For the record: Steely Dan did not sell out Starlight Theatre this summer. Neither did Peter Gabriel. Or Janet Jackson. Thursday night, Selena Gomez sold out the place. Signs at the parking gates at the east entrance warned anyone who was hoping to drive in and buy tickets. At the box office on the east side, two young fans were hoping to buy/scalp a pair, but it didn’t look like anyone was selling.
Gomez is a Disney Channel leading lady (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) who has turned her TV stardom into a successful music career. In the past three years she has released three albums with her four-piece band, the Scene. The first two have gone gold. The third, released in June, includes the single “Love You Like a Love Song,” which recently became her fifth single to be certified at least gold.
She turned 19 this summer, but Gomez has the youthful face of a young lady who just turned old enough to drive legally. She is a Texan, named for the late Tejana singer Selena, but her music is unadulterated teen pop – a mashup of pop, rock, dance and disco that is made for Top 40 formats. So is her polished presentation.
Halfway through Thursday’s show, which lasted about 90 minutes, she and her band, her two backup vocalists and her dancers performed a medley of Britney Spears hits. Spears may not be the icon Gomez is trying to emulate exclusively, but she is certainly among her primary inspirations. Like Spears did, she is taking it slow. Puppy love and romance are the primary themes; anything sexual is rendered with the slightest of innuendo.
Her set included a light and video show that fell about midway between Janet Jackson’s spare display about week ago and Katy Perry’s garish and gargantuan show at the Sprint Center. Like those two divas, Gomez sang and danced, many times at once. It appeared she was singing live most of the time; but it also looked and sounded like she was getting some pre-recorded backup.
That didn’t appear to matter much to the audience of nearly 8,000, roughly half of whom were 16 and younger. Most of the other half comprised the parents, adults or chaperones who drove them. And a lot of those adults appeared to be very familiar with the setlist, which included her opener, “A Year Without Rain,” “Love You Like a Love Song,” “Falling Down” and “Who Says,” an up-with-yourself number in which she declares: “I’m no beauty queen / I’m just beautiful me I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.”
She is living a coveted life, which includes keeping company with Justin Bieber – a connection that has aroused some deep resentment among his young fans. But when you're 19 and selling out 8,000-seat amphitheaters, what is there to complain about?
She closed with a cover of “Magic,” a 1974 hit by the Scottish band Pilot, which she performed on her hit TV series. It seems like an odd choice for a teen idol in 2011, but Gomez is also a Disney creation, and who more than Disney has taught American pop culture that not all magic is good and (as Spears discovered) things can appear and disappear in a flash.
Setlist: A Year Without Rain; Hit the Lights; Summer’s Not Hot; Round and Round; The Way I Loved You; We Own the Night; Love You Like a Love Song; Bang Bang Bang; When the Sun Goes Down; Intuition; Falling Down; Rock God; My Dilemma; Off the Chain; Britney Spears medley; Who Says; Hold It Against Me; Whiplash; Magic