Selena Gomez’s documentary begins with a promise: “I’ll only tell you my darkest secrets.” We’ve heard versions of this before—from Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish. Gomez is hardly the first celebrity to offer an unvarnished glimpse of her life—a chance for her to let her guard down, to let us see the real her, right there for you to pull up on your favorite streaming service. But for Gomez, it’s a promise she manages to keep.
My Mind & Me, directed by Alek Keshishian (known for his acclaimed 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare), begins with Gomez on the brink of her massive Revival Tour in 2016. We see the standard popstar documentary flashes: the packed stadiums, the screaming fans, the energy of life on tour. You might think this was just another concert doc, the latest in the vein of, say, Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never. But just as quickly as it begins, the documentary changes tack. Gomez is distraught, self-conscious, questioning every aspect of the tour from the way her stage outfits lay on her body to her singing ability. At one point, not long before she’ll be back out on stage singing, “Who says you’re not perfect,” out to a sea of fans, she wipes away tears and tells a label rep, “I hope you don’t regret signing me.”
Not long after, Gomez is forced to scrap the tour. Her team and close friends describe her as “unrecognizable,” shortly before she enters psychiatric treatment. Her mom, Mandy Teefey, recalls learning about her daughter’s “breakdown” from TMZ. We catch up with her again in 2019, by which time the singer has battled with a lupus flare-up, a kidney transplant, emergency surgery, depression, and a bipolar diagnosis.
Gomez’s documentary, which premiered Friday on Apple TV+, is the latest in a recent string of celebrity documentaries that aim for vulnerability. It’s easy to view many of them cynically. As artists have become more and more accessible to their fans via social media, it seems their fans, in turn, have become even more voracious in their desire to know more. A peek behind the curtain is no longer enough. They want reality, the good and the bad. Gomez, a star who has built a fanbase on her vulnerability, seems perfectly poised to take on the task.
No matter how sincere the approach, though, every documentary is ultimately crafting a narrative. Some, like Beyoncé’s Homecoming or Jennifer Lopez’s Halftime, can be a fairly straightforward look at the work it takes to mount a massive performance like “Beychella” or the Super Bowl halftime show. When Beyoncé released Life Is But a Dream in 2013, she directed, executive produced, and narrated the documentary herself, ever in control of her own self-presentation. Others, like Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah’s Jeen-Yuhs earlier this year, can be so committed to their unvarnished approach that they draw the ire of their subjects. In a now-deleted Instagram post, Kanye West reacted to the film’s upcoming release, writing, “I’m going to say this kindly for the last time. I must get final edit and approval on this doc before it releases on Netflix. Open the edit room immediately so I can be in charge of my own image. Thank you in advance.” Still others, like Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, fall into some kind of middle ground—a carefully crafted look at a superstar when their guard is down, a tightrope walk between revealing and not revealing too much.
Yes, there are moments of polish in My Mind & Me—beautiful, black-and-white shots of Gomez as she narrates her diary entries—but the documentary sometimes feels so raw it’s almost painful.
Hearing the singer talk about her relationship with fame is heartbreaking. It’s hard not to conjure up comparisons to Selena Quintanilla, best known simply as Selena, the fellow singer and Texan she was named after: the childhoods they each sacrificed in pursuit of their passions, the fracturing of their personal identity versus the one they shared with the public, and the toll of having to put themselves on display, knowing they might be loved or picked apart. For Gomez, coming of age as a former child star in the age of social media, the scrutiny and praise was only magnified. In scrawled out lines from her diary that appear on the screen, she shares, “Everything I’ve ever wished for—I’ve had and done all of it. But it has killed me. Because there’s always Selena.”
Still, there are moments of light. On trips back home to Texas, or to Kenya, where Gomez helped fund a school, she shines. Away from the pressures of her work, or the attention of fans and paparazzi who might swarm her on the street, she gets a chance to be the girl she used to be, the woman she never really got the chance to become. “Every time I’ve gone home, I always go back to the places I remember,” she says. “It’s because I don’t want to lose that part of me.”
Even scenes like that trip to Kenya are tainted, though, when you realize that Gomez nearly cut them out of the documentary entirely, afraid they would come across as self-serving. She’s hyper-aware that even her retreats from fame can be twisted into something else. “I felt guilty being there sometimes,” she told E! News. “I hate that, I feel like I went and filmed and I experienced, but it’s just so hard because I feel so selfish. Do I feel great? Yes, and do I feel like I left an impact? Yes, but do I feel like I’ve done enough? No.”
In 2020, when Gomez is finally ready to go back out into the world, the crushing weight of her fame comes into full focus. We see her in her hotel room, nodding off and jet-lagged as a team of people hover around her, working on her hair and her nails, prepping her for the exhausting press junket interviews that go along with promoting her album, Rare.
It’s supposed to be a triumph—another record that displays Gomez’s strength for producing pop that’s honest and confessional. But given the subject matter, and given the past few years of her life, it only opens her up to more questions about the subjects she’s been working so hard to distance herself from: her past, her love life, her pain.
In these moments, the documentary almost turns the lens back on us, in a way that’s reminiscent of another recent music documentary, one that was made without the artist’s participation: Framing Britney Spears. As a fan, and as a journalist, it’s hard to watch Gomez be peppered with questions that range from inane to prying over the course of multiple days. After opening herself up to every new interviewer, including some who don’t even bother to engage with the heavy questions they’re asking her, she walks out and is immediately met with hundreds of fans, some who immediately pour their hearts out to her on the street. The press marathon ends with her standing there, exhausted, while fans sob and say this is the best moment of their lives.
It gives us a role in her story, one that many of us take for granted or aren’t quite comfortable copping to. As social media has made celebrities more and more available to us, we’ve continued to demand more: more honesty, more vulnerability, more, more, more. At one point, she admits, “I feel like a product,” later expanding, “It made me feel like Disney. I’ve spent years, years of my life, trying not to be that.”
My Mind & Me is an intimate portrait of Gomez, her struggle, and the importance of destigmatizing mental health, but most interestingly, it asks us to look at ourselves. What do we ask of the artists we love? Is there ever a way to consume the parts of themselves that they’re willing to give us and not still be hungry for more? Can we respect their limits? Will we leave them alone if, like Gomez, sometimes they just want to disappear?