Selena Gomez can sell her fan base on just about anything. Cooking shows. Spanish-language albums. A comedy about upper-crust septuagenarians. Over the past several years, the Grand Prairie singer has endorsed everything from Coca-Cola to milk, Kmart to Coach, and she’s successfully launched obligatory lines of clothing, makeup, and fragrance. Gomez’s savvy evolution from influencer to investor has set the template for twenty-first-century celebrity branding, one that very few, outside of maybe Oprah Winfrey or Rihanna, could hope to match. And even they may not have the power to pull off Gomez’s latest gambit: getting people to spend $30 on an ice cream sundae.
Last week, Gomez debuted “The Selena Sundae” at Serendipity3, the long-running New York City restaurant in which Gomez recently became a partner. Gomez already has her own Serendipity flavor, Cookies & Cream Remix, a mash-up of pink vanilla ice cream, cookie bites, and fudge, which launched last year. Now she’s back behind the metaphorical counter to create a new dessert for Serendipity3’s flagship location in Manhattan. As Gomez tells Elle, the dish incorporates “my favorite go-to ice cream sundae toppings” into a concoction that somehow retails for $29.95, plus tax.
Maybe that doesn’t seem ludicrous to you. Admittedly, it’s downright modest by the usual standards of Serendipity3, a ritzy tourist destination that has carved out an extremely niche market for itself serving gilded diner dishes, some of which have earned Guinness World Records for just how crazy expensive they are. Over the years, Serendipity3 has turned everything from grilled-cheese sandwiches to french fries to milkshakes into luxurious obscenities, each selling for hundreds of dollars. The Selena Sundae isn’t even an outlier on the dessert menu, where most sundaes go for around $30 and the “cheapest,” at $20.95, is pointedly called the Coward’s Portion.
But all of Serendipity3’s most expensive dishes come larded with things like “edible diamonds,” 23-karat gold leaf, and bread that’s been baked with Dom Pérignon. They’re served on dishes of Baccarat crystal, intended for ultrarich gourmands for whom eating is a kind of performative class warfare. Their “regular” sundaes don’t take any sociopolitical stances, or strip-mine any African villages just to deliver you ice cream in a bowl. Still, most of them come served over slices of pie or cake, so you can kind of justify the price.
The Selena Sundae, on the other hand, is incredibly basic. It’s just three scoops of Gomez’s Cookies & Cream Remix—which retails for $5.99 a pint—that’s topped with hot fudge, Oreo cookies, a dusting of pink sugar, and a dollop of whipped cream. It’s then finished off with a banana and a cherry, neither of which, to my knowledge, were plucked from Louis XIV’s secret garden in Versailles, or infused with liquid jade or whatever the hell.
For comparison, the Outrageous Banana Split, a comparative steal at just $27.95, gives you three different flavors of ice cream with hot fudge, plus it adds caramel, walnut topping, peanuts, chocolate shavings, and two bananas. Look, I’m not accusing Selena Gomez of being out of touch, but there seems to be something off here with her banana accounting.
Is it just me? Possibly! Like any salt-of-the-earth Texan, I grew up eating Blue Bell and Braum’s, as well as the brittle, sour slush my grandmother would grind from her old hand-crank ice cream maker as a “treat.” Granted, I’ve also lived most of my life in Austin, so I’m sure I’ve spent $10, maybe $12 somewhere, on ice cream—some pretentious, ganache-covered splurge at a fancy gastropub, maybe, or an Amy’s Ice Creams sundae with a brownie drowning at the bottom, procured while I was depressed or high. But even at my most indulgent (or high), I am positive I have never spent $30 on a single dish of ice cream. I asked some of my Texas Monthly colleagues to see if I was alone in this.
“You know what, with toppings I’ve probably spent $15 on a Van Leeuwen vegan bulls— smorgasbord,” our features editor Lauren Larson told me—although $30 will buy you about three of Van Leeuwen’s artisanal, only slightly bougie pints. You’d have to add a whole steamer tray’s worth of Oreo crumbles to get anywhere close to what Selena Gomez is charging.
“I’ve probably ordered sundaes that’ve come embarrassingly close to that price tag,” arts and entertainment editor Josh Alvarez said, noting that he could get up into the “low twenties” bingeing at Ben & Jerry’s in his younger days. But again, that meant ordering whole brownies, covered with three scoops and “a ton of toppings,” often with a full-sized cookie mixed in. Even eating like a kid whose parents just left him home alone for the first time, Alvarez still couldn’t get up to $30. Therefore, he had no choice but to allow me to write an entire article where I rant about Selena Gomez’s sundae for an embarrassingly long time.
How can the Selena Sundae possibly cost $30? As far as I can figure, there are only a few explanations:
It’s for charity.
Ten percent of every sundae sold goes to Gomez’s Rare Impact Fund, which supports access to mental health services. This is the most generous reasoning I can offer for why this thing costs so much. Maybe you can even claim it on your taxes. That said, 10 percent of $30 is only $3, so we still haven’t accounted for the other $27.
It’s for clout.
As with so much celebrity branding, there is an intangible yet inherent value in buying a dessert with Selena Gomez’s name on it. It’s proof of devotion or intimacy or something, which allows you to feel superior to other fans in some way that is worth approximately $30, I guess. I don’t understand clout any more than I do cryptocurrency, but presumably it is similarly the future of our economy.
It comes with a vinyl copy of Gomez’s 2020 album, Rare?
I mean, it doesn’t. But the LP retails for around $20 on Amazon, which would make that plus $7 worth of ice cream and cookie crumbs a fair price.
It is spoon-fed to you by Selena Gomez herself.
I suppose if Gomez took time out of her very busy day to ladle ice cream into your helpless baby-bird mouth, that might be worth $30.
It cures COVID, somehow?
Couldn’t hurt, right?
It’s because Selena Gomez has been fully corrupted by “New York values.”
All these years away from Texas have finally transformed Gomez into a big-city elitist, peddling her snooty ice cream to her fellow coastal bubble-heads. Am I just shamelessly pandering to Texas Monthly’s reader base right now? Yes, but $30 is still a lot.
We live in the declining days of the American empire, a late-capitalist nightmare of widening wealth inequality and toxically “aspirational” delusion that has metastasized into a sort of proud decadence among the privileged classes, whose Marie Antoinette–esque, “let them eat $30 sundaes” attitudes are endemic of a hastening systemic collapse.
I might be overthinking this.
It tastes really, really good.
Well, I don’t live in New York, so I can’t find out for myself. But I did manage to get Texas Monthly’s Brooklyn-based digital editor Leah Prinzivalli to head into Manhattan and take a $30 sundae for the team. Here’s her report:
“After a subway ride, a short walk, a procured photo of my vaccine card, a struggle with one jealous, reservation-less Upper East Side mom in line, and a uniformed teen unhooking the black velvet rope in front of Serendipity3, I sat down in a pastel room and ordered the Selena Sundae.
“It arrived decorated with two of the biggest Oreo cookies I’ve ever seen, Oreo cookies the size of my fist—just the cookie part of the Oreos, which strangely appeared never to have touched their sister cream. They slowly sunk into the soupy ice cream, melted almost immediately by its bed of hot fudge. Soup factor aside, my journalistic integrity forces me to admit that the Selena Sundae is worth $29.95, especially if you’re sharing amongst friends. It doesn’t get better than whipped cream and hot fudge and a maraschino cherry—you barely need the actual ice cream in my opinion—especially when it’s made thematic (the theme is Selena Gomez) with hot pink sanding sugar that adds a nice, slight crunch.
“My dining companion and I, in our thirties and with varying degrees of lactose tolerance, started feeling ill about one third of the way through this massive undertaking. (We powered through until about halfway.) But the two fourteen-ish-year-old boys in front of us—who also ordered the Selena and sacrificed some prime pre-melt minutes to take video for TikTok—showed no signs of stopping.”
So there you have it: The Selena Sundae justifies itself through being pretty tasty, as well as its portion size and a couple of exceptionally oversized Oreo wafers. (Which you can buy for $3.65 a dozen—but I digress.) Mostly, it’s a triumph of sheer chutzpah, that defiant spirit that allows Selena Gomez to take something so ordinary and so readily available—dance-pop, family movies, Coca-Cola, ice cream—and imbue it with a sense of her own personality and “authenticity,” to the point that her fans are moved to post videos of themselves devouring it on social media. And who could put a price on that? Does it come with a banana?