1) Being a former child star. That path is littered with people who did not fare so well. Yet by focusing on the right level of projects, Gomez went smoothly from “Barney” and Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” to weird Harmony Korine movies and big-budget films starring Brad Pitt.
2) Reports about a stay in rehab. In January 2014, after a bunch of canceled tour dates, a rep confirmed that Gomez “voluntarily spent time at Meadows but NOT for substance abuse.” Although rumors swirled, they were mostly shut down when Gomez eventually revealed this year that she was actually diagnosed with Lupus, and her time off was for chemotherapy treatment.
3) Being linked to Justin Bieber. This is a big one, because being so close to the (occasionally legitimately dangerous) Bieber trainwreck could have seriously made an impact on anyone’s reputation. However, Gomez, who has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with the singer for years, also managed to distance herself. She wasn’t dragged down. If anything, her association with his antics raised her profile even higher while simultaneously making her look more grounded.
Our theory is that Gomez managed to avoid all those factors by doing the thing that most celebrities hate: talking openly about her problems. Though in the past Gomez was often tight-lipped about personal issues — once going so far as to abruptly end an interview when someone asked about Bieber — in recent media coverage, she’s become surprisingly candid about her personal life. That includes topics such as the scary path from child star to “real” actress, that rehab stay and Bieber.
It’s happened in her music, too: Last year, she penned an emotional song called “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” about her fraught relationship with Bieber. In her October cover story with Elle, Gomez described the moment when she was about to perform the song live for the first time in front of millions of viewers.
“This past November … [Gomez] had a personal epiphany backstage at the American Music Awards. ‘Everybody was talking about the same thing: my relationship,’ she says, and there she was, about to go onstage to perform ‘The Heart Wants What It Wants’ — the very song that had reignited all the chatter — live for the first time. ‘I was so exhausted. I said, I want this [performance] to be the last time I have to talk about this. And acknowledge this feeling.’She cleared the dressing room and grabbed a rare moment to herself. ‘I was kind of devastated. I was like, This is all I have right now. This is gonna be it. And all I want is to move on.’ She went onstage and delivered a nakedly emotional performance, welling up in front of 11.6 million viewers and setting Twitter afire all over again. Suddenly there was an argument to be made that Selena Gomez, the singer, needed to be taken seriously. ‘It was a huge weight lifted off me,’ she says. ‘That’s why, from this point on, I know I can prove myself, you know. I haven’t scratched the surface yet.’ ”
Gomez disappeared for awhile after that as she worked on her new music, and now has an album headed to the top of the charts. She played it perfectly: In honestly discussing personal issues, she helped fans — many of whom have been fiercely loyal since her Disney days — feel connected to her, and in turn, her music. At the same time, she emerged back into the spotlight when she needed to, like starring in her pal Taylor Swift’s high-profile “Bad Blood” music video.
These days, the savviest thing a star can do is open up. And in Gomez’s case, it’s paying off, ensuring her stay in the pop culture-sphere for a long time.