Selena Gomez arrives to meet me for dinner at a cosy restaurant in the suburbs of LA. She’s alone, no entourage, no fuss. She is newly skinny in a cream plunging V-neck, leather jeggings and black-strapped stilettos.
Her face is endearingly shaped like a moon. Her skin impeccable, her eyes orbital. Her lips poufy and juicy in a pale crimson lip balm. She exudes sweetness and poise in equal measure.
You can see why she was credited with being the stabilising influence in Justin Bieber’s life when she was his girlfriend for two years until 2013. And there were a few hook ups after that. She is incredibly calming. She has always had focus, graduating from the Disney school of child stardom to become a fully fledged actress as well as pop star.
The video for her latest single, Good For You, showcases sexiness and devotion; how she likes to be with her man. Shot partly in virginal white T-shirt and partly naked and pouting in the shower. Except “I was covered from here to here,” she gestures from her cleavage downwards.
I read that the lyrics on her album Revival were inspired by her relationship with Bieber. I say his name. She doesn’t flinch. And that his upcoming album is about her? “It’s difficult for people to separate us. The internet wants to freeze this moment in time and constantly repeat it. There are a couple of songs, Every Step and Closing, that are inspired but it’s also just about two people.
“I want people to see that there is strength in it and there is pain. Hopefully the album will speak for itself. I’ve had no movie or album out for a year. What else are they going to talk about? The same thing over and over again. There’s going to be a day when there’s a new young person who is hip and I’ll be married with children and it won’t be as bad. This industry does not dictate my happiness. If I lost everything tomorrow I’d be devastated but also know that my self-worth is not based in this industry. I’ve seen how it destroys people.”
We are now sharing some ravioli, which is delicious. Is she in love right now? “No. I’ve been working my butt off. I’m dating but I don’t really want anything right now.” Does she fall in love easily? “No,” she says firmly.
She was 23 in July, a Cancer. “I’m true to the sign. I am very nurturing. I take care of my friends, I’m sensitive and emotional and I love being at home.” She lives with some flatmates, her mum and stepdad Brian close-by. For a while her mum helped manage her. Now they are producing partners. Her parents were only 16 when they had her. As they are close in age, did she and her mum feel more like friends? “Never, not at all. She’s always been my mother. She’s the reason I’ve never succumbed to the bad part of what this industry is. She gets very scared for me, when I get criticised, when I had helicopters above my home. Helicopters?” She shrugs. “Absurd. My past relationship was a hot topic.
“I don’t draw a lot of attention to myself when I’m in public. I don’t travel with an entourage. Of course there are ways in which I have to edit my life. Even just leaving my house I might take separate cars and bend down in the back seat because I don’t like to have photographers if I’m trying to have a nice day out. It’s absurd wandering around with 12 people taking your photo. They think if you have success they can do whatever they want to you. And that is a scary place. But I am not the kind of person that likes a fuss. I never say ‘I can’t do this’”.
She stays grounded by keeping the same best friends that she grew up with. She grew up following in the footsteps of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. A specific generation of good girls who had to navigate growing up and their sexuality in public. Gomez has cited Britney Spears as a role model – which is weird because Gomez’s transition from being a poppet in the Disney empire has been far more graceful than Spears’s.
“I can count on one hand the people that I could call and they would be there for me. Taylor Swift I’ve known for seven years and she’s one of the greatest people. When I split up with my first boyfriend (Nick Jonas of the sibling then squeaky clean pop group The Jonas Brothers) and I was really sad about it, she flew into town with homemade cookies and a bunch of junk food. She was 18 and I was 16 and to this day if I call her she would do the same thing despite being one of the busiest people in the world. I knew her when I was with Disney. “Disney was good training. It prepared me for so much.. I was grateful.”
Why does she think she has such drive? She recalls, ‘I love Texas, my biological father lives there. (YES HE IS ALIVE) I moved here (to LA) when I was 13. I was excited but I would also sob every day because I missed home so much. My mum would ask me if wanted to go home. And even though I felt there was a hole in my heart I said ‘I can’t go home’ and I don’t know why that was.”
She intends to continue balancing a music and acting career. “I want to be challenged. I’m thirsty for that.”
Her fans call themselves Selenators. She has 39 million Instagram followers. ‘I feel like as well as the fans I’ve grown up with, there is an older audience as well.” Her voice on Good For You is a raspy purr.
She is such an interesting mix of innocent and wise. Her father used to take her to Hooters [a sports bar famous for it’s buxom waitresses in skimpy uniforms] when she was growing up. “My father had me at 16. What do you expect a young guy to do? It wasn’t bad. I still go to Hooters today, I go with my boyfriends. I would sit there and colour in pictures and that’s when I fell in love with basketball because he would got there to watch sports. My dad loves me, I was his world.”
When she was dating Nick Jonas in 2006-7 they wore purity rings. “I did and I’m not embarrassed to say that. I’m also not embarrassed to say that that ring has come off. I got it when I was 13 and I respect so much what it represented. But it isn’t for everyone.” She was massively made fun of at the time. “Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through the criticism and then you’re in your closet crying. It’s been like that for me a couple of times. But I only want to learn from those things. Make them a part of me but not let them define me.
“At school I was not popular. I was not focused on my looks. I wasn’t a girly girl. I wore my hair in a ponytail and a hoody. It was vicious. I got through it because I was obsessed with Ab Fab. I walked around gesturing the martini and the cigarettes. The sarcasm and timing taught me to get through a lot of awkwardness in conversations.” She gestures the martini and cigarette. Laughs.
Gomez is even more beautiful in person than in pictures. Yet on a recent radio show she rated herself only a six or seven. “Every person has days when they wake up feeling super sexy and there are days I look like a hot mess. I want people to know that I don’t think that I am perfect.” She flutters an eyelash and looks at me rather pleadingly. She wants people to like her, she wants to be ordinary yet from a very young age she has lived an extraordinary life.
She was born in Prairie, Texas in 1992. Her father Ricardo is of Mexican descent and mother Mandy of Italian heritage. Her parents split when she was a few years old. Her mother struggled financially. When she was nine she got a role in Barney and Friends which led her to the Disney TV show, The Wizards of Waverley Place, when she was 15.
It seems that she has been working her entire life. She seems much older, an old soul. “I have been called that before.” Does she think she’s lived on this earth before? “Maybe. But I also think my work ethic has made me understand how the world works. I’m very much an observer. Maybe I was here in a past life but I also know that I’ve learned so much in this life and I have so much still to figure out.”
She has a teeny-tiny musical quaver tattooed on her neck. “That was my first, I have six now. My mum’s birthday on the back of my neck, G for Gracie, she is my little sister. And there’s a quote about finding your own strengths.”
Feeling strong is something that Gomez aspires to. Although there have been days where she admits to feeling “pressure” like the couple of times she found a helicopter above her garden trying to spy on her and her then boyfriend Bieber. She’s not a person who moans about the paparazzi. She accepts it comes with the territory. Does she Google herself? “Yes, sometimes,” she tells me. “Not everyday. But if I think there is something I should be aware of because people are talking about it.”
A few months ago, there were pictures of her looking like she had gained a few pounds. Today she looks super-svelte. “I have definitely been taking care of myself. I’ve been hiking and I have been cooking a lot. Before I was able to eat just what I want but that doesn’t happen anymore. I’m from Texas so I love fried food. Sometimes I make fried chicken and waffles for breakfast but I’ve had to cut back.”
She is wearing a solid silver collar. It looks like a dog collar. And a little S&M. It’s a statement piece of jewellery that says, ‘I have transitioned from being a Disney screen princess.’
“Most people have such a misconception of child stars, they think they are thrown into it and don’t want it. I think younger stars get targeted because it’s easier. I’m trying to figure my life out. I’m not saying I won’t make any mistakes but I am going to make my work a priority and stay extremely focused.”
Does she find it hard to navigate her sexuality and love life in public? She nods solemnly. “No one signs up for that. Every experience I have had has been beautiful genuinely. But it’s also been a huge factor that almost destroyed me.”
She’s referring to Bieber. “It was people having an opinion on a choice that you make and you don’t want to be criticised for that. I didn’t think I was doing anything bad by falling in love. There’s such an emphasis on people being the perfect thing and then destroying them because it’s good press. Also throw in the fact that you are a teenager it makes it more difficult. Now, at 23 I am able to step back and know that there are things that I will have to accept that are different in my life. The next relationship will be something dear to me…” Her voice trails off. She offers me some of her tuna tartar. “There is no way I will ever hide my life…”
It’s a tricky navigation, to be honest and try to preserve privacy. “Some days I wake up and I hate it. I wish I were never in the spotlight. Then I say ‘this is a life I chose.’ I work really hard, I love my job more than anything. It goes back and forth.”
I have interviewed many celebrities who have given me the ‘I don’t want to talk about my private life speech’, but never one so heartfelt. Besides, she’s not closed, she’s open. Choosing a role in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in 2012 was the first indication of her transition. The film was about debauchery on a spring break: sex, drugs, darkness, bikinis. Gomez was the only one who kept her bikini on.
“Spring Breakers was a crucial decision because I wanted to change the dialogue of who I am.” It was a rites of passage movie. “Yes, I was in that place for sure. Harmony wanted me to audition for one of the other girls’ parts. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.” (The other girls’ parts were more sexually overt, more reprehensible). “I was 19 and I could relate to (her character) Faith. I’ve lived her life a little bit. More innocent than the other girls.” And she never got naked. “That was a plus. I thought ‘I will save that for later’”.
Is faith still important to her? “I’m proud of having faith. The quote on my Instagram is ‘By grace through faith’ – one of my favourite lines from The Bible. It’s about handling every decision as gracefully as possible.” And with that she graciously orders the bill and insists on paying for dinner.