Demi Lovato’s shocking struggles become a witty, redemptive pop classic
Demi Lovato’s career could serve as a cautionary tale for the dangers of modern fame, from cute Disney child star to multimillion selling pop superstar whose wholesome public image cracked to reveal a chaotic hidden life of sexual abuse, eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction. Lovato was first admitted to rehab in 2011, at the age of 18, and has spent ten years between relapse and recovery, climaxing with a near fatal overdose in 2018.
The triumph of her frankly fantastic seventh album is to take control of her own dramatic narrative and turn it into bright, witty, powerful and joyfully redemptive pop. Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over may be the perfect pop artefact for our age of Instagrammatic oversharing, in which divisions between private and public life are increasingly blurred.
It is accompanied by a YouTube documentary series in which Lovato tells her access-all-areas story with a frankness that would have horrified Hollywood publicists in more prudish times. She has revealed that her first sexual experience was rape, at the age of 15, while filming a Disney movie, and has now come out as proudly bisexual. Her experiences clearly echo those of many young women in the media spotlight, and have an electrifying currency in our #MeToo moment, lending Lovato a gravitas not usually associated with her brand of shinily commercial pop. In many ways – and without a hint of cynicism – her timing could not have been better, with the potential to transform her huge American popularity into a major global superstar brand.
And Lovato seems determined to make the most of it. The opening three tracks are heavyweight ballads on which she really lays herself on the line. Anyone is performed to solo piano backing, and features a raw vocal unadorned by harmonies or studio effects. Lovato can sing in the melismatic style of Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera, and it’s impressive to hear that voice so naked, on a song so brutally unsparing of her own insecurities, in which she admits to only confiding her darkest secrets to alcohol, while roaring “I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody’s listening to me.”
An album’s worth of such stripped-back intensity might have been impressive, if hard on the nerves, but following the lushly cinematic Dancing With the Devil and delicate ICU (a title with the double meaning of feeling seen and waking in an Intensive Care Unit), Lovato shifts the perspective to post-recovery, with a breezily engaging second title-track, The Art of Starting Over. “I let the darkness out”, the backing vocals chirp while Lovato flutters overhead.
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