She’s the poster girl for the Disney generation, a sultry pop star and the latest Harmony Korine pin-up. Selena Gomez hits the streets of London for her i-D cover debut. When Britney Spears first emerged in her high school uniform circa 1999 and belted her way into the hearts of the world with her all-American messages of virtue and teen power, a seven-year-old girl from Texas was watching her every move.
‘The Baby One More Time… concert was amazing. I sat all the way up in the nosebleeds and I could barely see her, but I remember it being the best day of my life,’ Selena Gomez reminisces. ‘I had my hair in a ponytail and I knew all the words to the songs. I’ll always remember it.’ The icon of the post-Janet Jackson generation, Britney paved the way for an era of tiny Disney superstars whose images would become even more protected than that of their precursor. But like Janet before her, the gilded birdcage became too much for Britney, who decided to take control and, well, lose control all at once.
Britney’s legendary meltdown was part of a learning curve for her more famous fans, a sort of How Not To for child stars who suddenly find themselves all grown up. Selena Gomez, for one, paid close attention and now at 21 she’s seemingly well balanced in her celebrity. Her break with the cutesy Disney image that catapulted her into global stardom has been as smooth as Britney’s was rocky.
In the course of a year, she has gone from voicing the animated family comedy Hotel Transylvania to starring in Harmony Korine’s guns-and-nudity spectacle Spring Breakers, and from singing about PG-13 crushes to seductively cooing, ‘When you’re ready come and get it’ on her debut solo album Stars Dance. On the phone from her home in LA, she’s musing about her i-D cover shoot, a kind of manifesto of her transformation.
‘I love doing shoots overseas. Actually being there and feeling the environment adds a realness to the shoot,’ she says, her accent bearing more likeness to the dozy, drawn-out vowels of California than her Texan roots. ‘It’s so easy to wear incredible, beautiful dresses and look super glamorous, because you have the power of Photoshop, but a shoot that’s really stripped-down and raw is really fun to do.
I was being rained on, it was freezing, I was covered in a giant sweater and my hair was all over the place. I got to just be in that moment and feel like I was there.’ When you’re 21 and you’re about to go on tour, those moments don’t necessarily come by the dozen. ‘It’s been crazy,’ Selena admits. ‘I wanted it to be bigger and better than the last tour, so the stage and the presentation are gonna be really fun.’
‘I was actually really shy as a child. My first audition did not go well. I was very awkward. It was in front of a bunch of suits at Disney and I definitely felt I blew it. It took me a long time to let go.’ Selena Gomez