Analyzing Pop Songs: “Hands to Myself” by Selena Gomez
I held a grudge against Selena Gomez for a short period of time because in an interview someone asked her if she wanted to be President someday and she responded that she was “too emotional.” Selena. Please call me and I’ll tell you about something called the patriarchy. (I’ll also offer to be your P.R. coach and memoir ghostwriter.)
Eventually I forgave her for this when I watched her hit Disney show Wizards of Waverly Place. Who is this Alex Russo? She is not the innocent teen star who believes she is too mercurial to run the country. On this show, Selena plays a sarcastic and rebellious teen witch who, like most Disney stars, has a bit too much sexual chemistry with her brother. I spent quite a few after-bar nights stuffing my face with Cheetos while appreciating the acting of this actress named after the late Selena. Then she starred in Spring Breakers, which is a movie that I feel was “made specifically for me” and I felt confident admitting that when it comes to Selena G., my opinion had evolved to “I love her.”
Her music, however, has not been my favorite of her creative exploits. “Come & Get It,” a jangly sexual taunt, seemed like it had been written for Rihanna but rejected by her because it’s only “ok.” “Good for You” seemed like a general rip-off of the vocal stylings of Lana Del Rey. (This seems to happen on pop radio a lot, even though for some reason Lana Del Rey is not herself present there.)
But finally, I heard a Selena Gomez song that is at least as good as Wizards of Waverly Place: “Hands to Myself.” Breathy, up-beat and flirtatious, it feels original and not like it was shopped around for a variety of actresses who wish to become pop musicians. If anything, it sounds like it could be in a Gap commercial back when Gap was relevant, which I mean as a compliment. I could really see people in khakis dancing to this as lots of pastel colors flash behind them.
When you listen closely to this song, you notice a couple things. #1 I’m pretty sure a can of soda opens periodically throughout it. The idea of sampling this noise falls in line with how it generally seems like it was made for a nice commercial, and also feels breathy and fresh and a little thirsty, which is how Selena seems to feel here.
#2, I am pretty sure they start to sample“Where is My Mind” by the Pixies in the second verse. This feels unexpected but it actually makes sense once we realize this is a song about being addicted to something, namely, a person, but possibly also downers, uppers and gin.
Once we get to the bridge, the song starts to change dramatically in tone. Suddenly it is urgent and dramatic, and she sings, “All of the downs and the uppers/ Keep making love to each other.” Whoa. What an idea. Downers and uppers having sex. I think I get it, although it feels a little ham-fisted to me, like it was written by someone who studied youth and knows they like substances, but hasn’t done them personally.
Then the song switches back to flirty and dance-y again, and we’re not to worry too much about drug use. It’s just sexy here, not like a *problem*. The motif continues throughout the song as she tells this guy (let’s presume it’s a guy, via what we know about Selena, which is that she’s Justin Bieber’s ex) that she won’t let one drop of him go to waste. She wants his “metaphorical gin and juice.” This metaphor (which is pointed out as being such, so that we won’t mistake it as literal), is refreshing in keeping with the breathiness and soda-opening of this song, but also a little bit gross. (She doesn’t want to waste one drop of his juice … )
What are we to learn about Selena Gomez from this song? A) She’s edgy now. She knows about not just downers, but uppers too, and they may very likely be a part of her sex life. This leads us to B) She openly enjoys sex, although at one point she admits that she actually can keep her hands to herself, but why would she want to? This “coming out” as a sexual person who probably likes drugs is an important ritual for all former Disney or Nick teens, and Selena is definitely doing so between this and “Good for You.” This is important because she had not fully done this through Spring Breakers. In that movie, she play the religious one in her group of friends who (SPOILER ALERT), goes home because she doesn’t like what they’re doing.
According to Wikipedia, this song has already been in a commercial for Beats headphones. I could also see it being in a commercial for Sprite, Cover Girl or possibly a fun car. Selena herself is in lots of commercials for Pantene (she has great hair), so maybe it will come into play there too. (Also, I cannot help but lol at this line from the Wikipedia about this song: “Critics commended the video’s cinematography and Gomez’s appearance, hailing it as her sexiest and most revealing visual yet.”)
Do I agree with the critics? I do think this is her best song to date. I am starting to hear a sound on her new album that feels more “Selena Gomez” vs. “general pop song.” That is important to me if I am to continue to love her beyond just her on her performance on Wizards of Waverly Place. I give this song eight gin and tonics out of 10.