Back with a new album, the pop star goes deep on immigration activism, Latin identity, and her favourite karaoke song, with questions from the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Jim Jarmusch, and Yara Shahidi – plus, her biggest fans in the world
This was the paradox of celebrity authenticity in the 2010s: we knew an image was constructed, but we needed it, we wanted it to be real anyway, and we knew our need for this distorted the object of our desire, but we didn’t or couldn’t bring ourselves to care, and we lamented that it wasn’t possible to care enough when it mattered. In this landscape, Selena Gomez did the impossible. She grew into a pop star who still feels completely true, who comments on her fame in a way that feels less like a postmodern wink, and more like what you’d imagine a friend saying if she were going through the same thing. She is the most normal-seeming superstar ever, cute and sexy and chill at the same time, retro and contemporary at once, resolving contradictions left and right. And, if it ever feels contrived, she’ll say so herself. “It’s too exhausting to play a character with something as personal as music,” Gomez explains when I speak to her the week her hot, Balearic new album Rare comes out, for an interview made up of questions from fellow musicians, actors, activists and fans. “I can’t be anybody else, is the truth.”
Gomez’s career developed along rails so generationally specific, they almost define the explosion (and perversion) of an era’s machinery of fame. First there was Barney & Friends, Disney and The Wizards of Waverly Place, and her first records with Selena Gomez & the Scene. Then, as Gomez grew into a massive solo pop star, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers signalled a shift into womanhood and a more precarious purity. We won’t easily forget her honesty in discussing her mental health issues, her struggle with lupus, or the kidney transplant from her best friend. In 2016, as Instagram seemed to fully cement its grip on reality, she became the world’s most followed person on the platform – then spoke out resolutely about how the app was incompatible with having a solid sense of self. More recently, she produced a Netflix docu-series, Living Undocumented, spotlighting the terror of US border agency Ice through real stories of families crushed by Trumpian immigration policy – as inspired by her own family’s immigration to the US. Gomez is honest about hard things: these are her topics, and they are legit.
At the same time, Gomez’s life is not trauma porn. It is not a salacious invitation to marvel at a gaping wound. Instead, Gomez stays with the trouble. She says openly that she’ll never get completely better, she’ll always be working on it, and that’s OK. She avoids those strains of contemporary femininity sold back to us as revolution when they are not, and she does it casually and with all her usual sincerity. She weirdly reminds me of beloved children’s TV host Mister Rogers, in the way that she speaks directly to everyone, to the universal specialness of each one of us. She feels our pain, and we feel hers; a new decade is beginning, and we’re going to grow into it, together. Selena: we love you. You’re rare!
Elle Fanning: What’s the first song that you can remember singing?
Selena Gomez: ‘Magic’ by Pilot when I was 14. Oh God, that was a great one! It’s crazy just thinking about that.
Petra Collins: If you could play a part in any horror movie, which would it be?
Selena Gomez: Probably Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho.
Yara Shahidi: What is one of your sources of inspiration that may surprise people?
Selena Gomez: My best friend, Petra, inspires me like crazy! And also my pain. (laughs) My heart! Um.
@sexlikeselena: What was the scariest part of releasing an album after four years?
Selena Gomez: That no one would like it and my career as a singer would be over. I genuinely thought that. I worked so, so hard on this album. It could have come out and completely flopped, and then it’s like, well, where do you go from here? I would have questioned everything because I doubt myself and that’s where I would have ended up – in a spiral. So I’m glad that it’s doing well. But I did everything I could to make it as personal and real (as possible).
Finneas: As a musician who has now been performing professionally for over a decade, what is one thing you look back on in your early career and love – and what makes you cringe?
Selena Gomez: For the first part of the question, I would say that (I love) my innocence. For the second part – my style. My style of music and my style in general. It was just not a great combination. I’m proud of all the music I released, of course, but it was just such a different time that sometimes when I hear it, I’m like, ‘Oh no!’ (laughs)
Jim Jarmusch: I love your voice and vocal style. Do you draw inspiration from singers from eras before your own?
Selena Gomez: I love the smoky, soft tenderness of the vocals in eras past. I find myself listening to Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Carole King and Ella Fitzgerald all the time, specifically because of the distinct tones of their voices.
Timothée Chalamet: If you could work with any filmmaker past or present, who would it be?
Selena Gomez: Martin Scorsese – hands down.
Halima Aden: From one ambassador to another, what has been one of your favourite memories in your work for Unicef?
Selena Gomez: Oh man. One of them is when I took pictures on my phone with these young kids (in Chile) and showed them and they were so excited. They’d just never seen a photograph of themselves. Even the water was such poor quality that they’d never even seen their reflection. I remember it was such a sweet moment because, of course, we are doing all that we can to help them – providing clean water, education, building schools, hospitals – but when you’re one-on-one with these kids, you know, playing soccer with plastic bottles wrapped in rubber bands, to see them that happy is truly special. I am not a good soccer player... but I can pretend. (laughs)
“I’m leaving behind that girl who was very timid, weak, abused and silent. And now I’m stepping into who I’m meant to be” – Selena Gomez
Bad Bunny: You have a Latin surname because of your father: as a worldwide star, do you feel like you represent Latinos despite the fact your music is sung in English?
Selena Gomez: One thousand per cent. I’m always very vocal about my background, as far as me talking about immigration, and my grandparents having to come across the border illegally. I wouldn’t have been born (otherwise). I have such an appreciation for my last name. I’ve rereleased a lot of music in Spanish as well, and that’s something that’s gonna happen a bit more. So there’s a lot more I would love to do because I don’t take it lightly, I’m very honoured.
Natascha Elena Uhlmann: Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your own family’s experiences with immigration. My family has felt the pain of borders and it terrifies me how hostile the world has become since then. How do you balance the importance of sharing our experiences with the system – giving it a human face – with fear of putting our loved ones at risk?
Selena Gomez: It’s definitely frightening, but I think sometimes you have to do the things that scare you in order to shake people up. My goal was to simply humanise my people, because they were being called aliens, criminals, and I can’t even imagine what these kids being separated from their families are going through. It’s something that is going to traumatise them for the rest of their lives. And it just seems animalistic; it is scary but I think it needs to be talked about, so that’s where my heart was coming from when I signed on to do a project (Living Undocumented) that addressed such a big issue.
Brianna Capozzi: If you could hit a button today and get rid of Instagram entirely, would you?
Selena Gomez: Oh gosh! I think I’d have a lot of people not liking me for saying yes. (laughs) If I could find a balanced, happy medium that would be great, but I would be lying if I said that it isn’t destroying some of my generation, their identity. It’s a huge part of why I named my album Rare – because there’s so much pressure to look the same as everyone else. It was scary going back on – the first four days I was like, ‘No, there’s no way I can do this.’ What I do now is to only go on it when I feel like I need to, and then I’ll just log off, I won’t take time to explore or look at anything else.
Anna Chai: Do you have any regrets?
Selena Gomez: No, no. I mean, there are certain things which I wish hadn’t happened to me. But without them I wouldn’t have been the voice I am for people who have gone through the same thing. You know, going through the lupus thing and the kidney transplant, I was dealing with fame and with being run-down, dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that I had. It was all a bit confusing. When (2019 single) ‘Lose You to Love Me’ came out, I stood back and had this moment, like, ‘Oh... this is a huge reason why I’ve pushed myself through this. This is why.’ I was able to release a song that hopefully helps to heal some people, or just lets them know they are not alone. I was actually letting it go personally and when that happened something inside of me just left. And that’s why I am grateful for the chapters of my life. I’m not saying that it’s gonna be easy from now on, but I have a lot more strength and a lot more courage and a bigger voice to stand up for what I deserve.
Nicolas Ghesquière: Selena, you have such individual taste in fashion and became a style icon at a very early age. Can you please tell me more about your path to discovering your style?
Selena Gomez: I have to say that I was pretty much freefalling! (laughs)
Tainy: What’s your favourite Latin song?
Selena Gomez: ‘Obtener un Si’ by Shakira. It’s from her 2005 album (Fijación Oral, Vol 1).
Vaquera: What was the first CD you owned?
Selena Gomez: Britney Spears, ‘Baby One More Time’. (laughs) I was obsessed! She was also my first concert and my entire room was Britney-inspired. Even my little light switch had something Britney (on it)... I actually got to meet her a few years ago and I was like a little girl again.
“I’m always very vocal about my background, as far as me talking about immigration, and my grandparents having to come across the border illegally. I wouldn’t have been born (otherwise)” – Selena Gomez
@videosofgomez: What are you taking away from the 2010s?
Selena Gomez: The decade? Just leaving behind that girl who was just, you know, very timid, weak, abused and silent. And now I’m stepping into who I’m meant to be; I’m leaving that girl behind. I’m giving her a hug. I am who I am.
Brianna Capozzi: Now that we’re all so tuned into our phones and followers, how do you protect yourself from losing sight of what is important?
Selena Gomez: Well, I don’t read anything, I don’t read any single thing. That’s been kind of hard, cos I was used to reading everything for so long. But I don’t, and I mean that. You know, when I found out that (Rare) was getting great reviews I appreciated hearing it but I just can’t pay attention: the moment I do I start getting insecure and I just feel empty. It’s so much nicer not to know sometimes.
@amazingsgomez: What’s your favourite song on the new album?
Selena Gomez: ‘Vulnerable’. I don’t know where I heard this from, but (someone) said it was the heart of the album and that was such a compliment to me. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s me saying I’m willing to give myself more, so are you able to handle what I am and what I need as a woman? (Because) I won’t tolerate anything less.
Simon Porte Jacquemus: What’s your favourite French song?
Selena Gomez: Angèle, ‘Balance Ton Quoi’. And I have to say ‘La Vie en Rose’, because it’s just stunning.
Brianna Capozzi: Who makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts?
Selena Gomez: Oh gosh... Amy Schumer! And one of my best friends, Liz. She is hysterical.
Vaquera: What is your favourite breed of dog?
Selena Gomez: I love all dogs! I have a maltipoo right now so I’m gonna be a little biased and say a maltipoo.
Jose Antonio Vargas: As an undocumented person who talks to diverse audiences every day, I’d like to know which stories from Living Undocumented have resonated most with audiences?
Selena Gomez: Well, the reason we had eight families (in the series) was that they were willing to put themselves at risk to do this, because they believed in the message. I think the greatest stories I’ve heard are from people who may not even have taken the time to understand that side of what’s happening – people who are so moved by it that were maybe not on the same page, if that makes sense. At the same time these families who are part of the series, they (now) get to see what they’ve done for the country – it’s something that is truly remarkable. People come up to me on the street and ask how I was able to do it and if there’s any way I can help them and, you know, I have resources: there are these two amazing lawyers, these women who were social workers that were really kind. Being able to get them to those people means a lot.
In what ways are the families in the show – and your own family – fully American?
Selena Gomez: Because they believe in the American dream. They don’t want to cause hurt: this is meant to be one of the greatest countries for that reason. And to hear them be so proud of being a part of our country is beautiful. They just want to live a healthy, safe life with their families and children. (They’re) contributing huge, huge amounts.
Brianna Capozzi: Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Selena Gomez: Princess Diana. She was such a warrior; I love everything she did. There’s this interview I will never forget where she is like, ‘I just want to be the queen of people’s hearts.’ You know, she didn’t necessarily care for all of the rules that (were imposed on her).
Emily Segal: I love the stories about her going to gay clubs in London in drag.
Selena Gomez: Yeah, like, come on! She is so... Ugh! I can’t believe it. I just wish she was here.
Vaquera: What is your favourite karaoke song?
Selena Gomez: Anything by Cardi B. I just looove her so much, she’s so funny and brilliant. I get to turn into a character – I can enjoy pretending that I’m a great rapper, which I’m not.
@selenatorslatinas: Which song from your new album best reflects your personal growth and shows your strength as a person?
Selena Gomez: I would have to say ‘Vulnerable’ again. Or maybe ‘Ring’, which has so much sass to it: (normally) I’m very timid but I think that song represents me being in a place where I’m like, ‘I’m OK with being in control and knowing I have the ability to yes or no,’ but also, you know, expecting the best. I expect the best and I deserve the best.
Emily Segal: One of the things I was surprised to hear in your Beats Apple interview last year was that your song (‘A Sweeter Place’) was shown to Kid Cudi without your permission. I was kind of shocked.
Selena Gomez: I was too. I have a fear of rejection and it was discussed, but I wasn’t confident enough. That won’t happen again, because there was a very, very serious conversation that happened. However, when it worked out I was so thrilled, it was an absolute dream.
Katherine Langford: What would you like to be doing in ten years’ time?
Selena Gomez: Hopefully I’ll be doing more of my philanthropy, while maintaining a healthy balance of the stuff I enjoy now. I think it’s also gonna be a surprise. But I hope that I’m super-happy and creating good things for the world.
Emily Segal: I hope that for you too, wholeheartedly.
Selena Gomez: Thank you! This is one of the greatest interviews, I think, for the reason you didn’t ask me what my favourite colour was. (laughs)
Hair Tamara McNaughton at Bryant Artists using Bumble and bumble., make-up Yadim at Art Partner, nails Tom Bachik, set design Nicholas Des Jardins at Streeters, movement director Lauren Gerrie, photography assistants Atarah Atkinson, Zach Fernandez, Joe Daly, William Callan, seamstress Katie Casey, styling assistants Marcus Cuffie, Caitlin Moriarty, Nadia Beeman, hair assistant Sol Rodriguez, make-up assistants Paloma Romo, Thomas Hunt, set design assistants Joe Rubino, Adam Fisher, production Lolly Would, videographer Cisco Quevedo, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein, special thanks Apex Studio