The most lively moment of Selena Gomez and the Scene's 80-minute set Friday night came toward the end of its second half. Gomez, the "Wizards of Waverly" star and girlfriend of Justin Bieber, recreated her viral hit, a backstage clip of her rapping along to Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass." She does a fine rendition, with enough teen swagger to be cute and mischievous at the same time. While the "He might sell coke" line was edited from the video — this is a Disney star, after all — Gomez kept it in Friday.
Can we blame her? Her own songs — and she has three (!) full-length albums to choose from — lack flavor, as if toeing the "PG" rating would be too risky for her young fanbase. And it is young, as evidenced by the sea of children and pre-teens at Timonium Fairgrounds. If you had braces or were 5 feet tall, you were in the older minority.
But this wasn't about the music; it was about Gomez the Entertainer. She's a hero to these fans — many held signs ("i love u selena") or had her name written across their faces. There wasn't much singing along in unison (exceptions being the peculiar single "Love You Like a Love Song" and "Who Says"), but there were plenty of screams for Selena to simply acknowledge her fans. One of the loudest shrieks came from a girl who was pleased with a photo she snapped of Gomez with a digital camera. When Gomez first took the stage, the young girl next to me began crying into her mother's chest because she couldn't see the star. The songs were always an afterthought. This was, first and foremost, an opportunity to see a role model in the flesh.
The answer to the question I asked in Friday's Sun — Will Bieber join Gomez on stage? — was no. She could have used him, because her stage show, with its pop-and-locking dancers and rocking-too-hard backing band, is vanilla, and Gomez does it no favors. She frolicks and skips and waves, but never makes a compelling star. It's unfair to compare Gomez to her boyfriend because the talent levels are clearly different. He is multi-faceted while she must lean heavily on her cheery disposition to get her through the rough patches. And when that's not enough, and it wasn't for many of the songs Friday night, the driving bass drum does its best to drown out everything else.
It was difficult to tell whether Gomez was actually singing. It never seemed like it. It wasn't clear because even when Gomez did her between-song banter, her thin voice barely carried into the crowd.
Her songs are harmless dance songs, with messages of "own[ing] the night." Even the empowering songs feel customized to her fanbase: before "Who Says," Gomez said to never let people get you down, such as when "people aren't nice on Facebook." The girls agreed through more screams, and it was a nice moment.
Gomez — who worked in three costume changes, including one that was only a sparkly bra, an exposed stomach and purple pants — proved to be an average entertainer armed with a good attitude. But the real hero(es) of the night never touched the stage. They were the parents in the crowd, who shared expressions of exhaustion, happiness, patience and impatience throughout the night. As soon as Gomez took the stage, the kids hopped on their parents' shoulders with the hopes of a clearer view. The field looked like the Great Wall of Children, and I saw genuine looks of pride on parents' faces. They knew major points were being scored, and I could only imagine how gratifying that must have felt. It probably made the hour-plus of toothless, four-on-the-floor mush worth it.