“Sorry, I keep coughing,” says Selena Gomez. “I’m getting sick.” She has a cold, but truthfully, it doesn’t make her voice sound much different than it does on the remarkable pop torch songs she’s been sending up the charts for the past six months: “Good for You,” “Same Old Love,” “Hands to Myself.” Gomez, 23, has been working since her preteen days, landing a role on Barney & Friends in 2002, and making her first album at 16, when a Disney star. But it was only on 2015’s Revival that she found her voice, starting with “Good for You,” where she leaves her “dress a mess” on the floor and steps into the adult world. “When I heard that song, I freaked out,” she says. She had just moved out of the house she’d been sharing with her mom and stepfather, and hired a new manager, replacing her mom. “I felt confident and comfortable in who I am. I felt sexy. I was aching to do stuff like that.”
Your first concert was a Britney Spears show. How old were you?
I was 11 or 12. I’m from Texas, so it was in Dallas. We couldn’t really afford to do any of that stuff, but my mom had been saving up because it was the first CD I ever bought. I was absolutely obsessed with Britney. We were in the nosebleeds – it was just … it was awesome.
Revival is your fifth album, but for a lot of people it might feel like your first. How is it different this time?
Well, it’s complicated to make an artist out of thin air, and I think the first album was a little bit like that. Not to say that I wasn’t passionate about music. My dad was a DJ, my mom was obsessed with every type of music possible, and I was on Barney for two seasons, singing with a purple dinosaur.
Revival sounds like an actual album, not just a collection of singles. Part of that is because you took a trip to Mexico to work on some of the songs.
It was midway through getting the album together. The label thought I just wanted a free vacation. I was like, “No, I want to get the same group of people, I want us to live together, I want us to wake up and have breakfast together and talk about real things.”
Where’d you go?
Puerto Vallarta. Hit-Boy and a few [members] of his producing team, Rock Mafia, and [songwriters] Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels. It was all of us in one house for five or six days. We would go out, listen to live music, and go back and create in this studio – in a closet, basically. We did four songs there. Only two ended up making the record, but that trip was so crucial. I was just figuring out what I wanted to say.
Recently, we saw an Instagram video of Justin Bieber singing to you just before the American Music Awards. What is happening there, and what is it like to have the world see that?
Well, I am sorry, first of all. And honestly, what I would love to be printed is that I am so beyond done with talking about that, and him.
Did it make going on the American Music Awards that much harder?
Not at all. I don’t alter my life because of what people are going to talk about. If I go and have a great time, I live my life and nothing is going to dictate how I feel unless I let it.
You’ve said that songs like “Same Old Love” aren’t always about a specific relationship, but you must know people are going to assume they are.
Yeah, I understand that. It’s a song about a cycle, a cycle that people understand. It drives you mad, but it’s beautiful. People have seen most of the choices that I’ve made in my life. And I love every choice that I’ve made. Because now I understand how to apply that to my music. This is who I am. I’m glad my life was never perfect.
You performed at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. There’s no big pillow fight backstage, but what’s it like?
No, but, man, it makes you want to work out and not eat anything. I did feel really short, but it was really fun. And the pressure wasn’t all on me. It was great to be able to dance with these beautiful women.
You have a cameo in Adam McKay’s new movie, The Big Short, helping to explain collateralized debt obligations. When you got offered that part, were you like, “The guy who made Anchorman wants me to talk about what?”
The producers called me, and I even said to them, “I have no idea what I just read.” But it was a no-brainer. I love Adam McKay. I just had to learn so much so fast. It’s a great movie, isn’t it?
You’re featured alongside economist Richard Thaler. Did you ever think to yourself, “Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are in this movie – why am I filming a scene with a 70-year-old professor?”
To be honest, I was glad I didn’t have to do a scene with them. I would have been bright red and sweating the entire time.