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On an unusually wet and windy evening in Los Angeles, Selena Gomez shows up at my door with a heavy bag of groceries.

We’ve decided that tonight’s dinner will be a sort of tribute to the after-church Sunday barbecues she remembers from her Texan childhood. I already have chicken simmering in green salsa, poblano peppers blackening on the flames of the stove, and red cabbage wilting in a puddle of lime juice. All we need are Gomez’s famous cheesy potatoes—so bad they’re good, she promises. She sets down her Givenchy purse and brings up, in gaudy succession, a frozen package of Giant Eagle Potatoes O’Brien, a can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup, a bag of shredded “Mexican cheese,” and a squat plastic canister of French’s Crispy Fried Onions.

“I bet you didn’t think we were going to get this real,” she says, and when I tell her that real isn’t the first word that springs to mind when faced with these ingredients, she responds with the booming battle-ax laugh that offers a foretaste of Gomez’s many enchanting incongruities.

But real is precisely what I was expecting from the 24-year-old Selena, just as her 110 million Instagram followers (Selenators, as they’re known) have come to expect it. Of course, celebrity’s old codes are long gone, MGM’s untouchable eggshell glamour having given way to the “They’re Just Like Us!” era of documented trips to the gas station and cellulite captured by telephoto lenses. But Gomez and her ilk have gone further still, using their smartphones to generate a stardom that seems to say not merely “I’m just like you” but “I am you.”

“People so badly wanted me to be authentic,” she says, laying a tortilla in sizzling oil, “and when that happened, finally, it was a huge release. I’m not different from what I put out there. I’ve been very vulnerable with my fans, and sometimes I say things I shouldn’t. But I have to be honest with them. I feel that’s a huge part of why I’m where I am.” Gomez traces her shift toward the unfiltered back to a song she released in 2014 called “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” a ballad about loving a guy she knows is bad news. The title derives from a letter written by Emily Dickinson, though Woody Allen reintroduced the phrase when he used it to describe his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. We can assume that Gomez is referring here to Justin Bieber, with whom she ended a three-year relationship at around the time the song debuted.

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