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Selena Gomez is the latest pop star to queer the high school music video trope

She plays both a student and her own lesbian teacher crush in this video. (Oh, and her mother. And maybe her step-dad? It’s confusing.)

The video for Selena Gomez’s Talking Heads-sampling slow burn “Bad Liar” was released yesterday. Like all good videos about simmering desires and forbidden loves, it’s set in a school at summertime. This time, we’re in a Seventies all-American high school, where an awkward, double denim-clad Selena tries to go about her usual day (chemistry class, basketball, dinner at home) but finds herself distracted by a crush. Look, she’s so preoccupied she’s bumping into other students all over the place!!!

This is where any straightforward sense of plot ends, though – Selena Gomez plays four different characters in this movie – the aforementioned brunette student, a lady with feathery blonde hair (who later appears to be a teacher at the school), a man in a brown suit (who is seemingly a teacher – or headteacher – at the school but also the first Gomez’s father – or step dad?) and her own mother.

The plot as I read it seems to be that student-Gomez is watching (step?) father-Gomez hitting on lady teacher-Gomez with increasing frustration – because student-Gomez is in love with lady teacher-Gomez. It’s also possible that student-Gomez and teacher-Gomez are in a secret relationship, as student-Gomez possesses a Polaroid picture of a very happy teacher-Gomez that seems weird for her to have in a pedagogical context.

The plot-heavy video is confusing, but its central twist, about who is the focus of Gomez’s desire, is something that’s been cropping up again and again in school-set videos from indie pop stars with young fanbases.

Last summer, I wrote about the new generation of pop stars queering and subverting the high school music video trope, focusing on three videos in particular: Halsey’s “Colors”, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be”, and Hayley Kiyoko’s “Gravel to Tempo”. All have a school setting, a period feel and a subversion of the typical girl-lusts-after-jock motif. Now, Gomez is on the trend.

Halsey’s “Colors” shares several specific details with “Bad Liar”: the minimalistic, aching track is set to a video where Halsey watches two older people flirting (her mother and her boyfriend’s dad), and moves distractedly through her life.

They both share scenes of their singers going misty-eyed in school classes and family meals, bumping in to other students, gyrating alone in their bedrooms, and working on love-struck scrapbooks.

In “Colours”, the twist comes when we realise that Halsey is interested in the adult flirtation because she has a crush on one of them – in this case, her boyfriend’s papa. And like in “Bad Liar”, the proof of her infatuation comes in the form of innocent but clearly romantic Polaroid pictures.

Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” and “Bad Liar” come out of a similar overplayed Seventies schoolyard setting, sharing cycling, chemistry, and gym class scenes – but “What’s It Gonna Be” has a much more joyful, light-hearted tone and happy families ending than “Bad Liar”. Hayley Kiyoko’s “Gravel to Tempo” also imagines its singer as an awkward schoolgirl struggling with a lesbian crush (while other elements of Gomez’s video – like the vintage bikes, 70s colour palette, enthusiastic solo dancing and opening gravelly noises – feel reminiscent of both Hayley Kiyoko’s “Gravel to Tempo” and “Girls Like Girls”). Like Shura’s video, Kiyoko’s has a greater sense of freedom and rebellion – but all these videos rely on the same undoing of viewers’ heteronormative expectations.

The key difference is the way in which Shura and Hayley Kiyoko (both queer women) are interested in the feeling of desire, particularly that uncertain feeling of fancying a good friend and not knowing if they see you in the same way. Both artists use their videos to linger on those innocent moments suddenly charged with romance: applying each other’s lip gloss and nail polish, sharing cigarettes (or chewing gum), splashing around in a swimming pool, grabbing on to each other in a scary movie.

By contrast, Selena Gomez’s confusing and sometimes gimmicky video uses the lesbian twist as precisely that – a twist, not a specific feeling worth exploring.

While lyrically, “Bad Liar” is overtly concerned with the particular patterns of a crush-obsessed mind (with lyrics like “In my room there's a king size space” and “I see your face / Oh wait, that's someone else”), that frustrated sexual energy doesn’t fully come through in the video.

A major video from a huge pop star like Selena Gomez incorporating all of these threads feels like the natural apex for this particular trend. But, as often happens when trends go mainstream, some of the sincerity has been lost in the transition.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details:

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear