Selena Gomez Is All Grown Up, But Still Not Terribly Interesting Live

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Selena Gomez, DNCE, Bea Miller
Toyota Center
June 15, 2016

Watching a pop spectacular feels like watching a Vegas magician at times: you start looking past all the misdirection in hopes of finding something more than just cheese.

There are moments in a Selena Gomez show where her greatness starts to peek out from behind all the hustle and bustle. You see it in when she stop singing her choruses to get the crowd to sing louder. You see it when she’s alone on a big stage, elevating an otherwise nondescript song through sheer force of personality. You can really see it when she slows things down and sings songs that seem to have a real connection to her.

But this is pop music, so these moments are few and far between. It is assumed that crowds want hustle and bustle, and that’s what they get.

And that’s a bummer, because the reality is that the reinvention of Selena Gomez, while ultimately successful in terms of making money, is pretty underwhelming. The Revival Tour has all of the elements one expects from a Toyota Center pop show, but feels oddly dated already. The show, with its weird video interludes, big silly fourth-act stage production and endless costume changes made it seem like Gomez is chasing a version of pop music three years out of style. Ariana Grande was doing the same shtick last year, but at least she was doing it was some interesting tech and songs that bang.

That last part is important, because these new songs from an album she says she’s proud of do not bang. They, at best, hit like a mild summer breeze, strong enough for you to notice but not strong enough to register above “oh, that was a thing that happened.” Whoever arranged the songs for the tour is doing her a great disservice in the reinvention of Selena Gomez.

There are those who might see the term “calculated pop star” as an insult in the same way that “career politician” is seen as an insult, even though it’s really value-neutral. Of course pop stars are calculated: they are part of a very expensive business. And yes, there are formulas to turning people into sensations.
But that doesn’t mean that the script always works. You can’t just make anyone a pop star. Someone could figure out a formula for making sarcastic fat Mexicans who can’t speak Spanish into pop icons and I would still be writing concert reviews because I can’t sing and I’ve got the personality of a manhole cover.

Selena Gomez does have the intangibles needed to be a star, which is why she’s where she is today. She can send crowds home happy because the bar to make her fans happy is extremely low. She has that kind of charisma. She and her team have found the formula that works for her.

Someone wanted a more grown up Selena Gomez, and that’s what we’ve got. It’s just that script is never going to make her great. It’s never going to make her a Taylor or Bey. It’s likely to never make her a Rihanna or Katy. And that’s OK.

If you look closely, you can see her potential for greatness. But the formula doesn't need her to be great to be a success. The good news is that the shows aren't bad. The problem is they're not exactly good, either.

So, How Were the Openers?: Live, Bea Miller is pretty great. Her sound is like a pop version of Lacuna Coil (I can hear you, judgmental metal fan, snickering to yourself about how Lacuna Coil are already a pop act), which is why it’s a bummer that the studio versions of her tracks have the guitar pushed way to the back. Even if her albums underwhelm slightly, she’s a force live. DNCE are perfectly fine if you need a watered-down Maroon 5 fronted by a Jonas Brother. Their own songs are pretty slick and have a good energy, although “Cake by the Ocean” was oddly underwhelming for a song that had the crowd going wild. Their cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was straight garbage, easily one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen live. Also, their bass player is a Dollar General version of RHCP’s Flea.

Personal Bias: I’ve been pretty blessed that most of the shows I’ve covered have been, at worst, decent. Selena Gomez at the Rodeo is one of the rare bad shows I’ve been to, but she’s a Texan so I figured I would give her another shot. Glad to have that out of my system.

The Crowd: Lots of families. Lots of squads. Not a lot of dudes rolling solo.

Overheard In the Crowd: Behind me sat an exasperated mom and her kids, who had to deal with, among other things, one kid losing her glasses and not bothering to mention it for days and a different kid not being able to remember what she wanted in terms of soda.

Random Notebook Dump: Has the Toyota Center ever seriously considered moving the merch stand that’s just to the left of the big entrance into the building? You know, the one right in front of a bunch of vendors? You know, the one that is responsible for that awful mass of people you have to push through to get to one side of the arena? No? Oh. 

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