This song finds Gomez opening up about her relationship troubles with on-again, off-again boyfriend Justin Bieber. "I think the biggest problem I had this year, even with [Justin], is identity… I was trying to figure out what I'm doing. It was the first time I was constantly being kicked down," she told Ryan Seacrest regarding the scrutiny they faced. "I made some decisions that weren't great. So did he. We went through that to only make us better."
The singer told Ryan Seacrest the autobiographical cut and its accompanying video was approved by Bieber himself. "He thought it was beautiful. I think it was really hard. I think he was a little jealous of the video guy at first," she joked adding. "Honestly, music is an expression, and if you will be that voice for these girls, there are some people that feel this. This is universal."
Gomez also played the song to her good friend Taylor Swift before revealing it to the world. "So she came over to the house, and I played it. She had headphones in, and she watched the video, and then she just looked at me, then she looked back, and then played it three times over and over again," she recalled. "And I'm like, 'I want to know,' and she was like, 'Oh my God. This is amazing. I'm so excited for you.'"
The song title is a phrase that was first coined by Emily Dickinson in 1862 as part of the opening lines of a letter she wrote to a Mrs. Mary Bowles. They were penned by the poet to her friend on an occasion that Mr. Bowles had to travel away from his wife. ("When the Best is gone- I know that other things are not of consequence - the heart wants what it wants - or else it does not care").
The phrase is most closely associated with Woody Allen during a 2001 interview with Time magazine about his relationship with girlfriend Mia Farrow's daughter Soon-Yi. "The heart wants what it wants" was the director/actor's explanation for his behavior.
The emotional video was filmed over a year before the single was released. It opens with a recording of Gomez having an emotional breakdown about her relationship with Bieber, confessing, "You make me feel crazy, you make feel like it's my fault. I was in pain."
"They taped the mic underneath the table when I was shooting the video," Gomez told Ryan Seacrest. "And I had shot the video over a year ago. So, in that state - where I was in that place emotionally - I went in and I went into the room by myself, and I looked at the actual mirror in the music video, and I had a conversation [with] myself to every question I had in my mind in that moment: 'Wow, this feeling changes everything and you can't help it.'"
Like many hits of this time, a word in the title is stretched out when it is sung in the chorus. In this case, Gomez does an electronic stutter, singing "The heart wants what it wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ants." This is a good way to create an earworm, as the vocal becomes far more memorable. Other songs where you can hear this technique include "Shake It Off
" by Taylor Swift ("That's what they don't see-ee-ee") and "Lips Are Movin
" by Meghan Trainor ("You can buy me diamond earrings and deny-eye-eye").
Selena Gomez's performance of the song during the 2014 American Music Awards was powerful and emotionally intense. She recalled her rendition to KAMP-FM's Carson Daly: "That's actually the only time that I've ever performed that song. I think it was a moment in my life where I felt a little attacked publicly a lot, and I was kinda dealing with some stuff," Gomez said. "I felt like it was my time and opportunity to be honest for the first time and not pretend that everything's OK and just kind of get that out there. And now I feel like a huge weight has lifted off of me."
Gomez didn't perform this song on her 2016 Revival tour. "It's like when you smell a scent and it takes you back to a place that maybe wasn't the best," she told Entertainment Weekly.