‘What I’ve learned is so vital
More than just survival
This is my revival.’
Going by the lyrics of Selena Gomez’s latest album Revival, the former child star has been reborn. In place of the perky teen who gained popularity on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place is a mature woman, grounded by a profound faith in God.
You may know Selena as Justin Bieber’s ex, the best friend of pop sensation Taylor Swift, or the most popular person on Instagram with 89.9 million followers on publication. But as she takes to stages across Australia this week, she brushes off all these labels, showing us that she is the star of her own story.
‘This record is me feeling like I can breathe,’ she told TIME Magazine. ‘Working with Disney, I had a certain amount of my respect for my image. And I do still—everything I want to do has such a quality to it. I just don’t care about the noise any more.’
‘Noise’ is one word to describe the chaos that has followed Selena since she entered the industry at eight years old. She became one of Disney’s coveted child stars, acting opposite Miley Cyrus as a guest star on Hannah Montana. This gave her a VIP pass to worldwide stardom, propelling her to dizzying heights.
The Disney darling accumulated a mass following called ‘Selenators’ and it seemed like the Texas local could do no wrong. She went against the grain of Hollywood by wearing a purity ring, signifying she would stay celibate until marriage, and joining Disney peers Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato, in openly professing a Christian faith.
However, behind the scenes, the phrase ‘Everything is not what it seems’ was more than a theme song about the hidden life of Selena’s teen witch character. It was a reality, quickly unravelling for Disney’s best and brightest.
In an essay for Vulture Magazine in 2013, Joe Jonas, one-third of the Jonas Brothers, and now front man of electro-dance quarter DNCE, emphasised this, saying, ‘Because of our age, because of Disney, because of those rings, there were so many things throughout our career that we had to sugar-coat.’
The former Disney crew began shedding their sweet-as-pie image. The Jonas Brothers split up and began singing about sex and lust, Cyrus began gyrating to Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ and Lovato entered rehab.
Yet Selena kept her wholesome persona. She starred in coming-of-age flick, Monte Carlo, voiced animated characters in Hotel Transylvania and Arthur and the Invisibles, and became the youngest ambassador ever for UNICEF at 17.
It wasn’t until Selena starred alongside James Franco and fellow Disney alumna Vanessa Hudgens in the R-rated film, Spring Breakers, that it became clear her faith had been put on the backburner.
Described by Mara Reinstein of US Weekly as a, ‘trippy, florescent whirl of boobs and bongs’, Selena portrays a naïve Christian high school graduate who parades around in a bikini, before exiting due to a crisis in faith. It was clear this role was not typical for the-girl-next-door parents had once happily endorsed.
This distinction was made clear in a 2012 press conference, where Selena said,’If I was a Christian girl, I probably wouldn’t have done this movie.’
With that, her faith seemed to have been well and truly shaken off. Like a myriad of celebrities before her, she was pulling out all stops to prove she was now a ‘grown-up’.
The nature of faith in Hollywood has always been contentious. A reference to God in an acceptance speech can bring in a deluge of fans, while a naked Instagram photo can suggest something different. So naturally, when Selena re-emerged with a new-found faith—and album to match, in 2015, it was impossible to know how genuine her ‘revival’ truly was.
It begs the question: How do we define the authenticity of Selena’s, or any superstar’s, faith, amidst the seduction and salaciousness of Hollywood?
To put it bluntly—we can’t. It is impossible to judge a celebrity on one sentence. This is clear after the rise, fall and redemption of people like Justin Bieber. In his song ‘I’ll Show You’, he pleads with the world to give him a second chance, saying, ‘Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real’.
As ugly as the microscope of celebrity can be, there is also beauty in the stories they share. For Selena, this is found in the conviction of her words and actions.
Now a regular at Hillsong Los Angeles, Selena frequently posts scripture verses below her Instagram posts, and professed to be a Christian in a 2015 interview with BREATHEcast. She also performed her song ‘Nobody’ with the Hillsong Young & Free band, singing, ‘No oxygen, can barely breathe. My darkest sin, you’ve raised release. And it’s all because of you’. She later told a fan the song was about God.
Some of the themes in Selena’s album will raise eyebrows. She explores femininity, sexuality, heartbreak and morality. To top it off, the cover depicts a near-nude Selena, a choice she made after being body-shamed by the media. While this might push the boundaries of what it means to be a ‘good Christian’, for Selena, it goes hand-in-hand with her reborn identity.
‘This is my time. I want to do it the way I want to do it,’ she said on The Cruz Show.
This week, Selena graces Australia with her songs of struggle and redemption. It’s not a tidy or perfect display of religion by any means, but a reminder that we can all experience our own revival.
‘Sometimes, we think we aren’t good enough,’ she tweeted. ‘But then I realise when I think I’m alone I have God. We have to learn the hard way, sometimes.’