Under a wash of lights made to leer like tiger stripes, Selena Gomez wiggled hips swaddled in shiny white, and spat out a rap in a squeaky monotone.
It was nothing weighty, just one cotton-candy moment among many in the early minutes of the former Disney ingenue’s Stars Dance tour, this one during the breakdown of the song B.E.A.T. But the crowd cheered. Their young voices pierced the MTS Centre, and their waving hands rippled across the floor, and that indiscrimnately adoring response highlighted just who that moment belonged to, and who it was really for.
Oh, it was not for music journalists, no, or even really for the parents that gamely bopped along in every other seat, but for the wider sets of eyes those parents were sandwiched between. Because Gomez’s celebrity is created by and for the young, and the Stars Dance concert played out the way the young imagine theirs would too, when they sing into brushes under the lights of the bathroom mirror.
Look, in an era of packaged pop stars, Gomez is more prepared even than most. Her first solo-branded album, the brand-new Stars Dance, is billed as more "personal" than her first, which she has said means she called its songwriters and told them about how she was feeling and what kind of songs she wanted to sing. She is 21 now, and so the lyrics are a little sharper, a little more racy than when she was just a teen.
But only a little. Just enough to electrify hearts for whom love is still new — just not enough to horrify their parents too.
That’s basically how the Stars Dance concert played out, for that matter. It was just the fifth date on the tour, which started last week in Vancouver and will run almost until December. So on Monday night at MTS Centre the set-up was still fresh, as it sped along breathlessly from one bouncy beat to the next, pausing for a few ballads — which she sang solo, poised and elegant in a black gown — before building back up to the peppy dance beats.
It kicked off just after 8:30, as she bounced onstage clad in a shiny white bustier and white pants, the first outfit of many. She shimmied through Bang Bang Bang and Round and Round, both tunes from her younger days, as her back-up dancers whirled behind. The lights cycled between pink and purple and blue and white, as her outfits cycled through sparkly black and finally landing on a dazzling gold leotard fit for a star.
Gomez is a star, of course, though a curious one. As an actor, the screen loves her; as a singer, she seems less at home. She has a pretty voice, but not a distinctive one. She is a decent dancer but not a remarkable one, she hits her steps but is not transformed by the moves and the grooves and the beat. She is bubbly and bright, but doesn’t have the presence to fill a stage — at least not yet, anyway. She is still very young.
What she has, though, is a natural and effortless ability to relate, to be up on stage and yet, somehow, not above. Gomez was bullied badly as a child, and before crooning the pretty Who Says her face wore her worry for kids who face the same. "Every single one of you are beautiful the way you are," she said. "Every message I get from you (about bullying), it hurts me. You guys are so beautiful. Please don’t listen to that, ever, ever, ever."
So that was how the concert was lifted above its cautiously choreographed restrictions, above its packaged vocals and largely unimaginative visual production (dancers tangled up in hanging ropes on Whiplash was a rare exception to that): it did so on the strength of one likable young woman, on the simple uplifting messages in her hooky tunes, and on the sweetness of a girl next door decked in glittery gold, strutting down the S-shaped stage that jutted onto the floor, and wiggling her hips through the pumped-up encore: "When you’re ready," she sang, all flirty and fun, "come and get it."