Selena Gomez Survived Social Media and, With Her New Music, Is Ready to Leave Darkness Behind
And of course she raves about Steve Martin and Martin Short: “I really love them. I don’t like calling them my grandpas, but they kind of are.”
Selena Gomez, who appears on our 2023 Hollywood cover, spent years feeling distressed by her Disney-cultivated façade. But since her 2018 bipolar diagnosis, and her decision to share her mental health struggles in last year’s Apple TV+ documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me, the singer, actor, and producer (Selena + Chef, Only Murders in the Building) has felt liberated. Ahead, excerpts from a conversation about fears, self-esteem, and freedom.
Vanity Fair: You’ve previously said you were haunted by the idea that people would always associate you with your Disney years. Has that changed since releasing your documentary?
Selena Gomez: I definitely feel free of it. Sometimes I get triggered. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my past, it’s just that I’ve worked so hard to find my own way. I don’t want to be who I was. I want to be who I am.
In the documentary, someone close to you questions your decision to go public with your bipolar diagnosis. Why did you go forward anyway?
I’m just so used to censoring myself that it was (a) me wanting to let go and (b) if they’re telling me to be quiet about it, that’s not good because that’s genuinely not the place I’m in anymore.
Maybe it was weird and uncomfortable for other people, and obviously I was worried, but I think it finally allowed me to start being open about everything. It’s not that I was kind of sad—I actually have things that are chemically imbalanced in my brain, and I need to understand what that is, take care of it, and nurture it. I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t ever feel, even for five seconds, that I’m crazy. My thoughts tend to ruminate, but it’s up to me to be proud of who I am and to take care of myself.
I don’t want people to ever have anybody tell them, “Don’t say that because it’ll seem bad. You won’t get this job or that boy or that girl or whatever.” I guess I was rebelling.
I imagine there were moments in your early career where you were explicitly told, “You can’t say such-and-such.”
Of course. I wasn’t a wild child by any means, but I was on Disney, so I had to make sure not to say “What the hell?” in front of anyone. It’s stuff that I was also putting on myself to be the best role model I could be. Now I think being the best role model is being honest, even with the ugly and complicated parts of yourself.
You’re one of the few stars to be upfront about outsourcing your social media accounts to an assistant, because of how toxic you felt Instagram, in particular, to be. Can you talk about that decision?
I never got the chance to go to an actual high school. The world was my high school for the longest time, and I started getting inundated with information that I didn’t want. I went through a hard time in a breakup and I didn’t want to see any of the [feedback]—not necessarily about the relationship, but the opinions of me versus [someone] else. There’d be thousands of really nice comments, but my mind goes straight to the mean one.
People can call me ugly or stupid and I’m like, Whatever. But these people get detailed. They write paragraphs that are so specific and mean. I would constantly be crying. I constantly had anxiety…I couldn’t do it anymore. It was a waste of my time.
The only thing I have on my phone is TikTok because I find it to be a little less hostile. There are wonderful things about social media—connecting with fans, seeing how happy and excited they are and their stories. But usually that’s filtered through [for me now]. I created a system. Everything I do I send to my assistant who posts them. As far as comments, my team will put together a few things that are encouraging.
What did you watch on TikTok last?
I’m kind of a nerd. I love making funny videos. I’ll get recipes and makeup ideas and hair ideas.
You’re filming the new season of Only Murders in the Building. What’s your off-screen dynamic with Steve Martin and Martin Short like?
I really love them. I don’t like calling them my grandpas, but they kind of are. They’ll tell me the same jokes and I laugh every time.
Do you text or email each other?
What’s funny is Marty will text me, but Steve will not. He has my email, but he won’t send me the email. He will send it to [my assistant]. I think he wants to be polite. It’s very endearing, but he makes it a whole thing.
You’ve called out Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s spread of disinformation and hate speech. You still have a Twitter account. What do you think of Elon Musk’s takeover and the uptick in hate speech since?
It’s dangerous. I don’t think I need to say anything because he’s getting [the feedback] that I feel. I don’t care about him, but about the [direction] of Twitter…It’s not my favorite app, for sure. I don’t know if it was [about feeling] cool that you own something. I just find it irresponsible and unsafe.
Knowing what you’ve experienced as a public figure, what advice would you give someone getting their first hit of Hollywood success?
All I can say is, I would love to be there for you if you ever have questions. But this industry is a beast. It’s really scary to see what happens when you’re given so much power and money at a young age. I think it’s extremely scary.
The bigger you get, the more humble I would encourage you to be. Hold on to your heart, try to be the best you can be, and be careful about who to trust, because you are who you surround yourself with. My sister’s nine, and thank God she doesn’t want to be in this industry. Actually, that’s her now. What if she tells me in two years she wants to? I can’t even think about it.
What’s changed for you since releasing the documentary?
Now I don’t feel like I’m lying to people. It’s not that I was lying…I was scared of what people would think or that people wouldn’t hire me. Now I don’t think that way. I understand that if it doesn’t feel good to me, then I need to step back and evaluate. Is this friendship giving me something? Is this project a really good one?
You’ve said the new music you’re working on is happy. What else can you say about it?
If I had my way, I would probably write ballads my whole life, but I want to produce music that will make people smile. The music I’m doing right now is about real things that I’m walking through. It’s really powerful, strong, very pop. The theme generally is freedom—freedom from relationships, freedom from the darkness.
You must feel so free after releasing the documentary, which I imagine felt like bungee jumping naked in front of a live audience.
I was terrified. But after the documentary came out, I started noticing people come up to me, and they weren’t like, “Oh, I want a picture of you.” It was more like, “Hey, I appreciated that part where you said this.” Then I ended up having a five-minute conversation with someone about their journey. That was happening more, and I started to feel good because I wasn’t just this prop to people—like, “You’re so cute. Let’s take a picture.” It was more than that. It was a conversation about mental health or courage or disappointment or loss. And I started to go, This is paying off, because that’s what I want at the end of the day. I’d rather be remembered for my heart than anything else.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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