Following in the footsteps of The Michigan Daily Arts’ Music Talks, The Michigan Daily Arts section presents Arts Talks, a series where Daily Arts Writers gather to discuss their opinions on and reactions to the latest and major releases in the Arts world.
In this segment of Arts Talks, four Daily Arts Writers well versed in Selena Gomez lore discuss her new documentary, “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” and her mental health journey starting from her “Revival Tour” up until the pandemic. Having been under media scrutiny since a very young age, Gomez retakes control of her story in a tell-all about the pressures she has faced in her personal and professional life.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
What surprised you the most about this documentary?
Sabriya Imami, Managing Arts Editor: One thing that I wasn’t expecting — I didn’t think it was going to go back as far as 2016. I thought it was gonna be maybe from the pandemic on, but there were things from 2016, when (Selena Gomez) was 24 and she looked so different. She looked really young. And it was so hard to see her at that age struggling in the way that she was. Even though most of the documentary was more recent, having it go back that far gave us a better understanding of who she was and how far she’s come.
Swara Ramaswamy, Daily Arts Writer: It was even more jarring because I feel like she was kind of a private person for most of that time. We knew she was going through something, but she wasn’t open about it. So this was the first time we actually saw what she was going through.
Hannah Carapellotti, Senior Arts Editor: I related a lot to the idea that she kept talking about being your own worst enemy. It was sad to think that she was so close in age to us, and was being hard on herself while having to deal with so much.
SR: I was thinking the entire time that if I was put in this position, I feel like I would deteriorate very quickly. So it was very commendable to see that she held up for as long as she did.
SI: And she’s been in the limelight since she was seven — that’s so much of her life. She’s just been here, and we’ve all borne witness to her actions and everything that she’s gone through. She was able to take the narrative back, in a way, and be like, “This is what I’m choosing to show you,” rather than “This is what people (who) are prying into my life without my consent (are showing you).”
HC: I remember when “Lose You to Love Me” first came out — they had all of that in the movie — and I remember my mom hearing it for the first time and just immediately being like, “Oh, this is about Justin (Bieber).” And so watching (the movie) back, I was like, “It’s not about Justin,” and here we are doing exactly what she did not want us to do. I was a little disappointed in myself when I saw that.
SI: You get to see her making the song and seeing how much it meant to her. It wasn’t, “Oh, I needed to lose Justin to love me.” It’s this whole idea of, “Despite what everybody thought about me and what I thought about me and all of these preconceived notions that surrounded me, I was still able to love myself.” So to have it be, “I needed to lose a part of me that was negative towards the rest of me,” that’s so much more impactful than it being about Justin Bieber.
SR: It’s really commendable how she was able to get out of that “everyone only talking about her in conjunction with Justin Bieber” phase because he has been in the limelight a lot more than she has. The fact that she was able to say, “You know what, I don’t want my name to be associated with him anymore,” and then she just did it — now she’s an independent artist and got out of it — that was good on her part.
HC: I felt the same way when she talked about wanting to be separate from Disney. I always thought of her as one of the few Disney stars who has actually gone on to be something successful outside of that umbrella.
SI: The Disney thing broke my heart a little bit, because when I watched Selena Gomez on Disney Channel when I was little, it never felt like that wasn’t who she actually was. Obviously, Alex is not Selena and Selena is not Alex, but to have her associate that whole experience with negativity made me feel so sorry for her. I always thought watching her was so fun when I was growing up, but it wasn’t that for her. That was hard to reconcile.
SR: Yeah, especially after that one interview that she was doing on promo, and she got really upset afterward. She was like, “It felt like being on Disney again; it felt like I had the wand.” She was so viscerally upset about it.
Considering how publicized Gomez’s life has been, what do you think about how the documentary addresses it?
SR: I think it’s obvious that, (considering) how the documentary was made, she had executive control. And it’s such a refreshing turn from the way the media portrays her.
SI: That was really evidenced by the diary entries (in the documentary) because those were so sad but very real, and I’m pretty sure (it was) her handwriting and her voice speaking those words. And watching those moments, I was like, this is the actual Selena Gomez, and to show that was obviously her decision. I felt like that with the scenes in Kenya too. And I’m sure people will be like, “Oh, she only showed that to look like a philanthropist.” But it was so not performative. There was this moment where you see her looking out the window in Kenya when they’re in the car, and she just looks so content. Then, when she gets back to London, there’s this juxtaposing moment where she’s looking out the window, and it’s just her own reflection that’s staring back at her, and she looks so sad and tired. How can you say that her activism is performative when Kenya was where she seemed the happiest in the entire documentary, hearing these stories? There’s a lot more to her that I think people would not have understood or even guessed if not for the documentary.
SR: I think the Kenya trip was really well handled because as soon as she mentioned that she was going there I was like, “Oh!” and then it actually happened. They covered it so gracefully and spent more time on the kids that she was talking to rather than herself, highlighting their stories, which was beautifully done.
HC: I liked that she was going to Kenya because she already had a connection with the place. That made it more genuine to me, that she had already donated to build the schools.
SI: She had been wanting to go, but the doctors wouldn’t let her because it was too soon after her surgery. This isn’t something that was just happening for the documentary. And I think there was nobody happier than her that she was able to do it.
Kristen Su, Daily Arts Writer: She talks a lot about connecting with people. It’s obvious that even (when she was giving a speech at the McLean Hospital) she was listening to others. Even though it’s not the same thing as what she was doing in Kenya, she was listening to other people’s stories, and she really wanted to connect with them and she was glad that her words had some sort of impact.
SI: None of that felt performative to me. These are things she has grappled with and now she’s using her platform to do something about it.
What do you make of the negative perception of Raquelle that fans have expressed on the internet?
SI: Everybody is dissing Raquelle Stevens, Gomez’s friend, and look, I am a huge fan of “Selena + Chef,” her HBO Max show. So (I feel like) I’ve known Raquelle since day one. She’s in all the episodes, she’s cooking alongside Gomez, they lived together. And I feel like all the Raquelle hate is so unwarranted because this is a girl who is not famous in her own right, but she also doesn’t need to be there. She chooses to stay. Raquelle is in some ways taking care of (Gomez) and is also, in a lot of ways, the only person being honest with her. That scene of them fighting was misleading in some ways. I think it wasn’t meant to show that Raquelle was a problem. I think it was meant to show that Selena does still struggle in maintaining these connections with the people that are closest to her. So it was a realistic portrayal of friendship: You do have fights. I don’t think many people would stick alongside a friend who is struggling so much. And I feel like if you don’t know Raquelle from “Selena + Chef,” you don’t know her.
HC: I hadn’t interpreted Raquelle as toxic or a bad friend in any way, so I had to look up BuzzFeed articles about it. This scene when they’re talking in Kenya about making it a quarterly trip and Raquelle is reminding Selena, “This isn’t reality for you,” everyone attacked her for being so blunt. But they’ve been friends for 10 years. Sometimes, you need a friend who can tell it to you straight. I think Raquelle was doing that.
SI: At that moment, I get how people could be turned off by that because you could take it as a privileged stance (to say) that “this isn’t your reality.” But also, I feel like a lot of people could say, “Oh, Selena Gomez put this pressure on herself because she doesn’t need to be in the limelight. She could choose to stop and do activism, do philanthropy, but she does choose to continue acting and making music.” So, I don’t think that was privileged. I think it was her saying: “You have a platform; you can use it. These are the lives that you’re helping and changing if you continue doing what you’re doing. And you can’t stay here because you have people that will miss you. You have a life that isn’t here.” And so I didn’t take that as toxic. I did take it as a little bit of a harsh, but necessary, reawakening moment.
SR: I saw the tweets before I actually watched the documentary. So I fully was expecting this huge fight. But then I watched the scene, and I’ve literally had this exact conversation with my closest friend. I’ve had friends that I’ve been friends with for seven, eight years, and that’s how we interact, and it doesn’t mean that they’re a bad friend or I’m a bad person. That’s just how your relationship goes after seven or eight years; you know you’re not going to really lose that person. So you tell it to them straight.
What do you think of the film’s treatment of Gomez’s journey with her mental health?
HC: The one area where I don’t feel like celebrities are going for the “I’m just like you” angle is when they talk about mental health. You can tell from the way that this documentary treated (Gomez’s) struggle, that it wasn’t at all done for attention, especially with the journal entries. I keep a journal, and I would never, ever share that unless I thought that it was actually going to help other people. It was all handled gracefully, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that she was genuine enough to share those details with the world when the world has not been very nice to her outside of this.
KS: It almost felt too vulnerable to me. I was reading (the journal entries) and I was like, “Wait, I feel like I shouldn’t be seeing this.” At the end, after the credits where Selena was singing “My Mind & Me,” (the directors) were saying, “Oh my God, I’m glad we didn’t butcher your journal entries.” So you can tell that it was a deeply personal thing.
HC: She totally could just drop everything if she wanted to. And it was very obvious, at least to me, that she wants to — maybe not right now, because she’s kind of at her peak in using her platform the way that she wants to, but honestly, I wouldn’t blame her if she were to leave the industry and do philanthropic work. I would not be surprised if that comes in the near future, and I would applaud her for it. The bit that they had in the credits, where she planned that fundraiser and was at the White House and was actually working on making this bill happen — when she was talking about wanting to do it in Kenya, I was like, “Oh that sounds really cool!” And then she’s actually doing it, and I haven’t heard a thing about it. That’s not only reinforcing how serious she is about all of this, but it’s so great to see her making those strides.
Managing Arts Editor Sabriya Imami, Senior Arts Editor Hannah Carapellotti, and Daily Arts Writers Swara Ramaswamy and Kristen Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.