Selena Gomez walks into the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles, and I swear she seems taller. She’s wearing Free People stripes and has heels on, of course—girl didn’t get to 123 million-plus Instagram followers without looking cute. But it’s more subtle than that. She looks more ... grown.
She orders a beet salad (“I’m treating myself later. My grandparents and I are getting Texas-style BBQ,” she says, acknowledging her meager order with a what-can-you-do shrug). “I actually lived at the Sunset Tower for three months,” she explains, adding matter-of-factly, “I was going through a really hard time in my life and decided to live here.”
I last interviewed Gomez four years ago for another magazine. She had taken me to a Hooters in the Valley, where she was a regular. She ordered fried pickles. She had long hair, wore a beanie, and spilled ketchup on her flannel shirt. We shot a little video together, and she brought a bag of clothes from home, including items from her Dream Out Loud collection for Kmart.
That was, of course, then. Tossed into a perfect storm of celebrity and social media, Gomez has faced the wave and surfed it. Her “bag of clothes from home” has evolved into contracts with Pantene and Coach; Hooters is now the Sunset Tower. This summer she’s been releasing, drop by Instagrammable drop, new music anticipated with a breathlessness on the level afforded to Adele. And, of course, her first public boyfriend, Justin Bieber, is history. (At the time of our interview, she’s six months into a relationship with Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd.)
But to continue the hackneyed ocean metaphor, Gomez’s 10 years in the public eye have not all been smooth sailing. Last year she spent three months in a Tennessee treatment centre for depression and anxiety. At 25, she’s reconciling her years of stardom with the emotional demands of real adult life. So it’s with some irony that she looks at a picture of herself in my folder and says, laughing drily, “I still have the ability to look 15.”
Gomez has a particularly potent power: Her celebrity comes not just from what she creates, how she looks, and whom she dates but from how she has suffered and how she has picked herself up. She is not a great advocate of the kind of childhood fame she experienced on the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place. “I think it is really dysfunctional to be in this industry at a young age where you’re figuring out who you are. I don’t recommend it.”
But somehow Gomez has unselfconsciously condensed it all into some sort of elixir, which not only feeds her fans, her collaborators, and her business but makes her feel better too. But I’ll let her tell you about it.
LAURA BROWN: Do you still go to Hooters?
SELENA GOMEZ: Yeah! But not as much. Now when I treat myself, which 100 percent I do, it’s more like, “I’m going to hang out with my grandparents,” instead of, “Hey, let’s go to Hooters five times a week because I’m obsessed with everything fried.” I’m trying to take care of myself a bit more.
LB: You can’t hoot all the time.
SG: You can’t. As much as I enjoy it.
LB: Things have changed a lot in the past four years—everything feels a lot bigger.
SG: I know. On Instagram my fans throw back all these old videos, and I get so emotional because I’m like, “Wow, my life is so different now.” Not to say that’s bad, but it’s just crazy. It really is.
LB: Is that a lot to deal with—knowing that you’re such a business and so many people are relying on you?
SG: It can all be a bit overwhelming, but I try and balance it out with what makes me happy. If I’m part of a really good project, I can lean into it all.
LB: You’ve got on your big-girl trousers. How do they feel?
SG: My big-girl trousers feel good. They’re high-waisted. [Laughs]
LB: When was the last time you walked around unnoticed?
SG: Honestly, if I see a movie with my friends in sweatpants, it’s fine. But when I’m doing press and I’ve been in hair and makeup for two hours, it’s kind of obvious.
LB: You just turned 25; you’re into your next quarter of life.
SG: I kind of wish numbers didn’t exist sometimes, because I feel like I’m 15 some days, and then other days I wake up and I’m 40. It’s so weird, how one year can change everything. Last year I canceled my tour and went away for 90 days, and it was the best thing that I ever could’ve done. I had no phone, nothing, and I was scared. But it was amazing, and I learned a lot.
LB: Ninety days is a long time.
SG: Everything I cared about, I stopped caring about. I came out, and it felt like, “OK, I can only go forward.” And there are still days. I go to therapy. I believe in that and talking about where you are. But I’m in a really, really healthy place.
LB: What was it like to be there? Was it a culture shock to return to your life?
SG: I was in the countryside and never did my hair; I took part in equine therapy, which is so beautiful. And it was hard, obviously. But I knew what my heart was saying, and I thought, “OK, I think this has helped me become stronger for other people.” When I came out, I was asked to go to the American Music Awards, and everyone around me was like, “Do whatever makes you comfortable.” I didn't want my fans to have a negative view of taking care of yourself, so I just went in head-on, and I’ll tell you, the first time stepping on that carpet was so overwhelming. I felt like my back was sweating.
LB: When you were doing press for the Netflix show you executive-produced, 13 Reasons Why, you said, “The older I get, the more insecure I get.” Tell me why.
SG: That’s what I work on in therapy the most. Because of social media, because of all the pressure that girls have, it’s so difficult. It’s good to be connected, to see things, and to get a sense of what your friends are up to. But it also allows people to think they need to look or be a certain way. I remember when I had my Disney show, I was just running around and not caring and making kids laugh. I was all over the place. And now it feels more zoomed-in—you have ugly people trying to get negative things from you, and the energy makes you feel bad about yourself. You can’t help it. It’s very hard to find out who you are during all that mess and pressure.
LB: A large part of your celebrity comes from your frankness. How do you know what to share and what not to?
SG: I had a choice to let it drive me crazy and tear me down or just allow myself to have real conversations with people. So I came to a place where it’s like, I have this platform, and I can still do what I love and connect to people who feel like they grew up with me. I won’t share things that I don’t want to.
LB: How do people treat you in your hometown, Grand Prairie, in Texas? Have you been back there much?
SG: I just went for my godson’s birthday. It was amazing. I go to the same restaurants I used to, and they say, “Welcome home, Ms. Gomez!” When I go, I’ll see my family and hang at home with my grandparents, getting home-cooked meals and walking around the park. It’s very unplugged.
LB: It seems like you’re really happy right now too with your boyfriend, Abel.
SG: I really am. It’s great. I don’t depend on one area of my life to make me happy. It’s really important for me to love and nourish my friends and family and to make sure that I never get influenced by a guy. I’ve wanted to be in a strong headspace for years, and I really wasn't. Before, I was so young and easily influenced, and I’d feel insecure. You want someone to add to your life, not to complete you, if that makes sense. I’m lucky because he’s more of a best friend than anything else.
LB: You wrote in a recent Instagram post, “I finally fought the fight of not being enough.”
SG: That just goes back to where I am in my life—of course I care, but I care less and less, and that’s so freeing. My livelihood can’t depend on “Am I liked?” When I was on Disney, it was like, “Oh, they didn't like it?” It hurts your feelings.
LB: How did you learn how to speak up for yourself?
SG: I’ve learned the power of saying no—I feel empowered when I say it. Just recently I was by myself with people from my record label, and I looked down the table and said, “I respect your opinions, but you’re going to let me make the end call. Just give me a few days to sleep on it.” And I walked out and it felt like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, like, “Did I just … do that?” It felt good because I wasn't being disrespectful. Just honest.
LB: You have some new singles out and an album on the way. Do you want to tour again?
SG: I do. Touring is one of the most beautiful parts of doing music. To see people’s faces, to connect with them, it’s just—I got very emotional yesterday on my Instagram about my fans because I was experiencing my feelings.
LB: And you’ve also got some fashion projects this fall—tell me about the bag you designed with Coach.
SG: Coach’s executive creative director, Stuart Vevers—he’s an angel. He was just so open at figuring out our collaboration. If I’m working in film or writing or producing or fashion, I want to be surrounded by the best people so I can grow. I’m really proud of what I created.
LB: When you’ve got a big bunch of premiéres coming up, do you dedicate a day to just trying on clothes?
SG: Yeah. It’s fun because my friends will come over, and they’re eating chips, like, “That one looks so cool!” And I’m like, “I know!” It’s a little fashion show, basically.
LB: 13 Reasons Why is headed into a second season. Did you expect the polarized opinions about the project when you went into it?
SG: I didn’t think it would even remotely blow up the way that it did, both positively and, obviously, controversially. So in Season 2, we answer a lot of the questions that were brought up. And I think if our show is able to start a conversation at the dinner table, even if it’s just “That’s terrible” or “That was great,” it’s still starting a conversation. It scared people, but it’s really important.
LB: I appreciate that you don’t eff around. You could just put out music now and again and then star in a rom-com. But you’re always pushing it with things that are more real.
SG: It’s just because I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life. I’ve had moments where I feel like, “Why do I get to do this when other people are working three jobs to get what they need?” I grew up with a mum and a dad and a family that worked so hard—I witnessed it, you know? They kept me as happy as they could, but until I was around 16, 17, it was still really hard. So I want to use my voice to be a part of things and to speak out, whether it’s about health or happiness or charities. If I have this platform, why wouldn’t I use it?
LB: How ambitious are you?
SG: Very. I’m not afraid to be wrong now. Because I would rather say, “I stand by this.” You have to not be afraid to make mistakes because that’s how you figure it all out. I’m ambitious in every area of my life. I want to be a better daughter, a better friend, a better influencer. I want to feel something.
Fashion Editor: Kate Young. Hair: Danilo for The Wall Group. Makeup: Hung Vanngo for The Wall Group. Manicure: Tom Bachik. Set design: Daniel Graff for MHS Artists.