There are times when Selena Gomez sounds like your average 19-year-old — like when she giddily (and unprovoked) geeks out over Instagram, the photo app she recently downloaded onto her iPhone. Then there are the times when she sounds far more hardened, like the seasoned show-business veteran that she is, youth be damned.
That's not much of a surprise. Gomez's acting career began nearly a decade ago on the locally produced Barney & Friends. From there, her star grew significantly. She earned a few other gigs, including a 2005 Walker, Texas Ranger TV movie role. Eventually, Gomez — along with her Colleyville-raised pal and fellow Barney alum Demi Lovato — was scooped up by the folks at Disney. Since 2007, the mega-corporation's machine has been especially good to Gomez, providing her with plenty of vehicles, including the lead role in the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place, various direct-to-video efforts and a recording contract with Hollywood Records, the company's music arm.
That last bit's especially interesting: Gomez has released three pop albums since 2009, the first two of which were certified gold and all three of which have landed in the Billboard Top 10. Her most recent effort, June's When The Sun Goes Down, has reached as high as No. 3 on Billboard 200, with nearly a quarter of a million records sold. And those are just the albums: Her early 2010 single "Naturally"went platinum, as has her When The Sun Goes Down lead single "Who Says." Credit Disney and their marketing empire if you must, but the fact remains: Numbers like these are rare these days, and Gomez manages to get them every time.
In many ways, the reasons boil down to her likability. She puts her fellow Disney stars (Lovato, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers) to shame when it comes to Facebook likes (almost 24 million) and Twitter followers (almost 7 million) alike, doubling most of their figures. OK, maybe she's got some talent, too. When The Sun Goes Down isn't nearly as terrible as one might expect Disney to produce. It's a listenable enough pop record with somewhat of a techno influence and maybe a tinge of mall-punk appeal. It's filled with songs penned by established hit-makers Britney Spears and Katy Perry. Gomez even does a capable enough job of vocally fluttering on top, her somewhat smoky vocals coming across as endearingly vulnerable.
It works well enough. And that's all it has to do. Gomez, indeed, is already a clamored-for superstar in the youth-dominated market. Last month, she took home five Teen Choice Awards, second only to Taylor Swift, who won six of the fan-voted nods. This upcoming weekend, she's hosting the pre-show for the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. And then there's the fact that she's dating 17-year-old Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber, the only teen star with an arguably bigger cache than her own. Her relationship with Bieber has only enhanced her fame, and in ways that Gomez is quick to describe as "weird." Next week, for instance, a bronze statue of the two — in the nude, mind you — will go on display at the Northwest Highway location of the Dallas adult store chain New Fine Arts. The 46-year-old Connecticut-based artist behind the sculpture, Daniel Edwards, claims it's a statement against the sexploitation of young adult celebrities.
Though Gomez calls the whole idea "a little awkward," she brushes it off with surprising grace: "I think it's nice that someone sculpted a thing, I guess," she offers as something of a half-statement, half-question.
That's also just how things are for her these days. Very little is firm. Everything is in flux. She's struggling, she admits, with the idea of making the transition from the teen market to the adult world. She says she's studied closely the Disney stars who came before her — Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera — and she has tried to envision a long-term career for herself, trying to learn from their successes and failures alike. But she also sees herself as different from those musical titans; when pressed, the two former Disney stars she says she most looks up to are Shia LaBeouf and Ryan Gosling, both actors. She thinks that may be her future, too — even while acknowledging that, unlike those Hollywood A-listers, she also has a successful music career to keep in mind.
But here's the interesting thing: Though Gomez is sitting atop the music world — her current two-month-long tour of the U.S. has proven so successful that it's recently been doubled in length and expanded to include a number of international dates — she's on the verge of giving it all up.
"My contract requires four albums," she says, her grown-up side shining through. "I've released the third. I'm probably going to release the fourth one next year."
And, after that one, she'll most likely be done, simply pleased with what she's accomplished.
"I think so," she says. "I mean, I'm very proud of my music and I have a great time with it. But I haven't done a lot of films. I kind of want to take a break and focus on that."
For better or worse, she appears set on her decision.
"Right now, I'm having fun with my music," she says. "Music is so much fun. I'm enjoying it. But, as for longevity, I don't think there's a much longer spot for me in the music world."
Maybe it's the right call. Gomez isn't the natural singing talent that, say, Lovato is — even if her better sales numbers would argue otherwise. And maybe she knows it. Regardless, her mind appears made up. She's set on the idea of moving to film, and specifically on roles that are a little more adult, or, as she puts it, "a little more risky, a little more fun, a little more exciting." It's her vision, even if means abandoning a music career so many others would kill for.
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In explaining the difficulty of coming to terms with her choice, Gomez sounds like the seasoned veteran that she is.
"It is awkward," she says. "You're trying to keep that fan base that has been so loyal to you because they're the ones that have been with you through everything. But, at the same time, you're trying to expand your audience and explore new things. You're growing up."
And then there are times when she still sounds very much like a 19-year-old.
"I'm trying to figure out who I am," she says. "I'm exploring that part of myself, too."