It’s a Really Good Time to Be a Selena Gomez Fan
There’s a deep cut on Selena Gomez’s 2011 album, When the Sun Goes Down,called “Outlaw” that’s arguably her catchiest song ever. It’s pure electro-pop bliss: The pulsating verses build to an orgasmic, flamboyant chorus that seeps into your bone marrow. It’s the definition of an ear-worm. I love it.
But even so, there’s something hollow about “Outlaw”—it’s all style and no substance. The lyrics are banal and, honestly, a little silly: “You’re an outlaw running from love,” Gomez sings in a flat, robotic voice. She doesn’t breathe any energy into the song; she simply gives herself over to the swirling Rock Mafia production (which is good enough to make the song a hit). As a result, you get a paint-by-numbers smash that’s addictive, yes, but it doesn’t really feel like anything.
This is how all of Gomez’s earliest music was. The lifelessness behind these tunes made it seem like she wasn’t into the product she was selling—in my opinion, at least. (I don’t know Selena Gomez personally.) She had a brief moment of rebellion with the Harmony Korine movie Spring Breakers (2013); her role was minor, but the fact she even participated in such a psychedelic, shock-filled project suggested she was gaining some autonomy in her career. But three months later she was pushing Stars Dance, another LP filled with shallow dance-pop.
Being a Selena Gomez fan during that era was weird. On the one hand, she was delivering some of her slickest music ever. (“Come & Get It” still holds up!) But on the other, she didn’t seem that into it. From a fan’s perspective, it looked as though she was just going through the motions—doing what the pop-music machine asked of her, no questions asked. Of course, the fact that Gomez was a Disney kid is a huge reason why this was the case. She was most likely under contracts and agreements that prevented her from having true artistic freedom—which might work when you’re 13, but not when you’re 21.
And in 2014, Gomez quasi-confirmed things hadn’t been working. “I’m surrounded by people who are supposed to guide me, and some of them have and others haven’t,” she said three years ago. “They pressure me, [saying] ‘You gotta be sexy, you gotta be cute, you gotta be nice, you gotta be all these things.’… They tell me what to wear, how to look, what I should say, how I should be.”
She continued, “Until recently, I had given into that pressure. I lost sight of who I was. I listened to opinions of people and I tried to change who I am because I thought others would accept me for it. And I realized I don’t know how to be anything but myself.”
This speech marked a shift in Gomez’s career. The next song she released was “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” a gut-wrenching ballad about the complexities of love. The track wasn’t exactly radio-friendly, but it was real: We learned more about Gomez in those three minutes and 47 seconds than we did from the previous seven years.
She kept pulling back the layers too. Gomez followed “THWWIW” with Revival(2015), her first critically acclaimed album, which boasts some of her strongest vocals and lyrics. (Listen to “Sober” if you’re skeptical.) Interviews from this time made it clear Gomez was actually excited about Revival. She spoke passionately and specifically about it—the polar opposite of this Stars Dance interview, where she just called the songs “fun” over and over:
And Gomez talked about more than just music: She opened up about her battle with lupus—something she’d kept hidden for years. When she took a break last fall to deal with anxiety and depression triggered from the disease, she didn’t put up a front. She was honest with everyone about what was going on—which made her public return at the 2016 American Music Awards that much more triumphant. She gave a moving speech about taking care of yourself and admitting when you need help. It was the highlight of the evening.
Nowwe’re in the stage of “Bad Liar” and “Fetish”—two of Gomez’s rawest songs to date. She’s never sounded more present—vocally, lyrically, and sonically. Both songs feature simple production that puts Gomez’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions up front and center. Are they as catchy as the cuts from Stars Dance or the aforementioned “Outlaw?” No. They’re not even close.
That change, I think, is she stopped giving a f-ck. She stopped worrying about what tabloids were writing about her. She stopped listening to record executives who just wanted her to make empty club bangers. She relieved herself from the pressure to be perfect and “together” all the time. She (finally) stopped living for everyone else and started living for herself.
But they’re infinitely more important.
Because this is exactly the kind of music Gomez wants to make right now. You can tell from her relaxed social media presence and candid press moments that she’s being her authentic self. She’s even transparent about her relationship with The Weeknd. Following her breakup with Justin Bieber, Gomez said she’d never talk about her love life again, so she clearly had a change of heart.
There’s a tranquil energy that radiates off her now. Everything seems to be on her terms—which makes this the most exciting time to be a fan. With every song and video Gomez releases, we’re learning more about her—not the producer who mixed the track or the person who wrote the lyrics. Gomez has a hand in all those things now, so this work is truthfully a reflection of who she is. That’s never really happened before—not on this level, at least.
And she seems happy—actually happy. As a fan, that’s all you want. Listening to her music is more enjoyable now knowing she genuinely wants to make it. The same principle will apply to her tour (if she has one). There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing your favorite pop star doing what she wants—unabashedly and unapologetically. Do I miss her cheesy bops from 2011? Absolutely. I love her old music; frankly, I prefer it over her new stuff. But I’ll take Gomez’s happiness over a bubblegum chorus any day of the week.
“Bad Liar” is not my favorite song, but it’s definitely my favorite Selena.