Austin Hargrave

Behind Selena Gomez’s Big 2020 — As Both ‘A Businesswoman And a Pop Star’

In pandemic-stricken 2020, Selena Gomez had one of her most successful years yet. After scoring her first Hot 100 No. 1 at the end of 2019 with the vulnerable post-breakup ballad “Lose You To Love Me,” Rare became her third No. 1 title in early 2020, earning 703,000 equivalent album units to date, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. “There’s this bittersweet feeling, of course,” says Gomez. “I would much rather the world be in a better place. Yet at the same time, it was so beautiful to see that my music could hopefully bring some people some sort of joy in the midst of it.”

Her first album since 2015, Rare offered midtempo dance-pop from the perspective of an unguarded superstar — and Interscope’s marketing strategy was tailored to follow suit. “We had to make sure the promotion of the album felt as personal as the music was to her,” says senior vp marketing Matt LaMotte, pointing to intimate listening sessions and online fan Q&As held upon Rare’s January release, as well as album artwork and merchandise that Gomez herself helped curate. When the pandemic hit the United States in March, she launched a new set of merch for the empowering single “Dance Again,” with proceeds going to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

As is often the case, Gomez spent her latest album campaign concurrently balancing several nonmusic projects, from debuting her HBO Max cooking show, Selena + Chef, in August to launching her Rare Beauty line in September to filming her starring role in the upcoming Hulu series Only Murders in the Building. But Interscope was onboard to support all of them. “If Rare Beauty is rolling out a product launch, we plug in our entire digital marketing team to make sure her fans rally around that launch with the same enthusiasm as they would around a music project,” says LaMotte.

The same kind of coordination happened when Gomez teamed up with Blackpink for “Ice Cream,” which debuted at No. 13 on the Hot 100 and became the K-pop group’s highest-charting U.S. hit to date. “Blackpink is an incredible group and their album is awesome, and I thought it would be so fun to step into a whole different world, so it was a no-brainer,” says Gomez. “It was very different from any music I’ve done, but that was the point. The idea of doing something with a dominant girl group, bringing their culture here — and obviously they did equal for me over there — it just seemed so perfect.” The single’s August release included a multipronged marketing rollout, with a custom ice cream flavor from Serendipity — a brand in which Gomez announced an ownership stake this year — as well as social giveaways and an ice cream truck safely delivering treats around Los Angeles.

Austin Hargrave
Selena Gomez photographed on December 4, 2020 at Industria in Brooklyn. Styling by Kate Young. Hair by Renato Campora at The Wall Group. Makeup by Hung Vanngo at The Wall Group. Celine top.

As Gomez plots future releases (she says she has “a whole little vessel of good things coming,” which could include a Spanish-language project), Interscope will abide by that synergistic approach to support whatever comes next for her — album or not. “She’s a businesswoman and a pop star,” says LaMotte, “and all the people who work on Team Selena take that really seriously.”

“It’s nice to know that Rare became what it became for me,” adds Gomez. “And obviously I would like to say that it was the best album that I’ve released so far. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna challenge myself for the next.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2020, issue of  Billboard.