Selena Gomez: Child star all grown up

Like many former child stars, Selena Gomez has felt the need to reinvent herself in a hurry, going from Disney Channel darling to precociously sexy singer and actress in just a few years.

But the 23-year-old wants to remain a role model to young girls, who should not compare themselves to picture-perfect images of celebrities such as herself, she says, nor constantly feel like they need to be sexy.

She says this despite her own recent career moves, which include appearing in the risque comedy Spring Breakers in 2012, and topping the charts with suggestive hits including Come & Get It in 2013 and Good For You this year, which shocked fans accustomed to her once-wholesome image.

Having young fans look up to her has "honestly been the best gift", she continues.

"And I don't mean that in a cheesy way, because I'm not perfect - I think people have seen that I'm not perfect. It's more in how am I going to keep going, how am I going to show them that I'm not going to let anybody tell me, no, that I'm not good enough, or that I shouldn't have done this, or I shouldn't have liked this person," says Gomez at a press event in Cancun, Mexico, for the new animated movie Hotel Transylvania 2, for which she voices the vampire Mavis.

The latter remark is likely a reference to the flak she has caught for her dating history, specifically her on-and-off relationship with bad-boy pop star Justin Bieber, 21, in recent years.

"I do everything based on what I believe in. And I feel like if I'm a good person and do the best I can, that's all I can do. I try to be that for those girls as much as I can."

In person, the performer - who found fame playing a teenage wizard on the Disney Channel show Wizards Of Waverly Place (2007-2012) - seems mature beyond her years despite her baby face, with an unwavering confidence as she answers reporters' questions.

She has more than a few opinions about what her young fans should and should not be doing to build their self-esteem, especially when it comes to the sexualised images they see in the media or create themselves.

"I get it, the power of social media - these girls are just looking at other girls. I do it all the time. I'm like, 'Why don't I look like this girl?' It's so toxic.

"I think a lot of young girls on social media think that's how they have to get guys' attention, or that's how they have to get back at somebody."

She points out that the flawless images of celebrities that girls look up to are unrealistic: "I love embracing my sensuality - I'm a young woman, I love feeling beautiful and sexy. But when it comes to everyday life, I'm glad there are awful pictures of me online.

"People are like, 'Oh my gosh, you have terrible pictures online, do you get sad?' I'm like, 'No!' Because usually if fans see a picture of me, of course I'm in make-up, I feel pretty, I love that picture. But I don't look like this every day. It's just not possible."

Young girls should choose their idols carefully, she adds.

"What I would say to young girls about anybody they're looking up to is: What did they take to get there? Do they have a good work ethic? Do they chase their dreams? Are they good women?

"I'm not the best, but I'd hope that anybody who looks at me will say: She came from Texas, she's been working since she was seven years old, she works hard, she loves her fans, she tries to be the best although she can't be all the time," says Gomez, whose mother Amanda Cornett struggled to make ends meet after giving birth to her at age 16.

"At least it's me being who I am, and the problem is that I think some of these girls look up to people with not the best intentions. My hope is that they love someone who will make them feel like they can do anything.

I don't want them to look up to someone and say, 'Well, I don't look as pretty as them.'"

Also important for the star, who names actresses Meryl Streep and Rachel McAdams as women she looks up to, is embracing her heritage as a Mexican American. Her new album Revival, out next month, is about rediscovering her Mexican roots.

"I now know why it's so special to have Gomez as a last name. So who am I to say that's not who I am?" says the star, who adds that she needs to brush up on her Spanish so she can do interviews in the language.

"I know that means something to people who maybe think that just because of who they are, they can't be successful."

The songs on the album were written after a soul-searching trip to Mexico with a bunch of musical collaborators, including rapper Hit-Boy and the songwriting-and- producing duo known as Rock Mafia.

"I just had so much to say on this record. We would go into the studio with people and producers and I would just start saying a bunch of things I was feeling," she recalls.

"And then I hit this roadblock in the middle of the album, I was feeling so uninspired and didn't feel like I had a direction. So I went to Mexico and took Hit-Boy, Rock Mafia and three writers, and I rented a house and had everybody come with me and I got to explore the city. I used some sounds that I got in Mexico and I was so inspired I did four songs and it came together so perfectly."

The first single from the album, Good For You, was released in June and became one of her biggest hits.

Her latest film project has her reprising her role as Mavis from the 2012 hit Hotel Transylvania. It carries a positive message for her fans, she says.

The story - which sees Mavis, a vampire, clashing with her father Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) over how to raise her half-human son Dennis - has "a deeper message... about having someone in your life who's different".

"Here it is about monsters and humans, but what does that mean in real life? I think that's special, to talk to your kids about being different and learning what that means and embracing that."

She has no hard-and-fast plan for how to balance her acting and music careers, except to do whatever she feels most passionate about.

"Especially from this point on, I don't want to promote or talk about anything I don't care about. So the choices I make are more based on what I think is right for me and music is good for me right now. I love being able to express myself musically, and the new album - I've never been more proud of an album, so it'll be good.

"But five years from now I may just want to stick to acting, I don't know. I kind of want to see what happens."

And she is finally starting to shake off the stigma that comes with being a child star, she feels.

"The misconception about being a child star is that (people think) you're forced into it. A lot of filmmakers, musicians and writers are like, 'Do you have an identity? Who are you? Did your parents make you do this?'

"And I think the moment I hit 18, I was desperate to prove I had my own voice, that I wanted to strive for more, that I needed to restructure the direction I was going in because I knew I could do more.

"I didn't like it that people thought I was this one-dimensional person when I knew I had all these sides to myself. And I feel, in a way, like this is just the beginning."

Hotel Transylvania 2 opens in Singapore tomorrow.

This article was first published on September 23, 2015.
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