By IAN YEE
When this writer was asked at the immigration counter at London Heathrow airport what he was doing in Britain, he boldly said: “I’m here for the Selena Gomez concert” – and the lady behind the counter actually laughed.
Clearly being neither a bopping teenager nor an obligated parent, I wasn’t expected to even take the pop princess seriously, let alone fly halfway around the world to just to see her live.
But there must be a reason why Selena Gomez is – more or less – a household name at the tender age of 21, releasing her fourth studio album, Stars Dance, and starring in already her 12th movie.
Some might say it’s the power of Disney’s shrewd marketing (even though her days with Disney are over). Others might say it’s because she’s a talented entertainer. Some even say it’s because her relationship with Justin Bieber was a calculated move to climb up the celebrity ladder (cue dramatic conspiracy theory music).
So if anything, curiosity alone should be a good enough reason for me to want to endure an entire night of insanely high-pitched screaming and exchanging sympathetic glances with parents in the crowd who seemed rather less curious than me.
The screaming began at around 8pm in London, when opening act The Vamps took to the stage at London’s iconic Hammersmith Apollo, which has just been renamed the Eventim Apollo after extensive renovations.
With the likes of The Beatles, Queen, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Prince having graced the stage there, it must be somewhat ironic for music lovers that it was Gomez – one of the biggest stars of the current tween-dominated music industry – who ushered in this new era for the venue with her two-night stint.
After a decent performance from The Vamps, a four-piece English pop-rock band who made it big off some – surprise, surprise – YouTube covers, Gomez took to the stage in an outfit that has already had tongues wagging on tabloids and celebrity gossip sites.
She had a sheer white top on top of a black bra, along with a pair of leather hot pants. Not quite Miley Cyrus garb, but risqué enough for a concert full of tweens.
What followed was all hair, legs and gyrating hips. If most of her songs and her image are decidedly (and probably by design) family-friendly, her live performances are definitely more sexy.
Gomez showed off her full repertoire of non-Disney dance moves alongside two dancers and a really tight four-piece band. Her performance had some tabloid websites trying to pull her into Cyrus territory by playing up how she was spotted doing a move that vaguely resembled twerking.
But unlike some of her ex-Disney peers, Gomez managed to keep it classy for the 3,500 or so teenagers in the audience, performing songs like Love You Like A Love Song, Who Says and her latest hit, Come And Get It.
Clearly eager to showcase her vocal chops, Gomez then dialed the dancing back a little to do a couple of folksy covers, including little known singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn’s Dream, where she played the harmonica as well.
“I love doing covers, because it gives you a little insight into the kind of music I like, the songs I listen to when I’m having a bad day,” she said.
But while her vocal ability and range are limited, her star quality is undeniable. There are singers, and there are entertainers. Few excel at both, and Gomez quite frankly is not one of them. But she is an entertainer through and through, one who last weekend simply commanded the stage and her audience – never mind the demographic.
Having grown up with a single mother who worked several jobs just to make ends meet, she always seems to have a certain emotional connection with her audience.
She was often bullied at school, and has spoken about her childhood despair at her parents’ broken marriage.
Gomez also had to work her way up in the entertainment business, auditioning for small TV roles (where she would meet fellow future child star Demi Lovato) and eventually bagging her first gig as a recurring character on Barney And Friends.
Her big break came when she was cast for the lead role in the hit Disney Channel series Wizards Of Waverly Place, and from there, she just never looked back.
“One thing important to me is that (the fans) trust me,” she said, not long after a video montage depicting all the rumours and gossip that follow her, including a few not-so-subtle references to her break-up with Justin Bieber.
“We all have those days when we can’t deal with stuff and the things people are saying about us on social media.
“But if people are telling you you’re not perfect the way you are, or you’re not good enough, don’t listen to them, because who says that?” she added, to even more piercing screams of approval as she went straight into the self-affirming Who Says.
Not long after that was the end and the encore, for which she saved Come And Get It.
R.AGE had a meet and greet with Gomez after the show, and she looked absolutely spent after two hours of nearly non-stop dancing and singing; dressed casually in a loose T-shirt, black tights and a big beanie over her head.
But such is the life of a teen pop star that after some short pleasantries, she still had to head out to the gates to take some pictures with a pretty large crowd of fans who had stayed back hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
I left the Eventim Apollo more convinced than ever that the lady at immigration was right to laugh – Selena Gomez is not someone a guy like me should be interested in – but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve props for what she’s achieved.