30 years after Alek Keshishian ended his ultra-successful Madonna documentary with an infamous game of "Truth or Dare," he employs a similar, if slightly less salacious, tactic in Apple TV+'s Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me.
Seated in her living room, Selena Gomez reads a card that instructs her friends to "finish the sentence" by describing how strangers see her, and how she sees herself. "Strangers would describe you as a warm, sort of all-American girl," says her friend Raquelle Stevens. "And I think people would be surprised, and only you know, how complex you are. There’s a lot of layers to who you are, and there’s a lot of different sides of you."
The many sides of Gomez are on full display in My Mind & Me, Keshishian’s raw, six-year account of the singer and actress’s mental health journey. Like Madonna: Truth or Dare before it, My Mind & Me operates not as a hagiography, but as a cinéma vérité look at the price of fame. The documentary depicts stardom as both a privilege and a burden, and in its best moments, it gives Gomez room to be prickly and unlikable as she wrestles with this binary.
Right off the bat, My Mind & Me smashes the public perception of Gomez as a "warm, all-American girl" relishing the success of her first number one single in a decade-long career. The film opens in late 2019 in Paris, immediately following the release of mega hit "Lose You to Love Me." Overwhelmed by her professional obligations and a recent bipolar disorder diagnosis, a despondent Gomez lays across the back seat of the car, ignoring her friends’ pleas to take her medication. "Let me make a promise," she says via voiceover, as the opening notes of her melancholic new song "My Mind & Me" ring out. "I’ll only tell you my darkest secrets."
Keshishian’s documentary is punctuated by these admissions, which are primarily drawn from Gomez’s journal entries (her personal writings also inspired the single released alongside the film). Here, Gomez is at her most vulnerable as she reveals the depths of her despair and explains how the intense public scrutiny exacerbates her anxiety and depression.
Some of these entries feel like the beginning of songs — "Why have I become so far from the light?" she asks — while others are unstructured free associations that allow Gomez to work through her mess of feelings. Still, even Gomez’s most profound musings never feel polished or played up for the cameras, as evidenced by her willingness to plunge head-first into discussions about privilege and savior complexes that her publicist would probably rather she avoid.
After a philanthropic trip to Kenya, the singer and actress admits she "felt guilty being there, sometimes," especially with a film crew in tow. Watching Gomez struggle with her conflicting feelings of guilt and pride, which are tied up in larger questions about her "purpose" in life, feels uniquely intimate, and when she fails to reach any concrete conclusions, it only heightens the sense that viewers are witnessing a woman find herself in real time.
Keshishian's warts-and-all approach is most apparent in the second half of the documentary, which focuses on the events surrounding the early 2020 release of her third album, "Rare," but there are glimpses of it in footage captured in 2016, before Gomez shut down her "Revival" tour due to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. After her final rehearsal, Gomez, who was 23 at the time, breaks down, unleashing a self-critical tirade about everything she did wrong.
Everyone around her insists the rehearsal was a success, but Gomez refuses to hear it, and deep-rooted insecurities about not being "good enough" without Justin Bieber and her Disney days pour out. "I want nothing more than to not be my past, and it comes back," she says through tears. No matter how open Gomez has been about her mental health struggles, nothing compares to seeing it in action. The scene paints a portrait of a woman consumed by self-doubt and anxiety, feelings she works not to overcome, but to live with over the course of the next six years, and beyond.
My Mind & Me also includes moments in which Gomez takes her frustrations out on the well-meaning people around her. During a press tour in London to promote "Lose You to Love Me," Stevens reminds Gomez that they have a friend's birthday dinner the night they return home. Gomez has to film a music video the next morning and would prefer to sleep, but when Stevens suggests it would be unkind to skip the party, the singer immediately gets defensive, accusing her friend of implying she’s "ungrateful" for her fame.
The sudden escalation of Gomez's rhetoric is clearly a projection of something going on in her psyche — "I’m having fun," she says, her tone indicating she’s almost certainly not having fun — but it manifests as outward hostility to one of her closest friends, and including the brief exchange demonstrates Keshishian's commitment to authentically depicting Gomez, even in her most immature and unreasonable moments.
In refusing to glorify Selena Gomez, Keshishian has crafted a music documentary that stands apart from projects that handle their subjects with kid gloves. It's ironic, considering Gomez's past as a child star, but as the film's closing moments make clear, her willingness to show the darker sides of herself is what has enabled her to move forward. May the next generation of pop stars — and their accompanying music docs — follow in her footsteps.
Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me premieres Friday, November 4 on Apple TV+.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.