She turned 21 in July, but she has been a TV, music and film star since before 2002, when she was still in middle school. That puts Selena Gomez at a critical phase more than 10 years into her career: when and how fast to evolve from a pre-teen idol to a young-adult starlet, someone whose music transcend themes of grade school and puppy love.
Her predecessors in the teen-diva world have written plenty of chapters in the book of how to (and how not to) navigate those rough, unpredictable waters. These days, Miley Cyrus, 20, is the most infamous, for her rejection of her Hannah Montana TV personae and her pursuit of something more salacious and shocking. Before her, Britney Spears, now 31, has become a post-teen-idol legend and object lesson in those matters, for better and worse.
Sunday night, Gomez, a former Disney Channel star, headlined a show at the Sprint Center that drew about 9,500 fans, most of them girls between the ages of 6 and 16, many with mothers in tow. And Gomez showed them all that she has found a place that acknowledges her maturity without severing her relationship with her youngest fans. Her 75-minute set Sunday night accommodated them, but also played to those who have outgrown her pre-adolescent shtick.
It all started with "Bang Bang Bang," a track from her latest record, "When the Sun Goes Down." She followed that with "Round and Round," one from its predecessor ("A Year Without Rain"). Like most of her songs, those are two that bounce and bop to shiny, glossy pop beats.
Gomez brought with her a large team of support: eight dancers/gymnasts; two singers; and a rock band. They all kept her moving throughout the show and they also helped the crowd pass the time during those moments when Gomez was off-stage briefly, changing clothes (which she did several times).
She performed on a stage/runway in the shape of an "S," emblazoned in the middle with a "G." She spent a lot of the night keeping up with her very capable and acrobatic dance troupe, which covered every square inch of the stage. But mostly, Gomez sang the setlist, which was full of hits and popular tracks, like "Love You Like a Love Song," "Who Says" and "Naturally" -- songs that sound a lot like crafted-for-radio hits, no matter how differently they are changed and re-arranged.
All night, her audience responded to her gestures and crowd-rousing tricks. Gomez is a capable dancer, but even more she has a gifted voice the kind that can pull off disco-thumping tracks like "Whiplash" and "Birthday/Birthday Cake" and then shift to something slightly tamer, like "Save the Day."
She ended with "Sick of You" another irresistible deep-bass, percussive pop-dance tune. It's a song about dumping someone who isn't putting in his due as a partner. Yet, coupled with a torrent of confetti, glitter and streamers, the song sounded like a declaration of independence: love yourself and don't suffer those who disrespect you -- which is good advice to people of all ages.
Setlist: Bang Bang Bang; Round and Round; Like a Champion; B.E.A.T./Work; Stars Dance; Write Your Name; Birthday / Birthday Cake; Love You Like a Love Song; Love Will Remember; Dreams; Who Says; Whiplash; Naturally; Undercover; Save the Day; Come and Get It; Slow Down; Sick of You;