This is her revival.
Like many pop starlets before her, Gomez was primed for fame. Millions watched her grow through adolescence as the star on Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place before embarking on the bizarre public journey into adulthood. After countless profiles with every major magazine in recent years, we're all too familiar with her ascent to becoming one of the most famous 20-somethings on the planet. The body shaming, her dominating social media presence, the incessant speculation over ex-flame Justin Bieber... she's the new generation's princess of pop, but it's a title she'd trade for anonymity. Unfortunately she cannot, and that is her revival.
I'm reborn in every moment, so who knows what I'll become.
Selena Gomez had every ingredient a quintessential pop star needs for the Revival Tour which kicked off in Las Vegas on Friday (May 6): elaborate backdrops, shredded backup dancers, props, strategically placed fans to blow her perfectly tousled hair and a crowd of shrieking devotees. But there was one sour flavor in the mix... self-restraint.
"I literally just want to go on stage. I'm losing my mind because it's the first show. I just want to get started already," Gomez told fans in a SnapChat video message ahead of the show. The thousands of underage concert-goers couldn't agree more. Gomez emerged amidst a blast of smoke and blinding lights to sing the album title track "Revival." She was stunning, mesmerizing. Her natural beauty was almost eclipsed by the recollection of a fable conjured up from the tabloids, but she's worked hard not to let it. And so begins her 90-minute spectacle.
The Revival Tour was designed to promote Gomez's latest studio record, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last October, showcasing 11 of the 16 songs featured on the LP. The intro is swiftly carried into "Same Old Love," one of the highest charting singles she's ever had. Gomez dons a masquerade mask during the song before eventually stripping it off to sing "Come & Get It" off 2013's Stars Dance. The mask was more than a costume fixture; it symbolized the vulnerability she hides behind in her songs. When she began to sing "Sober," Gomez briefly shared a rare intimate side of herself, but before it reared its pretty head, she retreated.
"This next song goes to someone... who knows."
It's as if she wanted to scream it, but held back because of inevitable backlash.
Gomez said in an interview with iHeartRadio last year "Sober" is about not needing anyone or anything to get through life. "You've got to be content with yourself," she affirmed. Knowing this, it was hard not to believe that performance was for Mr. Bieber, who has been in communication with Gomez since the demise of their romantic relationship.
Gomez's mission to balance fame with privacy is a constant tug-of-war. She rejected the idea of having a bunch of famous friends join her onstage like bestie Taylor Swift had during the 1989 tour. Why? "Because I'm not Taylor Swift!"
"I've worked for my whole career, and I've always wanted it to be about that," she recently said. "I've been in so many situations where it's like, 'Oh, you're friends with this person? You're with that person?'" She adds:
"All this credibility s**t... drives me crazy."
Gomez charged through another string of hits in the following section of the show wearing a body-hugging latex black catsuit. She slithered down a chair on "Good For You," wore a cape in "Survivors," then threw it back to oldie but goodies with "Slow Down and "Love You Like A Love Song." She ended that section with her most recent release, "Hands To Myself."
The backup dancers executed their choreography with tireless precision, outshining the songstress at times when she would drop the mic to catch a breath. Those moments when her vocals blared on without Gomez singing into the microphone was an unsettling reminder she relied heavily on playback and pre-recorded vocals.
Gomez changed into a sheer, nude-toned ensemble with her hair pulled back to calm the bustling crowd with a couple feel-good slow songs. In "Who Says," Gomez recalls recording the song at 16-years-old and revealed she still connects to it. She also performed a cover of Christian band Hillsong Worship's "Transfiguration" at the piano, though she eventually stood up to take center stage to finish the religious ballad yet the piano miraculously kept playing.
"This is the first time I'll ever be playing piano and singing at the same time," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I've taken piano lessons since the beginning of tour rehearsals. I wanted to have a whole section where it's just me, the mic, and my band. It's going to be very conversational: I've never written, 'This is where I'm going to stop and say this.' Whatever that night makes me feel, I say it whenever I want. When I see a girl crying, or excited, I feel what she's feeling."
Perhaps she saw that weeping young lady in the audience, because during her performance of "Nobody," which she previously said is about her relationship with God, Gomez began to tear up and lose her composure. It was one of the first real moments in the show that humanized this untouchable pop princess. "Thank you, God," she mouthed during one of the breaks in the song.
After, Gomez treated fans to a brand new song titled "Feel Me." Of course, the lyrics suggest it could be about her famous ex.
"I'm still on your mind / We were one in a million / Our love is hard to find"
The Dia De Los Muertos section of the show brought a fieriness to the stage we hadn't seen from her yet. The well-oiled pop machine was finally gassed up. Though her execution of Revival cuts "Me & My Girls," "Me & the Rhythm" and "Body Heat" was there, her singing wasn't. At times, it appeared Gomez got completely lost in the moment, which gave critical eyes a peek behind the curtain.
This is her redemption.
For the final section of the show, Gomez ditched the glamor for an over-sized bejeweled jean jacket that hid her fit figure. One of the highlights from the entire night was her cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams." Only a handful of moments in the Revival Tour did Gomez look like she wasn't counting her steps or worrying about fan reaction, and this was one of them. Though she is to us, Gomez could pretend she was a rock star for a moment. The skipping evolved into a strut, her doughy-eyed glances turned piercing. This fire she now possessed was plainly absent throughout much of the show, but who am I to disagree? Gomez closed out the show with a whirling performance of her Zedd collaboration on "I Want You To Know" and a trancing remix of "Revival."
Gomez thanked the crowd for their participation. "I cried, I danced," she said. The Revival Tour is a reflection of the 23-year-old's complex life. “There’s such a difference when you perform music that you created,” she told EW last month. “Singing songs that represent everything I am is just the best feeling in the world.”
Her publicized first love turned breakup, the stint in rehab, battling lupus... it's all shaped the woman we know, but there's a Selena Gomez we aren't familiar with. One we will never be. But perhaps she'll let us in a little more on the next record, which she's currently recording with many of the Revival hitmakers. "I feel more inspired than ever right now," she told Las Vegas Weekly last week. "I have actually been working on new music. It’s always a good thing to push yourself and be challenged. I think as humans that’s the only way we grow. I am happy for the 'scars' I have and wouldn’t change them for anything. I feel like I truly have just begun my journey."
Gomez has a long road ahead if she wants to become legendary in the world of pop music, but she's on the right path. As she continues to blossom in front of millions of people on her 74-date world tour, she'll have many more opportunities to cry and dance harder. In Vegas, Gomez had a job to do, and she did it well.