I was watching my favorite Disney movie with my then-young kids ten years ago.
They always wanted to see it all the way through, not because they cared about the credits, but because the DVD (yes, it was that long ago) included a bonus movie.
They really enjoyed the extra video above the film. I was the only one who liked 101 Dalmatians; everyone else was crazy with the shiny-brown-haired girl who appeared at the end and sang “Cruella De Vil.”
And there, my reader, was my first experience with Selena Gomez.
In the ensuing years, her celebrity has skyrocketed to levels that even my infatuated small children could not have envisioned. Let’s start with the stats.
Now 30, the former child actress turned singer, producer, and businesswoman (her net worth is approaching $100 million) has 67 million Twitter followers and is the most followed woman (412 million) on Instagram, ahead of Kim Kardashian (353 million) and Beyoncé (306 million), as well as the third most-followed person on the site.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo (578 million) and Lionel Messi (457 million) have more Instagram followers than she has.
Anyone who says, ‘Yeah, but they’re renowned football players,’ is missing the point. Gomez is the winning goal for her fans. They experience what Ronaldo supporters experience when he hands up a prize. Only Gomez’s money isn’t a gold cup: it’s a little more hazy.
If Ronaldo is liked because he is terrific at football, Gomez is adored because she is wonderful at being herself.
This is due in part to her sympathetic backstory. Gomez was born in Grand Prairie, Texas, on July 22, 1992, to a Mexican-American father, Ricardo Gomez, and an American mother, Mandy Teefey, who divorced when she was five years old.
Mandy was 16 and still in high school when she became pregnant with Gomez, and her family experienced financial difficulties throughout her youth. In an interview, Gomez said, “Having me at 16 had to have been a big responsibility.” ‘She gave up everything for me, worked three jobs, supported me, and even gave up her life for me.’
In addition to being personable, the celebrity seems to be really friendly, and not just for show. Her recent effort to stop the vitriol thrown against Hailey Bieber, wife of music artist Justin Bieber, whom Gomez dated on and off for eight years, is one example.
Some admirers never got over their breakup and blame Hailey for it. In March, Gomez posted on Instagram, “Hailey Bieber reached out to me and let me know that she has been receiving death threats and such hateful negativity.” ‘This is not what I am about. Nobody should be subjected to hatred or bullying. I’ve always campaigned for compassion and would want for this to end.’
SHE’S BEEN OPEN ABOUT HER MENTAL HEALTH AND LUPUS TROUBLES.
What Gomez represents is both substantial and distinctive. She is a former child star who has successfully parlayed her early reputation into a corporate empire. Her make-up line, Rare Beauty, debuted in 2020 and earned $60 million in its first year, an incredible sum considering how competitive the market is with celebrity beauty companies.
Gomez’s famous buddies are devoted to her. Taylor Swift is her best buddy. Her current boyfriend is said to be Zayn Malik, a former member of One Direction. She was seen on a boat with Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz earlier this year. In a recent Instagram image, she can be seen embracing Meryl Streep.
Her admirers are as devoted to her: Kylie Jenner lost over a million Instagram followers after being accused of’mocking’ Gomez’s brows, in one of numerous online squabbles between women with the surnames Jenner, Hadid, and Bieber.
Even by A-list celebrity standards, Gomez has an overabundance of fan sites dedicated to her every move, where’selenators,’ as her followers call themselves, analyze her health, wardrobe, and love life. ‘You have all the attributes that make you wonder how a person can be so wonderful!’ reads one of her latest Instagram comments.
‘You are the most wonderful, amazing, talented, and gorgeous angel on the planet,’ writes another. The Latino community loves her especially.
‘I’m usually extremely outspoken about my heritage, especially when it comes to immigration and my ancestors having to cross the border illegally,’ Gomez said in a 2020 interview. ‘I have a lot of respect for my surname. I’ve also published a lot of songs in Spanish.’
Everyone adores Gomez. If you’re a tween, you’re probably familiar with her make-up and music: between 2009 and 2020, she released three dance-pop albums with her band The Scene, as well as three solo albums, for which she’s won a slew of awards, including 16 Guinness World Records (many of the early ones featured Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, while later records were centered on social media).
If you’re a teen, it’s probably her acting: you may have grown up watching her on the Disney Channel in Hannah Montana (2007) or Wizards of Waverly Place, in which Gomez featured as Alex Russo, the part that launched her to fame.
I DON’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS, BUT I KNOW I HAVE TO USE IT FOR GOOD.
If you’re an adult, you’ve already heard of her humanitarian work: in 2009, at the age of 17, she became Unicef’s youngest ambassador, and she’s since raised millions for good causes all across the globe.
If you’re a parent, you could have even (somehow) avoided her throughout your children’s youth until 2021, when you walked into the living room and discovered, to your astonishment, that they were watching something rather wonderful, in which Gomez featured.
Only Murders in the Building on Disney+ is one of the few TV shows that many parents of teenagers can watch together and enjoy equally (see also: Jane the Virgin, Schitt’s Creek).
Only Murders in the Building has been a ratings success, and a third season has recently ended production, but no release date has been set (it’s expected to be this summer).
If you haven’t seen it yet, prepare to be enchanted. Gomez co-stars with Steve Martin and Martin Short as neighbors in a large New York apartment building who become amateur sleuths and start a podcast when another neighbor is discovered dead.
If the narrative doesn’t hook you, the cameos will: Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Paul Rudd, Cara Delevingne, and Sting. ‘There’s a magical aspect, and it’s Selena,’ Martin told The Hollywood Reporter of the show’s popularity.
‘The total ease and pleasure she brings to the set is a true thrill,’ Short noted.
As comedy veterans who have worked together for almost 40 years (most notably on the 1991 film Father of the Bride), calling Gomez a comedic genius is high praise indeed. Her worldwide appeal, though, is founded in something darker and deeper than the gleaming carapace that is her brilliance. It stems from her shortcomings.
In 2016, she was in the midst of a global tour in promotion of her 2015 album Revival when she admitted herself into a mental clinic for therapy for “an emotional breakdown.” The Revival tour was called off after 55 shows.
Three years of turmoil ensued. Due to complications from the autoimmune disease lupus, a debilitating illness she’s always been open about (one of its side effects, arthritis, prompted her to package Rare Beauty to be user-friendly for those with mobility issues), she received a kidney transplant from her best friend, Francia Raisa, in 2017.
Gomez has also been upfront about her mental health struggles, having entered rehab twice in 2018 after being diagnosed with a low white blood cell count. For five years, depression was my only companion. ‘Depression and anxiety were at the center of everything I did in my life,’ she claimed in a 2018 Instagram Live. ‘I simply wanted to be honest with you,’ she says.
This authenticity is what makes Gomez so appealing to her followers. While people of a similar age appreciate feeling as if they’ve grown up with her, she’s something of a lodestar for Gen Z, a population whose mental health has suffered immensely as a result of the epidemic. Gomez discussed her bipolar illness diagnosis in 2020, which helped to de-stigmatize the issue and open up the discourse.
My Mind & Me, a documentary about her life and the causes that lead to her breakdown, did the same last year. The film, directed by Alek Keshishian, who is well known for his 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare, depicts Gomez at her most vulnerable.
Gomez has also been upfront about her mental health struggles, having entered rehab twice in 2018 after being diagnosed with a low white blood cell count.
It also conveys the claustrophobic tenacity of contemporary celebrity. ‘Those were some weird-ass questions,’ one of her team members remarks after a particularly inane press interview in London.
‘It just feels like a waste of time,’ Gomez adds. ‘I haven’t done any promotion in two years – it’s my least favorite thing in the world,’ she says as she sits in a chair getting her make-up fixed for the hundredth time. A siren-blaring ambulance passes by. ‘Here’s my transportation,’ she says dryly.
In an interview with The Guardian, Keshishian characterized Gomez as “vulnerable.” ‘I’ve met every famous person known to man. To display themselves to the world, the majority of them have evolved a form of armour. Selena doesn’t seem to have all these layers of façade for someone who’s been doing this since she was seven.’
Some viewers commented throughout the documentary that Gomez seemed ungrateful. She sounded more fatigued than disrespectful to me. It presented her as being too much at the mercy of others, a contradiction of a lady whose riches and position should allow her more control over her own life than it seems to.
She was urged to undertake one more interview or travel whenever she indicated she was exhausted. ‘Although it’s difficult, it gives you a platform to do the Kenya thing,’ one of her inner circle tells her, the ‘Kenya’ in issue being a 2019 trip with the WE Charity.
The clip shows her visiting a Kenyan school and speaking with some of the students. ‘I completed eighth grade, then I was home educated via a computer from ninth through twelfth grade,’ she explains. It’s a casual remark that says a lot since it might be said that Gomez sacrificed her youth.
Some argue that the fact that she has been working with the grim diligence of a pit pony from the age of seven contributes to her poor mental health. She was nine when she landed her first major TV part on the popular US sitcom Barney & Friends, and she was a tween when she and her mother relocated to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career further.
Gomez went from Barney to working back-to-back for the Disney Channel after making the switch. But being the family breadwinner at such a young age must have been stressful. ‘I’ve been working since I was a child,’ she confesses ruefully in My Mind & Me. ‘I don’t want to be super-famous, but I do know if I’m here, I have to use that for good.’
That’s the trouble with megastardom: you can’t get away from it. One wonders how Princess Diana, another super-famous lady who strove to utilize her platform for good, would have dealt with current stardom, when cellphones are pressed against your face even more fiercely than paparazzi lenses.
Gomez is a modern-day Diana to her followers, an imperfect jewel who is all the more adored for it. She, like Diana, has a real capacity to connect with others. Unlike Diana, she seems to be protected, both by her followers and by her renowned acquaintances.
‘You can’t be terrified of what others will say because you’ll never please everyone,’ she once stated. True, but she brings joy to millions of people. In an increasingly divided world, Gomez has a remarkable capacity to bring people together. Without the politics, she’s football. Long may she keep achieving her goals.