How Selena Gomez Redefined What It Means To Be a Disney Star

Disney Channel darling Selena Gomez is all grown up — and redefining what it means to come out of the Disney machine.

The Wizards of Waverly Place star, whose fourth record dropped Tuesday, turned 21 on Monday and celebrated by releasing a music video for “Birthday,” the second single from new album Stars Dance.

Gomez has established herself as a television and movie actress as well as a successful singer with four albums and several Top 40 hits. She’s in the company of Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus, who all rose to fame with Disney’s help.

Gomez has navigated uncharted waters as a Disney star with her head on straight, managing to grow up gracefully in the spotlight and maintain a solid career.

“It’s all about baby steps and trying to figure out how to slowly, elegantly become an adult,” Gomez said in an interview this week with the National Post.

In a showbiz world where the Lohans burn out around 18, Gomez has played it safe and smart. Besides making waves for an off-and-off-again relationship with Justin Bieber, Gomez has kept her personal life private, and she makes for boring tabloid fodder with no Vegas marriages, stints in rehab, or even dramatic haircuts to speak of.

Gomez has kept scandals out of her career, and avoided a Miley Cyrus-esque misstep — (the Hannah Montana actress infamously scorned the role that made her a superstar). Gomez has yet to say a bad word about her time on the Disney Channel sets. The two stars are close in age (Cyrus turns 21 in November), but it's only Miley who has unabashedly admitted that single “We Can’t Stop” references ecstasy, turns 21 in November.

Duff has maintained her wholesome image but not necessarily her career. The former Lizzie McGuire star has mostly stuck to small television roles for the last several years. Gomez on the other hand has been in the limelight for about six years, and her career only seems to be growing.

Exotically pretty, yet all-American, Gomez essentially grew up onscreen, starting out on Barney & Friends, where she appeared with fellow Disney star and best friend Demi Lovato. Gomez went on to star in guest appearances on Disney Channel hits The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Hannah Montana before landing the role of Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place.

It was on Wizards where Gomez rose to fame as mischievous, sarcastic Alex, the second oldest of three kids, and the family troublemaker. The show, which went on to win two Primetime Emmy awards for Outstanding Children’s Program, showcased Gomez’s television acting chops. She’s genuinely funny, with a spot-on sense of comedic timing, and meshed believably with her onscreen family.

The “Come and Get It” singer has matured since her Disney debut, displaying sex appeal with a sultry new music video, as well as a starring role in the edgy Spring Breakers, released in March.

Gomez's latest album, Stars Dance, is an 11-track record, which Gomez describes as more personal than her earlier musical efforts, and will likely be her last album for a few years while she focuses on acting.

“I’m young, so I don’t want to be like, ‘It’s done forever,’ because you never know, but I never had the opportunity to take two or three years for my movies,” she told the National Post. “Obviously, I can change my mind, but I think this is the last one for a while.”

Disappearing from the music scene for as much as three years is a risk, but Gomez has played her cards right so far. Perhaps it simply comes down to loving what she does.

“There are certain parts of it … that can be frustrating, but other than that I genuinely love what I do,” she added to her National Post Q&A. “It’s worth it, worth all the stuff I have to deal with, to be able to do what I want.”