Selena Gomez, 2017

Gomez photographed on Oct. 30, 2017 at The Paramour Estate in Los Angeles. Styling by Kate Young. Gomez wears a The Row dress and Jennifer Fisher jewelry.

Ruven Afanador

There’s a five-foot teddy bear sprawled across the kitchen floor in Selena Gomez’s North Hollywood home. “I know, I know,” says Gomez, rolling her eyes, acknowledging that the stuffed animal doesn't quite blend with the trio of armchairs nestled in the inviting, marble-accented nook. “It was a gift, and at first I thought, ‘This is so ridiculous, I can’t wait until I give it away to another person.’”

But Gomez, 25, hasn't let go of it -- yet.

During the past few years, as the Texas-born pop star publicly confronted the ongoing anxiety and depression that were intertwined with lupus, the autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with in 2013, she also began Marie Kondo-ing her world: stripping away the superficial excesses so that only the people and things that were, in her words, “actually worth it,” remained.

During that time, Gomez parted with friends and romantic partners (her 10-month relationship with The Weeknd ended in November). Even this house, a one-story cottage devoid of the swirling staircases and palazzo-style overlooks in her former Calabasas compound, is part of the equation. Concealed entirely from the street by a thick slab of hedges, it’s enveloped in the kind of silence that feels very much in sync with Gomez, who projects calm, peaceful confidence. “I don’t need a lot of things,” she says on this overcast Friday. “I like feeling removed, and I wanted a place where I could be alone.”

Loneliness has been a constant for Gomez since landing her first acting gig as a 7-year-old on Barney & Friends, and it only deepened after her five-year run on Wizards of Waverly Place, the Disney sitcom that catalyzed her ascent into teen, and ultimately pop music, superstardom. (Gomez has sold 3.4 million albums and earned over 2.8 billion on-demand streams in the United States, according to Nielsen Music.)

These days, though, she has turned the solitude into a source of liberation. Gomez, makeup-free after a hot Pilates class this morning, glows, lit from within, as she tries to articulate this: “I don’t know how to explain the place that I’m in other than to say I just feel full.”

Selena Gomez, 2017

Selena Gomez photographed on Oct. 30, 2017 at The Paramour Estate in Los Angeles. Styling by Kate Young. Ruven Afanador

A similar sense of laid-back poise can be heard in the four new songs she released in 2017. The sonically sparse, Talking Heads-sampling “Bad Liar,” which hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, was rapturously received by critics, and “Wolves,” her single with DJ-of-the-moment marshmello, may be the most understated, emotive dancefloor-filler of the year. Even the horror film-inspired music video for “Fetish,” which has garnered over 119 million YouTube views, reflects Gomez’s complete lack of concern about how people perceive her.

I’ve only been with Gomez for 15 minutes when she begins to open up about decisions of hers most people will never have to make -- checking into rehabilitation facilities in 2014 and 2016, and the kidney transplant she underwent this summer due to complications from lupus (for which she has raised over $500,000 to help find a cure). There is no fidgeting, no hesitation, no searching gazes as she speaks -- only a kind of openness that makes it easy to forget Gomez is only halfway through her 20s.

Even the head of Gomez’s label, John Janick, chairman/CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M, marvels that “she has a really good balance in her life -- she’s not just focused on one thing.” The artist Petra Collins, a friend of Gomez’s who directed the “Fetish” video and her November American Music Awards performance, says Gomez “cares so deeply for things and people it’s almost scary -- in a good way.”

Selena Gomez, 2017

Gomez wears a Mugler jumpsuit, Jennifer Fisher necklace and Gianvito Rossi shoes.Ruven Afanador

The rest of Gomez’s day will be exhaustively documented by tabloids: dinner at a steakhouse with Justin Bieber, who has recently re-entered her life, and a stop with him at Hillsong Church’s annual conference. Hours after Gomez and I part ways, Jennifer Lawrence, filling in as host on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, will even ask guest Kim Kardashian what she thinks about Gomez and Bieber “getting back together.” “I think it’s so cute,” responds Kardashian. (When I ask Gomez about Bieber, she simply says, “I cherish people who have really impacted my life.”)

It’s the kind of attention that makes Gomez contemplate running away, “going to Alaska, only to resurface when there’s work.” Instead, she explains, “I want to live a life that’s worth living,” to choose exactly who and what best fits into her life, no matter how it looks from the outside. Even if it’s in the form of a giant stuffed bear -- which, if nothing else, her dog Charlie leaps onto with abandon.


First things first: How did you choose Charlie?
It’s actually funny -- it was my ex-boyfriend’s [The Weeknd] doing. We were walking down the street [in New York], and he saw a cute little puppy in the window and walked in. Charlie was in the corner. He had his head down and he just seemed really sad, and I loved him. I find I do that in every situation in life. I find that person -- or dog -- and I’m like, “Yessss. That’s who I want.”

Was the house you grew up in anything like this cottage?
I don’t know if “cottage” would be the right word. There were a lot of Texas accents -- a lot of brown and wood paneling in that house -- and carpet in every room except the kitchen. I can picture it all, the way it smells. I miss it a lot. Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” depicts how I feel about that home. My mom was 16 when she had me, so I had a room next to my mom and my grandparents. It was very quaint -- you could take one loop around the house and it took maybe five seconds. Every time I go back to Texas I drive by it, but I don’t have the courage to go up and knock on the door.

Selena Gomez & Mandy Teefey

Gomez with her mother, Mandy Teefey, in 2009.Michael Tran/FilmMagic

You recently said that you don’t want people to feel sad for you over the kidney transplant and lupus -- that those experiences opened up new pathways for you. What has been the most surprising revelation out of all this?
I just kept thinking about how much my body is my own. Ever since I was 7, my life always felt like I was giving it to someone else. I felt really alone even though I had a lot of great people around me. But the decisions I was making, were they ever for me? [After the surgery] I had this sense of gratitude for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever just stopped and been like, “I’m actually grateful for who I am.”

Do you feel comfortable with your scar?
I do. I didn't, but I do now. It was really hard in the beginning. I remember looking at myself in the mirror completely naked and thinking about all the things that I used to bitch about and just asking, “Why?” I had someone in my life for a very long time who pointed out all the things that I didn't feel great about with myself. When I look at my body now, I just see life. There are a million things I can do -- lasers and creams and all that stuff -- but I’m OK with it. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with [plastic surgery]. Cardi B has been my inspiration lately. She’s killing it, and she is proud of everything she has done. So there is absolutely zero judgment on my end. I just think for me, it could be my eyes, my round face, my ears, my legs, my scar. I don’t have perfect abs, but I feel like I’m wonderfully made.

It sounds like you’ll be wearing your wrinkles proudly one day.
Oh, yeah. [But] I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Maybe I’m like, “You know what? It’s time for a little tuneup.” But I want to make sure that I’m doing it because I’m OK with where I am.

To not listen to the noise around you.
You know, I have to be very careful with what opinions I listen to. And society teaches you to honor and respect the people around you. But loyalty and honesty can mean something completely separate. And I think altering or editing myself for the sake of others has been something that I have done my whole life. I’ve had to accept where I am. It took me about five years and moments where I needed to step away and be alone and fight those fights on my own, or go away to a place where I could focus on that. And that time for me was so painful and really hard and very lonely. But I really, really felt that that’s what helped me feel satisfied with where I am.

Selena Gomez & Francia Raisa

Gomez with Francia Raisa, her kidney donor, in 2014.Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

I read that you did equine therapy. How exactly does it help?
One of the first times I did it was [at a rehabilitation facility] in Tennessee, and it was pretty funny. I remember feeling like Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted that day. I was dressed in black -- like, full-on emo -- and I was being dramatic. There were three horses to choose from, and naturally I went for the emotionally unavailable one.

Just like Charlie in the corner at the pet store.
Exactly. [Laughs.] So, I felt very angry, had a lot of stress in my body and the horse took off, completely left. And I just kept getting more angry and frustrated. The horses can really sense your energy. After trying multiple times, the therapist looked at me and said, “You know what? I need you to take the nice, sweet, kind, available horse. I want you to accept what you have in front of you.” I took a lot of deep breaths, walked around the stable, and by the time I came back, I felt completely settled in a “that’s enough” sort of way. I’m the kind of person who goes home and thinks, “Maybe I didn't do enough,” or I feel like I wasn't enough, and those are the things you can’t focus on. It comes back to the idea of being present. And that was four years ago. A lot has changed. I feel a lot more centered, more accepting.

Do you think that with all the demands on you and the toll that stress can take on your health, staying in Los Angeles is sustainable?
No. I won’t be here long-term. And that’s nothing against any of it -- this place has shaped me, and it has pushed me to be aware of all of the choices that I’m making. I spent time this year shooting [Woody Allen’s next movie] in New York. I think being in that movie and just being in New York -- the culture there, just walking around and really engaging with people, which is not that common here -- I feel like it allowed me to be present a little bit more.

Selena Gomez, 2017

“I love people. Even when they’re not that great, I love people.”Ruven Afanador

What was your audition with Woody like?
I auditioned five times for it. I didn't have the greatest confidence a few times and they passed on me, but it turned out that they didn't find anyone, so I auditioned one more time and gave it my all. I do feel like I earned it. And it was a great experience for me. In acting and in film, you’re around a much more stable community. I say that delicately because we all have our stuff, but it was very supportive. It really opened me up, and I needed that after the surgery. There can be so much noise and chaos around everyone’s daily life, and it was really great that when we stepped on-set, it was just about that. It’s also a step in the direction I want to go in [with acting]. I’ve begun spending time with [independent filmmakers] the Safdie brothers, too, who are incredible.

Was Woody’s past something you thought about before signing on to the movie?
To be honest, I’m not sure how to answer -- not because I’m trying to back away from it. [The Harvey Weinstein allegations] actually happened right after I had started [on the movie]. They popped up in the midst of it. And that’s something, yes, I had to face and discuss. I stepped back and thought, “Wow, the universe works in interesting ways.”

Women’s voices are finally being heard and predatory men are being held accountable. As these things bubble up, are you feeling inspired? Disheartened? Hopeful?
I feel all those things. I’ve cried. But I definitely feel hopeful. As people speak out, I hope that feels powerful to them, because they deserve to feel that. I’m fortunate enough not to have experienced some of the traumatic things that other women have had to go through. I’ve known people in my family who’ve gone through those things. I try to let people come to me and open up, to make a safe environment for them to do so.

Are you working on new music?
I am. I mean this in a very loving way, [but] my label has been itching for all the music that I’ve been creating, and there is such power in saying “no.” I like how we’ve presented the music this year, because it wasn't in an aggressive way; it felt very genuine. I’ve canceled the past two tours I’ve done, so that’s something I’ve considered deeply too. How will I step on that stage and just completely own it and wear it proudly? In the past, I just kept reaching for something: “The costume is not glittery enough. What is going to pull them in? Everybody keeps looking at me like I’m this young girl.”

Selena Gomez, 2017

Gomez onstage at the American Music Awards in November, her first performance in over a year.Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Do you experience seeing your name in the press differently than you did five years ago?
Definitely. For a while I just wanted to defend myself. I wanted to scream and say, “You have no idea! I’m allowed to do this! And make these choices!” I loved being a part of the projects I was on, I loved what I was doing, and I feel like the attention to that kept going away. I remember feeling that I was defined not by my work but by who I was. The moment I released “The Heart Wants What It Wants” [in 2014], which was the first time I had shared a lot of where I was in my personal life, I think a switch happened there. Would I like people to care about worldly things that matter? Things that should actually be discussed more? Yes. But I can’t control that. And I don’t want to.

With 129 million followers, you’re the most-followed person on Instagram, but you’ve also been vocal about taking time away from it.
I love Kevin [Systrom], the creator of Instagram, and he has gotten mad at me in the past when I was like, “I have to take a break from it.” But removing myself was about spending time with things that matter. I’ve been hanging out with an old friend, and basically every conversation, we want it to be intentional. Meaningful conversations remind you that it’s all within where we are. It’s not about what’s happening with everything else.

What has been the best part of being single?
The best part? It’s actually... you know what, though? Something that I’m really proud of is that there’s such a true friendship [between me and The Weeknd]. I truly have never experienced anything like that in my life. We ended it as best friends, and it was genuinely about encouraging and caring [for each other], and that was pretty remarkable for me.

Selena Gomez, 2017

Gomez wears a The Row top and pants, Jennifer Fisher jewelry and Gianvito Rossi shoes.Ruven Afanador

What brought Justin back into your life?
I’m 25. I’m not 18, or 19, or 20. I cherish people who have really impacted my life. So maybe before, it could have been forcing something that wasn't right. But that doesn't mean caring for someone ever goes away. And [that goes for] people in general. I mean, I grew up with Demi [Lovato]. Nick and Joe [Jonas] and Miley [Cyrus] -- we’ve gone through seasons in our lives. I don’t think it’s as serious as people make things out to be half the time. It’s just my life. I grew up with all of these people, and it’s so cool to see where everybody is. It comes back to the idea of me remaining full. I think a true representation of love is beyond just yourself. It’s me going to get coffee earlier this morning and talking with a woman who was celebrating her birthday and going to Disneyland for the first time. I told her about my favorite things there, and she got excited, and then I got excited because she was excited. The littlest things are impactful.

What are you proudest of today?
I’m really proud of where I am right now. I handle things in a healthy way. I can enjoy where I’m at. I love being able to say “no.” I like being a part of the world. People are so terrified of other people. I see it in my generation a lot. There’s so much anxiety and angst, and the pressure just keeps getting worse. [But] I’m proudest of not becoming jaded. I have every reason to be like, “Fuck all of you.” And I don’t. I’m going to have the bad days where I don’t want to leave my bedroom -- but I’m ready for them.

2017 Billboard Women in Music

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of Billboard.