Selena Gomez Talks Embracing Her Mexican Heritage on ‘Revelación,’ Greatest Hits & Using Her Social Media Platform for Good
After successfully transitioning from Disney Channel star to chart-topping pop singer for over a decade now, Selena Gomez has set her eyes on new ground to break in her career: the Latin music scene. The singer, who is half Mexican-American, has flirted with Spanish-language songs in the past and has included Spanish-language versions of songs on albums with The Scene, but now has fully committed with her first Latin EP, Revelación, released on March 12. On her first Spanish-language album, which features a striking cover shot by Mexican-Colombian photographer Camila Falquez, Gomez tackles reggaeton—a genre she’s experimented with on the 2018 hit “Taki Taki” alongside DJ Snake, Cardi B and Ozuna.
To take on Latin music’s hottest genre of the moment on her own, Gomez called on one of its biggest producers, Puerto Rican GRAMMY-nominated hit-maker Marco "Tainy" Másis, to produce all but one of the 7-tracks on the EP. Gomez also enlisted some of the genre’s most promising names, Puerto Rican artists Rauw Alejandro and Myke Towers, as featured acts on “Baila Conmigo” and “Dámelo To',” respectively.
The album has already been met with huge success—Revelación debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums Chart, making it the first album by a woman to land at the top since 2017.
Gomez references singing on "Taki Taki" as a catalyst for Revelación and said releasing the album this year felt right. "I have been talking about doing an all-Spanish project for the last 10 years and for one reason or another, it didn't come together," she told GRAMMY.com. "I am thankful I waited though because it would have been a completely different project 10 years ago. Some of the music I worked on the last couple of years kind of naturally led to the timing feeling right."
In an interview over email, Gomez talked with GRAMMY.com about making Revelación during the pandemic, embracing her Latinx heritage on the project and continuing to use her platform to inspire change, including during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
What was the experience like to work with Tainy on Revelación?
Tainy is a genius and has this subtle, stealth approach to producing, which suits me. I met him a couple of years ago when we worked together on "I Can't Get Enough," so we had history together and I felt comfortable exploring this side of me with him. We started recording the EP right before COVID shut down everything. It wasn't easy for me to adjust to recording sessions over Zoom. To say I hated it is an understatement. There were times I would just cancel and leave a session because I was so uninspired. Tainy was amazing and very patient as I worked through my frustrations. Late last summer, I finally turned a corner and that is when the music truly started coming together.
You've sang in Spanish before, but this your first time taking on reggaeton music influences in your own music. Did you listen to reggaeton growing up?
Yes, I am a huge reggaeton fan and I was so happy to be able to have the influences on this EP. Some of my favorites are, of course, Nicky Jam, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, and on and on. I felt honored to have Tainy produce Revelación for me. He's immensely respected and it meant a lot to me to have him by my side for this.
Both "Baila Conmigo" and "De Una Vez" are top 5 hits on Billboard's Latin chart. How do you feel to see your music connecting with the Latinx crowd?
I can't even express to you how much it meant to me. A big portion of my audience are Latinx, and I wanted to do this for them as a thank you. I was very nervous before "De Una Vez" was released. My heritage means so much to me and I wanted it to be perfect. I worked closely with my Spanish teacher because I wanted every pronunciation, every word to be perfect. When I saw the reactions, it really made me happy.
Your namesake Selena Quintanilla had to learn Spanish through her songs. Was that a similar experience for you over the years?
No, my experience was different. When I was growing up, my father's side of the family spoke Spanish and I was fluent until like about 7 or 8 [years old.] I started working around that time and over the years, I began to lose my grasp of the language. I could understand Spanish when I heard it but I couldn't necessarily speak it anymore. It felt remarkable to be immersed in the Spanish language for an extended period of time again. I want to keep on going!
With Revelación, how did you feel to be expressing and writing about your experiences in Spanish?
I find it incredibly powerful. The most important thing for me going into creating the EP was I wanted you to feel something whether you understand Spanish or not. I hope everyone listens with an open heart and mind. I also think it's amazing when anyone who doesn't speak Spanish seeks out the translations and realizes they were drawn to a certain song, and after learning what the words meant, they still have the same feeling.
What was the experience like to work with DJ Snake again for "Selfish Love"?
We had talked about working together for years and we finally did with "Taki Taki." He's a producer who has such a deep knowledge and love of all genres of music. It makes him well-rounded and willing to veer off the road in the greatest way. I had the best time performing with him at Coachella and I can't wait to get onstage with him again.
You're a part of a wave of US-born Latinx artists like Becky G, Kali Uchis, and Omar Apollo, who are making music in Spanish and not just in English. Why do you think more artists are embracing their roots in their music?
First of all, I love all those artists and I'm a big fan of their music. There is this amazing sense of pride that artists are having for their heritage. Maybe we are just paying more attention to it? I think it's always been there. I'm not sure if it's all of the access to music through streaming and the internet that we're exposed to different genres, cultures, and artists that would never get played on the radio, so maybe that has something to do with it. No matter what might be the reasons behind it, I am all for it. I think it helps unite people and expands their minds and experiences.
I love your song "Naturally." Which of your early hits do you like?
I started my career so young, so it's not always easy to look back. I wasn't really aware of what it truly meant to be an artist at the beginning. I thought it was more fun than anything. As I got older, I just cared more. I started writing music and developed an appreciation of the whole process of making music. I know I've grown as an artist and with that comes more confidence of what I bring to the table. That being said, I do have a soft spot for "Who Says," which I recorded when I was maybe 16. The message of loving yourself and not allowing someone to tear you down still resonates with me today. I will always perform that song.
Last year was a time of reflection in quarantine. How did you pass the time?
I cannot believe it's been a year since everything shut down. At the beginning, I am not going to lie, I was very lost and it was depressing. I tried to find distractions to stay clear-headed. Whether it was bingeing a new show or painting with watercolors. I just wanted anything to keep my mind off of what was happening. The killing of George Floyd changed everything for me. It was no longer about trying to find mundane things to make time pass. I was saddened. I was enraged and felt motivated. After that, other than keeping everyone safe from COVID, nothing else really mattered.
You have a big social media following and you've used Instagram to highlight mental health awareness and movements like #BlackLivesMatter. How important is it for you to use your platform for issues like these?
Don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of social media to stay connected with my fans and promote my projects. It upsets me greatly though the misinformation and lies that get spread on all social media platforms. In a way, it's a tool that divided us rather than connected us. I am very vocal about my issues with social media and will continue to be until the tech companies take responsibility and make changes. What I can focus on though is how I choose to personally use it and the messages I am putting out in the world.
You've used your platform to support the LGBTQ+ community as well. Do you have a message for your LGBTQ+ fans?
Earlier you mentioned my song "Naturally" and I remember when it was released, it truly started getting played in gay bars before anywhere else. I would hear from older friends that they heard it when they went out. I was so jealous that I was too young to be out and dancing to it with everyone. I hope they hear in my music the importance of self-love and the strength that comes through vulnerability. The LGBTQ+ community has been there for me and I don't take them for granted. Growing up in Texas, I remember when I was a kid, my mother had a group of gay friends and I loved being around them. There was no talk about anyone being "different." It was all pure and genuine love for one another and I'll never forget that. We've come a long way in the last 10 years, but we have so much further to go. The Senate must pass the Equality Act. It's absurd that this is even being debated in 2021.
You've been in the music industry for over a decade now. What have you learned about yourself in that time?
Where do I begin? Sometimes I feel much older with all of the things I've been through in my life. I'd say I've learned to be resilient and not give up, even when the world can feel incredibly dark. In regards to being an artist, I've gained the confidence to be in total control. With my last two albums, it felt empowering to have my vision executed and much more so with the last one, Rare. I didn't want a lot of outside noise. I wanted to be insulated in the studio with my co-writers and producers and make my best music. I think we achieved that and I know I have even more in me to push myself further.