Roll over, Miley Cyrus, and tell Demi Lovato the news: Selena Gomez, who delighted a packed house at Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday, is the reigning queen of the tween pop scene.
Need convincing of just how big the Disney Channel-bred 19-year-old is right now? Not even the arrival of boyfriend and teen-pop king Justin Bieber late in the show could upstage the headliner, though the Bieb’s appearance did send a fresh current of electricity through an audience made up mostly of girls and their moms.
Performing without an opening act, Gomez and her band the Scene played 18 songs in 70 minutes, mostly in a dance-rock vein that had the crowd on their feet and singing along.
In a short swirly maroon dress with streaks of silver that sparkled in the spotlights, Gomez skipped on stage and into the opening song, “Year Without Rain,” as the four-piece Scene and two singers provided solid backing. From there, the night unfolded quickly via songs off the three albums she’s released in just under two years.Just as Miley had Hannah Montana and Demi had Sonny with a Chance to springboard their careers, Gomez also had a Disney series, The Wizards of Waverly Place, to provide a built-in audience for the music career that followed almost instantly.
Yet in comparison to those two – the former has grown into a mildly misbehaving grownup phase, the latter got sidelined by a trip to rehab for reported emotional stresses – Gomez is still in the sweet teen princess phase of life, singing songs about love and heartbreak, being true to yourself, and having fun with your friends.
That might sound like simple fare, but both performance and production make all the difference, and at Pacific there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Gomez, perhaps more than most teen stars, might have the stuff to stick around for a while.
[More...] For one thing – the most important thing – she can sing, and actually does so in concert. Her voice is stronger than Miley's, more in tune than you sometimes get with Katy Perry (who has written several songs for Gomez), and there’s none of that over-emphasis on dancing that leaves singers such as Britney Spears (another collaborator) reliant on backing tracks and lip-synching.
Those kinds of pop songwriters (Gina Schock of the Go-Go's has also provided tunes) provide hints of electro-pop leanings, which gave songs on Sunday such as “Round and Round” or “Bang Bang Bang” a sound reminiscent of Pink, or maybe even La Roux, albeit with gentler lyrics.
It was also heartening to see her interest in being part of the Scene. Unlike most of her peers, Gomez includes her band in the credits – they're the same four guys who have played with her live and on record since the start – and at Pacific she introduced them to the crowd as any lead singer might.
The set on Sunday move briskly, with little patter from the star between songs. Other highlights included “My Dilemma” and “Naturally,” which she indicated would be her last song, only to then announce she had a special guest to bring out. And hmmm, who, oh,who could that be?
Pop culture loves celebrity couples, and so the romance of Gomez and Bieber has naturally been big news. They’re like a squeaky-clean version of Kurt and Courtney, or a teen take on Brad and Angelina (like the latter, Selena is a UNICEF ambassador).
So when the Bieb shuffled on stage in jeans and a T-shirt – teenage boys, they don’t dress up for anything – the crowd went a little bonkers. After a PG-rated hug, Bieber sang Justin Timberlake's break-up ode “Cry Me a River” with just an acoustic guitarist accompanying him, while Gomez watched from the wings.
Finally, after Bieber urged the crowd to “Give it up for Selena Gomez!,” the headliner was back for one last song, “Who Says,” the first single from her new album. That sent the audience back out to the fairgrounds to see the baby pigs, the deep-fried foods of doom and the giant Ferris wheel – free with your concert ticket stub! – before heading home well past bedtimes.