Selena Gomez, who graces our 2023 Hollywood cover, has spent years feeling betrayed by her Disney-cultivated persona. However, the singer, actor, and producer (Selena + Chef, Only Murders in the Building) has felt liberated since her 2018 bipolar diagnosis and her decision to share her mental health struggles in last year’s Apple TV+ documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me. Following are excerpts from a discussion about fears, self-esteem, and freedom.
You previously stated that you were haunted by the thought that people would forever associate you with your Disney years. Has that changed since your documentary was released?
Selena Gomez: I definitely feel liberated. I get triggered from time to time. I’m not ashamed of my past; I’ve just worked so hard to forge my own path. I don’t want to be who I used to be. I want to be myself.
Someone close to you questions your decision to go public with your bipolar diagnosis in the documentary. Why did you proceed in the first place?
I’m just so used to censoring myself that it was (a) me wanting to let go and (b) if they’re telling me to keep quiet about it, that’s not good because that’s not where I’m at anymore.
Perhaps it was strange and uncomfortable for others, and I was obviously concerned, but I believe it finally allowed me to be open about everything. It’s not that I was sad—I actually have chemical imbalances in my brain that I need to understand, care for, and nurture. I’m not embarrassed about it. I never, ever feel insane, even for five seconds. My thoughts ruminate, but it is up to me to be proud of who I am and to care for myself.
I never want anyone to tell them, “Don’t say that because it’ll look bad. You will not get this job, that boy, or that girl or whatever.” I guess I was rebelling.
I’m sure there were times in your early career when you were explicitly told, “You can’t say that.”
Without a doubt. I wasn’t a wild child by any means, but since I was on Disney, I couldn’t say “What the hell?” in front of anyone. It’s stuff I was putting on myself in order to be the best role model I could be. Now, I believe that being honest, even with the ugly and complicated parts of yourself, is the best role model.
You’re one of the few celebrities who has been open about outsourcing your social media accounts to an assistant because you found Instagram, in particular, to be toxic. Can you elaborate on your decision?
I never had the opportunity to attend a traditional high school. For the longest time, the world was my high school, and I was inundated with information I didn’t want. I was going through a difficult breakup and didn’t want to see any [feedback]—not necessarily about the relationship, but about my opinions versus [someone] else. There could be thousands of really nice comments, but my mind automatically goes to the mean one.
People can call me ugly or stupid, and I’ll say whatever they want. But these people go into great detail. They write very specific and mean paragraphs. I’d be crying all the time. I was constantly anxious… I couldn’t take it any longer. It was a complete waste of my time.
TikTok is the only app I have on my phone because I find it to be less hostile. Connecting with fans, seeing how happy and excited they are, and hearing their stories are all wonderful aspects of social media. But that is usually filtered through [for me now]. I devised a system. I send everything I do to my assistant, who posts it. In terms of feedback, my team will compile a few encouraging comments.
What did you watch on TikTok last?
I’m a bit of a nerd. I enjoy making amusing videos. I’ll look for recipes, makeup ideas, and hairstyles.
You’re in the midst of filming the new season of Only Murders in the Building. How do you get along with Steve Martin and Martin Short off-screen?
They’re fantastic. I don’t like calling them my grandfathers, but they are. They’ll tell me the same jokes over and over, and I’ll laugh every time.
Do you communicate via text or email?
It’s amusing that Marty will text me but Steve will not. He has my email address, but he refuses to send it to me. He’ll forward it to [my assistant]. I believe he wishes to be polite. It’s endearing, but he turns it into a whole thing.
You’ve spoken out against Mark Zuckerberg’s role in the spread of misinformation and hate speech on Facebook. You continue to have a Twitter account. What are your thoughts on Elon Musk’s takeover and the subsequent increase in hate speech?
It’s perilous. I don’t think I need to say anything because he is receiving [my feedback]. I’m not interested in him, but in the [direction] of Twitter… Certainly not my favourite app. I’m not sure if it was about feeling cool because you own something. I just think it’s irresponsible and dangerous.
Given your experiences as a public figure, what advice would you give to someone experiencing their first taste of Hollywood success?
All I can say is that I would be delighted to assist you if you ever have any questions. However, this industry is a beast. It’s terrifying to witness what happens when you’re given so much power and money at such a young age. It’s extremely frightening, in my opinion.
I would advise you to be more humble as you grow older. Hold on to your heart, strive to be the best version of yourself, and be cautious about who you trust, because you are the people you surround yourself with. My nine-year-old sister, thank goodness, does not want to work in this industry. That’s her right now. What if she says she wants to in two years? I can’t even imagine it.
What has changed for you since the documentary’s release?
Now I don’t feel like I’m deceiving people. It’s not that I lied… I was afraid of what people would think of me or that no one would hire me. I no longer believe that. I understand that if something doesn’t feel right to me, I should take a step back and reconsider. Is this friendship providing me with anything? Is this a really good project?
You’ve stated that the new music you’re working on is upbeat. What else do you have to say about it?
If I had my way, I’d probably spend my entire life writing ballads, but I want to make music that makes people happy.
The music I’m making right now is about real life experiences. It’s very powerful, strong, and pop. The overarching theme is freedom—liberation from relationships, liberation from the darkness.
You must feel liberated now that the documentary has been released, which I imagine felt like bungee jumping naked in front of a live audience.
I was scared. But after the documentary came out, I started noticing people approaching me and not saying, “Oh, I want a picture of you.” It was more along the lines of, “Hey, I liked when you said that.” Then I ended up talking for five minutes with someone about their journey.
That began to happen more frequently, and I began to feel better because I wasn’t just a prop to people, as in, “You’re so cute. Let’s take a photo.” It went beyond that. It was a discussion about mental health, courage, disappointment, and loss. And I began to think, This is paying off, because at the end of the day, that’s what I want. I’d prefer to be remembered for my heart rather than anything else.
For clarity, this interview has been condensed and edited.