Selena Gomez On Recapturing Her Public Image, Mental Health And Her No. 1 Album

Originally published on January 26, 2020 10:19 am

Over four years is a long time to go between albums in pop music, and it has been an especially eventful period for Selena Gomez. In the space between 2015's Revival and her latest release, Rare, Gomez has battled Lupus, depression and anxiety, and had two high profile breakups — all while millions followed along on social media.

All of those public struggles form the backbone for the songs on Rare, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart last week. Gomez spoke with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about learning to take care of her mental health, trying to take control of her public narrative and seeking closure through songwriting. Listen in the player above or read on for a transcript of their conversation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Lulu Garcia-Navarro: You got the title of this album, Rare, tattooed on your neck. How come?

Selena Gomez: The word has meant so much more to me than just a title of a song. We live in a time where everything is based on your looks and social media and there are so many different channels telling people what they should look like, and how they should do this, do that. And I want to represent a person that is just saying "You are who are; you're unique and you're rare."

A lot has happened to you since your last album, Revival, came out in 2015, and a lot of it in the public eye.

Right. Super fun. [Laughs]

It must have been difficult: two public breakups, struggles with Lupus, a kidney transplant. You've been public about a lot of this, too.

I felt I didn't get a respectful closure. -

The reason why I've become so vocal about the trials and tribulations of my life is because people were already going to narrate that for me. I wasn't going to have a choice because of how fast everything moves now. And most of the time, yes, it's not true, or it's an embellished version of what the truth is. I want to be able to tell my story the way that I want to tell it. And all of these things happened, and I wasn't going to deny that, I wasn't going to pretend to put a smile on when it actually was awful — a few of the worst moments of my life. And I don't know if I would have made it. And that's medical reasons, obviously, and emotional reasons. I just had to find a way to claim my story.

YouTube

You've said this album is your diary from the past few years, and it does sound like it's a diary that was full of a lot of hurt. I want to talk about one of the songs, "Fun" — there are a couple on this album that reference your struggles with mental health. You've spoken about suffering from anxiety and depression, and you took a break in 2018 for your mental health. It sounds like you're doing a lot better now. How'd you get there?

I feel great, yeah. I'm on the proper medication that I need to be on, even as far as my mental health. I fully believe in just making sure you check in with your doctors or therapist. [Taking care of mental health — ] that's forever. That's something I will have to continue to work on. Yes, I don't think I just magically feel better. I have days where it is hard for me to get out of bed, or I have major anxiety attacks. All of that still happens. I think "Fun," in that particular way, was that I do like learning about it. When I was a kid, I was terrified of thunderstorms; it would freak me out. I was in Texas, so I would assumethat thunder and lightning would mean "tornado." And so my mom, she would give me these books — and they're the little thin books for kids to know about "What's rain?" and "What's this?" and she just said "The more you learn about it and how it works, the less you're going to be afraid of it." I think that took so much work for me.

As I grew up in this chaotic space, I did have to learn how to be tough, and to be strong, but I'm not this hard person. -

But the way I find these moments in my life that are pretty difficult, I think the only way it's helped me is that I can use that for good. So yeah, I can sit down with somebody who's gone through a lot of health issues, I can sit down with someone who has had their heart completely broken, or a family that's broken, fighting for their right to stay in this country, or kids who are going through things they shouldn't even be worrying about at that age. I want to live in a world where an 11-year-old is not committing suicide because of bullying on social media. That's what I think my real mission is; I think that I have such big dreams and ideas for ways that I can give back. And right now I know that this is something that will be for life.

YouTube

"Lose You To Love Me" is your first No. 1 song off this album — tell me about this song.

I'm very proud of it. It has a different meaning to me now from when I wrote it. I felt I didn't get a respectful closure, and I had accepted that, but I know I needed some way to just say a few things that I wish I had said. It's not a hateful song; it's a song that is saying — I had something beautiful and I would never deny that it wasn't that. It was very difficult and I'm happy it's over. And I felt like this was a great way to just say, you know, it's done, and I understand that, and I respect that, and now here I am stepping into a whole other chapter.

Saying goodbye to Justin Bieber, who I'm assuming you're speaking about.

You had to get the name in, I get it.

Do you look back on that time, and when you think about the parts of your life that were painful, that you've kind of moved on from, is that one of the harder parts?

No, because I've found the strength in it. It's dangerous to stay in a victim mentality. And I'm not being disrespectful, I do feel I was a victim to certain abuse —

You mean emotional abuse?

Yes, and I think that it's something that — I had to find a way to understand it as an adult. And I had to understand the choices I was making. As much as I definitely don't want to spend the rest of my life talking about this, I am really proud that I can say I feel the strongest I've ever felt and I've found a way to just walk through it with as much grace as possible. [Editor's note: NPR has reached out to Justin Bieber for comment.]

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I want to go out on the song "Vulnerable," because to me the idea of staying vulnerable represents the ability to move forward. What does that song mean to you?

That means to me that vulnerability — and I've said this before — is a strength. And as I grew up in this chaotic space, I did have to learn how to be tough, and to be strong, but I'm not this hard person. And I have every right to be: From 7-years-old to 27, I've been working, and I've had the most horrible things said to me, said about me, and being exposed to way too much. One of my issues is that I always felt like I was this weak person because I would cry, or I would get emotional, or I hated when people were rude. I just started getting to the place, definitely a few years ago, where I understood that vulnerability is actually such a strength. I shine the most within when I'm sharing my story with someone, or when I'm there for a friend, or when I do meet someone, I'm not bitter and sarcastic — I mean sometimes I am, but I'm proud that I'm okay with speaking about my heart. And the whole song is saying "Hey if I give this to you, If I give myself to you, are you strong enough to be there for me?" If not, I'll let go of the situation but I'm still going to be vulnerable to what's next.

NPR's Samantha Balaban and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and web intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

"Rare," the new album by Selena Gomez, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last week. It's the singer's first album in more than four years. And "Rare" is not just an album. It's also a message that she got tattooed on her neck.

SELENA GOMEZ: We live in a time, especially now, where everything is based on your looks and social media. And there's so many different channels telling people what they should look like and how they should, you know, do this, do that. And I want to represent a person that is just saying, you are who you are. You're unique. And you're rare.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RARE")

GOMEZ: (Singing) Why don't you recognize I'm so rare? Always there, you don't do the same for me. That's not fair.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Selena Gomez joins me now from our studios in Los Angeles. Hello. And congratulations...

GOMEZ: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...On the No. 1.

GOMEZ: Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. How does it feel to, you know, be topping the charts again?

GOMEZ: It's - I mean, I was so nervous, to be honest. When you take that long of a break, it is pretty nerve-racking. But I'm beyond myself. I'm so happy people are responding to it really well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot has happened to you since your last album, "Revival," came out in 2015 - and a lot of it in the public eye.

GOMEZ: Right. Super fun.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter). I mean, you say it like that because it must have been difficult, I mean - two public breakups, struggles with lupus, a kidney transplant. You've been...

GOMEZ: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Public about a lot of this, too.

GOMEZ: The reason why I've become so vocal about the trials and tribulations of my life is because people were already going to narrate that for me. I wasn't going to have a choice because of how fast everything moves now. And most of the time, yes, it's not true or it's embellished version of what the truth is. And, you know, I want to be able to tell my story the way I want to tell it. And all of these things happened. And I wasn't going to deny that. I wasn't going to pretend to put a smile on when it actually was awful.

It was one of the worst - I mean a few of the worst moments of my life. And I don't - I just - I don't know if I would have made it. And that's medical reasons, you know, obviously, and emotional reasons. I just had to find a way to claim my story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUN")

GOMEZ: (Singing) This is just what the doctor ordered. Put a gold star on my disorder.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've spoken about suffering from anxiety and depression. And you took a break in 2018 for your mental health. I want to talk about one of the songs. There's a couple on this album that references your struggles with mental health. Let's listen to "Fun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUN")

GOMEZ: (Singing) If I'm looking at you and me, we're on some kind of symmetry, oh. I try not to bother, not to bother you. But my kind of trouble likes your trouble, too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, it sounds like you're doing a lot better now. How'd you get there? How'd you get there?

GOMEZ: I feel great. Yeah. I'm on the proper medication that I need to be on, even as far as my mental health. I fully believe in, you know, just making sure you check in with your doctors or therapist. And that's forever. That's something I will have to continue to work on. Yes. I don't think I just magically feel better. I have days where it is hard for me to get out of bed or I have major anxiety attacks. And it's not just in the song "Fun." You know, there are other songs on the album that do say - it's like, happiness is something that isn't going to be handed to someone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE AGAIN")

GOMEZ: (Singing) Happiness ain't something you sit back and you wait for.

I do like learning about it. When I was a kid, I was terrified of thunderstorms. It would freak me out. I would - you know, I was in Texas. So I would assume that thunder and lightning would mean tornado. And so my mom, you know, would - she would give me these books, you know? And they're, like, the little, thin books for kids to know about, what's rain? And she just said, you know, the more that you learn about it and how it works, the less you're going to be afraid of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE AGAIN")

GOMEZ: (Singing) With my emotions, I just start going in with everything. To dance again feels so, feels so, feels so good.

But the way I find these moments in my life that are pretty difficult - I think the only way it's helped me is that I can use that for good. So, yeah, I can sit down with somebody who's gone through a lot of health issues. I can sit down with someone who has had their heart completely broken or a family that's broken, fighting for their right to stay in this country or kids who are going through things they shouldn't even be worrying about at that age.

You know, I want to live in a world where an 11-year-old is not committing suicide because of bullying on social media. That's what I think my real mission is. I have such big dreams and ideas for ways that I can give back. And right now I know that this is something that will be for life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SELENA GOMEZ SONG, "LOSE YOU TO LOVE ME")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to listen to a little bit of "Lose You To Love Me," your first No. 1 song off this album. And I can't stop dancing to it. It's awesome. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSE YOU TO LOVE ME")

GOMEZ: (Singing) You promised the world. And I fell for it. I put you first. And you adored it, set fires to my forest. And you let it burn, sang off-key in my chorus cause it wasn't yours.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about the song.

GOMEZ: Actually, tell me how you dance to it because all I do is sob (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I kind of, like - with my daughter, I kind of - we kind of go around...

GOMEZ: No. It's a...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...In a circle.

GOMEZ: I understand. It's a beautiful - it's a - I'm very proud of it. It has a different meaning to me now from when I wrote it. And I felt I didn't get a respectful closure. And I had accepted that. But I know I needed some way to just say a few things that I wish I had said.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSE YOU TO LOVE ME")

GOMEZ: (Singing) I needed to hate you to love me, yeah, to love love, yeah, to love love, yeah, to love, yeah.

It's not a hateful song. It's a song that is saying, I had something beautiful. And I would never deny that it wasn't that. It was very difficult. And I'm happy it's over. And I felt like this was a great way to just say, you know, it's done. And I understand that. And I respect that. And now here I am, stepping into a whole other chapter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Saying goodbye to Justin Bieber, who I'm assuming you're speaking about.

GOMEZ: You had to get the name in. I get it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSE YOU TO LOVE ME")

GOMEZ: (Singing) In two months, you replaced us like it was easy, made me think I deserved it in the thick of healing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you look back on the time and is - when you think about the parts of your life that were painful, that you've kind of moved on from, is that one of the harder parts?

GOMEZ: No, because I've found the strength in it. It's dangerous to stay in a victim mentality. And I'm not being disrespectful. I do feel I was a victim to certain abuse. And I...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mean emotional abuse?

GOMEZ: Yes. And I think that it's something that - I had to find a way to understand it as an adult. And I had to understand the choices I was making. As much as I definitely don't want to spend the rest of my life talking about this, I am really proud that I can say I feel the strongest I've ever felt. And I've found a way to just walk through it with as much grace as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think we're going to go out on the song "Vulnerable" because, to me, the idea of staying vulnerable represents the ability to kind of move forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VULNERABLE")

GOMEZ: (Singing) If I gave you every piece of me, I know that you could drop it - give you the chance, I know that you could take advantage once you got it.

Someone actually gave me the biggest compliment the other day. They said that "Vulnerable," the song, is the heart of the album. And that means, to me, that vulnerability - and I've said this before - is a strength. And as I grew up in this chaotic space, I did have to learn how to be tough and to be strong. But I'm not this hard person. And I have every right to be. From 7 years old to 27, I've been working. And I've had the most horrible things said to me, said about me.

One of my issues is that I always felt like I was just this weak person because I would cry. Or I'd get emotional. Or I hated when people were rude. I just started getting to the place, I would say, definitely a few years ago, where I understood that vulnerability is actually such a strength.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VULNERABLE")

GOMEZ: (Singing) If I show you all my demons and we dive into the deep end, would we crash and burn like every time before? I would tell you all my secrets, wrap your arms around my weakness if the only other option's letting go. I'll stay vulnerable.

I shine the most within when I'm sharing my story with someone or when I'm there for a friend or when I do meet someone. I'm not bitter and sarcastic. I mean, sometimes, I am. But I'm proud that I'm OK with speaking about my heart. And the whole song is saying, hey, if I give this to you, if I give myself to you, are you strong enough to be there for me? It's like, if not, I'll let go of the situation. But I'm still going to be vulnerable to what's next.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK AT HER NOW")

GOMEZ: (Singing) They fell in love one summer, a little too wild for each other, shiny till it wasn't.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Selena Gomez - her new album is "Rare." Thank you very much.

GOMEZ: Thank you. This was a huge - such a - like a huge moment, bucket-list moment to be on NPR. So thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK AT HER NOW")

GOMEZ: (Singing) Of course she was sad. But now she's glad...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should say we reached out to Justin Bieber's team to give them an opportunity to respond to the allegations of emotional abuse. And we did not hear back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK AT HER NOW")

GOMEZ: (Singing) Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm. Look at her now. Watch her go. Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm. Wow. Look at her now. Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm. Look at her now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.