There’s a five-foot teddy bear sprawled across the kitchen floor in Selena Gomez’s North Hollywood home. “I know, I know,” says Gomez, rolling her eyes, acknowledging that the stuffed animal doesn’t quite blend with the trio of armchairs nestled in the inviting, marble-accented nook. “It was a gift, and at first I thought, ‘This is so ridiculous, I can’t wait until I give it away to another person.’”
But Gomez, 25, hasn’t let go of it — yet.
During the past few years, as the Texas-born pop star publicly confronted the ongoing anxiety and depression that were intertwined with lupus, the autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with in 2013, she also began Marie Kondo-ing her world: stripping away the superficial excesses so that only the people and things that were, in her words, “actually worth it,” remained.
During that time, Gomez parted with friends and romantic partners (her 10-month relationship with The Weeknd ended in November). Even this house, a one-story cottage devoid of the swirling staircases and palazzo-style overlooks in her former Calabasas compound, is part of the equation. Concealed entirely from the street by a thick slab of hedges, it’s enveloped in the kind of silence that feels very much in sync with Gomez, who projects calm, peaceful confidence. “I don’t need a lot of things,” she says on this overcast Friday. “I like feeling removed, and I wanted a place where I could be alone.”
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Loneliness has been a constant for Gomez since landing her first acting gig as a 7-year-old on Barney & Friends, and it only deepened after her five-year run on Wizards of Waverly Place, the Disney sitcom that catalyzed her ascent into teen, and ultimately pop music, superstardom. (Gomez has sold 3.4 million albums and earned over 2.8 billion on-demand streams in the United States, according to Nielsen Music.)
These days, though, she has turned the solitude into a source of liberation. Gomez, makeup-free after a hot Pilates class this morning, glows, lit from within, as she tries to articulate this: “I don’t know how to explain the place that I’m in other than to say I just feel full.”
A similar sense of laid-back poise can be heard in the four new songs she released in 2017. The sonically sparse, Talking Heads-sampling “Bad Liar,” which hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, was rapturously received by critics, and “Wolves,” her single with DJ-of-the-moment marshmello, may be the most understated, emotive dancefloor-filler of the year. Even the horror film-inspired music video for “Fetish,” which has garnered over 119 million YouTube views, reflects Gomez’s complete lack of concern about how people perceive her.
I’ve only been with Gomez for 15 minutes when she begins to open up about decisions of hers most people will never have to make — checking into rehabilitation facilities in 2014 and 2016, and the kidney transplant she underwent this summer due to complications from lupus (for which she has raised over $500,000 to help find a cure). There is no fidgeting, no hesitation, no searching gazes as she speaks — only a kind of openness that makes it easy to forget Gomez is only halfway through her 20s.
Even the head of Gomez’s label, John Janick, chairman/CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M, marvels that “she has a really good balance in her life — she’s not just focused on one thing.” The artist Petra Collins, a friend of Gomez’s who directed the “Fetish” video and her November American Music Awards performance, says Gomez “cares so deeply for things and people it’s almost scary — in a good way.”
The rest of Gomez’s day will be exhaustively documented by tabloids: dinner at a steakhouse with Justin Bieber, who has recently re-entered her life, and a stop with him at Hillsong Church’s annual conference. Hours after Gomez and I part ways, Jennifer Lawrence, filling in as host on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, will even ask guest Kim Kardashian what she thinks about Gomez and Bieber “getting back together.” “I think it’s so cute,” responds Kardashian. (When I ask Gomez about Bieber, she simply says, “I cherish people who have really impacted my life.”)
It’s the kind of attention that makes Gomez contemplate running away, “going to Alaska, only to resurface when there’s work.” Instead, she explains, “I want to live a life that’s worth living,” to choose exactly who and what best fits into her life, no matter how it looks from the outside. Even if it’s in the form of a giant stuffed bear — which, if nothing else, her dog Charlie leaps onto with abandon.
First things first: How did you choose Charlie?
It’s actually funny — it was my ex-boyfriend’s [The Weeknd] doing. We were walking down the street [in New York], and he saw a cute little puppy in the window and walked in. Charlie was in the corner. He had his head down and he just seemed really sad, and I loved him. I find I do that in every situation in life. I find that person — or dog — and I’m like, “Yessss. That’s who I want.”
Was the house you grew up in anything like this cottage?
I don’t know if “cottage” would be the right word. There were a lot of Texas accents — a lot of brown and wood paneling in that house — and carpet in every room except the kitchen. I can picture it all, the way it smells. I miss it a lot. Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” depicts how I feel about that home. My mom was 16 when she had me, so I had a room next to my mom and my grandparents. It was very quaint — you could take one loop around the house and it took maybe five seconds. Every time I go back to Texas I drive by it, but I don’t have the courage to go up and knock on the door.
You recently said that you don’t want people to feel sad for you over the kidney transplant and lupus — that those experiences opened up new pathways for you. What has been the most surprising revelation out of all this?
I just kept thinking about how much my body is my own. Ever since I was 7, my life always felt like I was giving it to someone else. I felt really alone even though I had a lot of great people around me. But the decisions I was making, were they ever for me? [After the surgery] I had this sense of gratitude for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever just stopped and been like, “I’m actually grateful for who I am.”
Do you feel comfortable with your scar?
I do. I didn’t, but I do now. It was really hard in the beginning. I remember looking at myself in the mirror completely naked and thinking about all the things that I used to bitch about and just asking, “Why?” I had someone in my life for a very long time who pointed out all the things that I didn’t feel great about with myself. When I look at my body now, I just see life. There are a million things I can do — lasers and creams and all that stuff — but I’m OK with it. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with [plastic surgery]. Cardi B has been my inspiration lately. She’s killing it, and she is proud of everything she has done. So there is absolutely zero judgment on my end. I just think for me, it could be my eyes, my round face, my ears, my legs, my scar. I don’t have perfect abs, but I feel like I’m wonderfully made.
It sounds like you’ll be wearing your wrinkles proudly one day.
Oh, yeah. [But] I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Maybe I’m like, “You know what? It’s time for a little tuneup.” But I want to make sure that I’m doing it because I’m OK with where I am.
To not listen to the noise around you.
You know, I have to be very careful with what opinions I listen to. And society teaches you to honor and respect the people around you. But loyalty and honesty can mean something completely separate. And I think altering or editing myself for the sake of others has been something that I have done my whole life. I’ve had to accept where I am. It took me about five years and moments where I needed to step away and be alone and fight those fights on my own, or go away to a place where I could focus on that. And that time for me was so painful and really hard and very lonely. But I really, really felt that that’s what helped me feel satisfied with where I am.