. I love that.
I was watching a clip on some entertainment show the other day, where there were 100 people following you as you tried to get into your car. It must be difficult to remain open.
Not when I’m in the studio or on a movie set. I feel very safe, and I think that’s probably why I’m in love with what I do. And when I’m with my friends, I’ll host dinners or parties at my home; it’s not like I’m a complete hermit. I just don’t give myself to anyone; I don’t trust as much as I would like to, but that’s OK. It’s something I work on.
How does dating work when you’re Selena Gomez? It’s not like you can go on Tinder.
I would never go on Tinder! I think it would scare me. I go on dates. It’s not that difficult—I’m a nice young lady [laughs]—but that’s not my focus. I’m really stoked about being with myself right now.
If you could just push a button and make fame go away, what would you do?
I would go to culinary school and learn how to be a chef. I was around food my whole life. I’m from the South. My mom’s side did the casseroles, the chicken, the squash, and then my dad’s side was full on, like hours of cooking tamales and rice and beans and homemade salsa, and I’d be like, “Can we just buy the salsa?”
You recently bought your own house, and I read that you live with roommates. What’s the house dynamic like?
It’s awesome. One of my roommates is a realtor and another one works for a social media company, so the girls are always on their laptops. There’s coffee, there’s conversation, there are fights, there’s staying up all night and talking. If I get time alone, I’ll blare music and dance around and have a Red Bull or something, like I’m clubbing in my own house.
You have 134 million followers—what do you want to do most with that influence?
That’s the idea of the record. I was very disappointed when I would see tabloid coverage of me because my intentions have never been to let down fans. I’ve respected everybody I’ve encountered in my entire life. So now that I do have this influence, I don’t want to just be a name. I don’t want to just be somebody you follow on Instagram who can, like, post decent pictures that they have put literally 500 filters on. I want people to really be inspired, to believe they can do whatever they want.
You mentioned that back in the spring people on Instagram were harsh on you for gaining weight. And I admired the way you handled it, which was to post another picture and hashtag it #theresmoretolove. Do you feel like social media gives you more or less control over your image?
More control. Because those posts are very intentional. I don’t want them to win. It’s not fair for them to try to control my life. Yeah, I’m insecure sometimes, but so is everybody. Yeah, I made mistakes, but so does everybody. I get a little upset—not upset, but just passionate—about that. I want to be heard, and I don’t want people to see those comments and think they can bring people down, because it’s not right.
A photo posted by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on
What advice would you give to girls who are growing up with social media?
“It’s not real.” None of it is real, not even the comments. It’s especially hard for women and girls, who think they have to look like those pictures; that breaks my heart. I know I post pictures when I feel good or look good in an outfit, but in reality, I’m not going to be posing like that as I’m walking down the street, and you can Google horrible pictures of me. You can find them everywhere. I don’t care. Social media is a place to have fun and put your perspective online.
On Twitter, you’re open about going to church and being religious. We’re at a cultural moment where it’s not necessarily “cool” to go to church and I wonder what that’s like.
I respect all religions and I encourage people to have a higher power, however they feel it, because it is beautiful to have a relationship, in my case with the Lord. So I’ve always been open about that.
How does your faith influence your career choices?
I have compassion, I have forgiveness, I have understanding, and this is my life—this is how I choose to live it. I’ve never been disappointed in the choices I’ve made, which I’m proud of.
Hair: Lona Vigi, Nexxus, The Magnet Agency.
Makeup: Jake Bailey, Starworks.
Props: Carl Dove, Art Department.
Fashion editor: Truc Nguyen.
Art director: Jed Tallo.
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