For the last several years Selena Gomez has been a very busy young lady. Not only has the 18-year-old held a full-time position as one of Disney’s reigning teen queens on Wizards of Waverly Place, she’s juggled movie roles, solo albums and touring performances with all the extra time she’s apparently had left over.
But now the final episode of Wizards is behind her. She has a new girl-grown-up romantic comedy in theaters. And her very public, very affectionate squeeze-and-kiss romance with Justin Bieber is in the headlines. Perhaps it’s no surprise that she recently told Fox News, “I have the right to live my life. … I should be able to grow up.”
So it’s only natural to wonder how those changes will be reflected in When the Sun Goes Down, Miss Gomez’s third album with her backing band, The Scene.
The album’s lead single, “Who Says,” rebuts critics (“You made me insecure/Told me I wasn’t good enough”) and invites listeners (especially girls) to jettison insecurities and embrace who they are (“I’m no beauty queen/I’m just beautiful me”).
“My Dilemma” grapples with the tension between denying and accepting the fact that a beau is actually a lying cad (“I tell myself to run from you/But I find myself attracted to you/ … Your eyes have told a thousand lies/But I believe ’em when they look in mine”). Similarly, “Middle of Nowhere” vents a brokenhearted girl’s pain as she gradually regains her emotional equilibrium (“I thought I could never do this alone/But now I’m walking by myself”). She also scolds the one who broke her heart (“You took advantage of me/I don’t appreciate that/ … You son of a gun”).
“Love You Like a Love Song” gushes with mostly innocent teen twitterpation (“I love you like a love song, baby/ … Boy, you play through my mind like a symphony/There’s no way to describe what you do to me”). More of that kind of breathless romanticism can be found on “Whiplash,” its titular action describing the effect a boy has on Selena.
The album’s romantic indulgences often lapse into infatuation-impaired judgment, however. Especially on “We Own the Night”: “It’s alright if I’m with you for the night/ … We can drive your car somewhere into the dark/Pull over and watch the stars/We can dance, we can sing, do whatever you think/As long as I’m in your arms.” The song’s final line, especially, tosses caution to the wind in the name of having fun right now: “Nothing lasts forever, so let’s live it up, do whatever.” Likewise, “Hit the Lights” counsels the same kind of live-for-the-moment mentality: “Let the music move you/Lose yourself tonight/Come alive/Let the moment take you/ … It’s a perfect world, when you go all the way.” The track also repeats, “You’re too d‑‑n scared to fly/ … You’re too d‑‑ned scared to try.” That mild profanity turns up again in the Britney Spears-written track “Whiplash.”
On “Bang Bang Bang,” Selena tries to even the score with an ex by meanly comparing him to his replacement: “My new boy used to be a model/He looks way better than you.” “Outlaw” finds her flirtatiously scheming to lure a bad boy away from a friend (“Before I let you take my girlfriend home/I’ve got to warn her about the price on your head/ … I’ve had my eye on you all night/I’m gonna find a way to make you mine”). She treats another guy like a personal servant on the Katy Perry-penned “That’s More Like It” (“Make my dinner, bring it to me/ … Ready for my massage right now”). And “Love You Like a Love Song” suggestively describes a girl’s crush as a “centerfold miracle.”
Talking to Billboard about When the Sun Goes Down, Selena Gomez said simply, “It ages me up a little bit.” She’s definitely right. When the Sun Goes Down‘s eclectic collection of pop-rock tunes—supported by a video for “Love You Like a Love Song” in which she wears heavy makeup, sports short skirts and a cleavage-baring look—all seem to point to a young woman taking her first real steps away from her wholesome Disney roots, as so many others before her have done.
Compared to, say, Miley or Britney, Selena’s steps on that oft-trod path don’t seem as brazenly reckless. Still, song after song seems to rationalize doing whatever feels right in the moment, an especially troubling message when you’re singing about being alone with a guy in a dark car, as she does on “We Own the Night.” Similarly troubling lyrics pop up elsewhere, too, as Selena casually tosses around phrases like “spending the night” and talks of trying to stop a girlfriend from “going home” with a guy she’s interested in pursuing.
Such allusions to intimacy are relatively veiled compared to what we hear in a lot of pop music these days. But it does seem as if Selena’s idea of what constitutes “growing up” is still a lot like those who’ve gone before her. She isn’t in quite as much of a hurry to burn her Disney fan-base bridges as some of her peers have been. Still, there’s little doubt that Selena is defining “adulthood” as doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants, on her terms.
And we’ve seen all too often where that path leads.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.