Selena Gomez Is The Biggest Pop Star On The Planet. Question Is, Why?
She hasn't released an album in years, she barely uses social media - so why the hell is Selena Gomez still so wildly popular?
As we fall deeper and deeper into the uncharted abyss that is IG stories, #spon content and stan Twitter, the line between ‘celebrity’ and ‘the rest of us’ grows blurrier each day.
Celebs have been making themselves more accessible than ever — giving humanity to the seemingly superhuman — and we have a perceived, albeit misguided, knowledge of intimate details of their lives from their own mouths. In that accessibility, though, we’ve lost what historically made a celebrity ‘a celebrity’: mystery.
An air of secrecy, privacy and unknowingness (all of which they’re entitled to) is what used to keep us enthralled. It’s what kept us reading tabloid magazines and it’s what kept the rumour mill localised to our dinner table flowing. But now, social media has wiped most of that mystery away. Given, Frank Ocean and Beyoncé still have it, but there is one pop artist whose entire existence in the sphere is more mysterious than any other: Selena Gomez.
Selena Gomez has been famous — in some aspect — longer than a lot of her fans have been alive. She started her entertainment career in 2002 with a recurring role on Barney & Friends when she was 10 years old, alongside fellow pop superstar Demi Lovato.
From there, recurring roles on various Disney Channel programmes led to a lead role on Wizards of Waverly Place, a show which has three Emmy awards to its name and also the title of ‘most watched Disney Channel series-finale in history’.
It was from there that Gomez was strapped to the A-list celebrity rollercoaster and is yet to hop off. With several acting gigs, two solo albums and a very, very high profile relationship, Gomez is in this for the long haul. But a question a lot of people have on their mind is…how?
The hype over Selena Gomez has to be a government conspiracy. Because I have not encountered a real life person who is a fan let alone has heard her music
— Pastor Blix (@blixberrie) August 5, 2018
The Midas Touch
For the sake of this article and this article only, let’s compare her to her three biggest music rivals: Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus. All three have been nominated for a Grammy, all three have stayed musically relevant with an album released in the past two years, and, perhaps most importantly, all three have booming, powerful voices.
Selena Gomez has none of the above. She won a VMA five years ago, her last album was released four years ago and if you asked stan Twitter if SelGo had a booming, powerful voice you could consider yourself cancelled.
Selena Gomez beat Drake — yes, Drake — in having the most monthly listeners on the streaming service.
Yet, somehow, Gomez remains at the top of the lot. Of course, the endlessly prolific Grande has pipped her at the post recently, but, for the most part, everything Gomez touches turns to gold. If we look at Spotify, late last year Selena Gomez beat Drake — yes, Drake — in having the most monthly listeners on the streaming service.
For context, Drake is the most streamed artist of all time and spent 30 weeks collectively at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 last year. Gomez beat him despite her last album, Revival, coming out in 2015 — and since then she’s only released three singles as the lead artist.
This strange success extends beyond music as well. For over two years, Gomez held on tightly to the title of most followed person on Instagram. Even though eternal thirst trap Cristiano Ronaldo has now dethroned her, Gomez is still the highest followed artist with a staggering 145 million followers at the time of writing.
That’s more than Ariana, more than Taylor, more than Beyoncé, more than anyone else in the game. In fact, she once held the most liked photo on the platform, and it was an ad for Coke.
This all still begs some questions: How? How has she done it? How has she remained at the top of all these spheres, some of which she doesn’t even use? And, perhaps most importantly, why?
She hasn’t been around long enough for us as a soloist to see if she’s had, or will have, any longstanding influence over the industry. On top of that, if we’re to speak strictly business, she’s not moving record-breaking numbers either. Her first solo album came out in 2013, and sold 97,000 units in the US. Not bad, but not as good as her follow-up Revival which moved 117,000 in its first week.
Furthermore, both of her tours have had major cancellations — understandably due to her battle with Lupus. The last shows she played on tour were actually in Australia back in August 2016 — almost three years ago.
Her inactivity on social media is also baffling. She maintains next to no engagement with her fans online, which is the direct opposite of how most if not all other artists have built and expanded their fanbases. Despite only posting six photos on Instagram in the last five months — two of them being ads, she remains #2 on the platform.
In a recent interview with ELLE, Gomez even admitted that she hates Instagram, and being on the internet in general, and doesn’t even have the password to her own account. The last time she tweeted anything that wasn’t about her projects was in June 2018, and the last time she responded to a fan on Twitter was in August 2017. That’s almost two years without publicly engaging with a fan, yet her followers and streaming numbers have only increased.
She’s even remained obscured from the larger public eye. Her last appearance at an event was in September 2018 at New York Fashion Week, and that was only because she had a line with Coach. This isn’t the first time she dipped out of view, either. She disappeared for months in 2016, only to make a surprise appearance at the 2016 American Music Awards, where she (somehow) won Favourite Female Artist — Pop/Rock.
Scandal and cause for ‘cancellation’ hasn’t escaped her either. Her refusal to apologise or even understand the criticism of her working on a movie with Woody Allen in the midst of the peak of the #MeToo movement was disappointing at best. On top of that, her response to being questioned about her stance on #BlackLivesMatter was completely defensive and didn’t address anything at all, really.
At Least The Song’s A Smash
All that being said, there is something that Selena Gomez nails: her music.
Gomez’s songs albums are easily the most consistently acclaimed of her pop star cohort. Her 2017, Talking Heads-sampling masterpiece ‘Bad Liar’ found its way onto at least 16 major publications’ end-of-year lists, including taking the top spot with Billboard. Her 2015 album Revival also ranked in several end-of-year lists, with critics noting how it felt like a rebirth for the pop star.
She is also dismantling the myth that your average pop star needs a diva-level voice, and is proving that working with what you’ve got can be just as effective — just like Britney Spears did at the turn of the millennium. Despite not having knockout vocal talent, Gomez can find her way comfortably into a sultry, understated R&B pocket and still sound right at home on a soaring EDM track, while also bringing enough fire on a Latin banger, like ‘Taki Taki’ — or even some Frankenstein-like amalgamation of all three.
That widespread access and versatility allows for diversified audience, which leads to higher streaming numbers. Go figure.
Her long and frank struggle with mental health is one of the only elements of her life Gomez makes public. Having spent the last few months in rehab, Gomez isn’t breaking ground about the message of ‘seeking help if you need it’, but she isn’t giving it a Hollywood gloss that most of us crave.
On top of that, her struggle with lupus — an illness that required a kidney transplant, for which her best friend so graciously volunteered — has helped break the image of the invincible pop princess and gave humanity to someone who fans might see as superhuman.
Out Of Reach, And In Our Minds
But beyond all that, and perhaps most importantly, Gomez seems to understand intrinsically what it means to be a celebrity in the most traditional sense. While Ariana Grande, Troye Sivan and others share every waking moment and thought online, Gomez remains reclusive and unreachable — like every celeb before social media took over the world.
As we try to digest more information about other celebrities than we know what to do with, she keeps herself distant — perhaps for her own good — and keeps fans in the dark about the intimate details of her life that the Internet feels entitled to because that’s what we’ve become accustomed to.
She’s lived the high profile, invasively public life and now she’s retreated — emerging only when she needs to. And, by pure human nature, that leaves us wanting more. Any glimpse we can get, we’ll take. If that comes in song form, so be it. She doesn’t feel relatable and she doesn’t feel accessible; she portrays herself as an enigma in the celebrity realm, and being so enigmatic feeds her success. Rinse and repeat.
She might not be your fave, or anyone’s fave for that matter, but she doesn’t need to be. As the Internet expects more and more from celebrities — who rush to oblige our every want — Gomez pulls back.
Clearly, we can’t resist the chase.
Jackson Langford is a freelance music and culture writer from Newcastle. He will defend Selena Gomez until he dies. He tweets at @jacksonlangford