This review contains reports of rape and sexual assault.
Demi Lovato – then Disney’s leading lady for her star – participated in the American Music Awards in 2008 Camp Rock—Smiled as a red-carpet reporter asked for inspiration behind her pop-punk solo music. “Believe it or not, when I was 16, I’ve been through a lot,” she replied with a dignified giggle. “Come on, how much heartache can you get at 16?” the man insisted. “Oh, a lot,” Lovato replied immediately.
Over the next few years, as she dutifully performed the role of a chaste pop star – albeit a fascinated one by metal music ̵
In the summer of 2018, after six years of sobriety, Lovato returned. On July 24, she overdosed on opioids, causing three strokes, a heart attack, multiple organ failure, pneumonia, permanent brain damage and permanent vision problems. As she explains in the latest documentary Dance with the devil, the drug dealer who delivered Lovato that night sexually assaulted her, leaving her dead. It’s a miracle that she survived.
Arrived with the documentary and a flash of confession interviews, Lovato’s seventh album, Dance with the devil … The art of starting over takes control of the narrative. Across 19 songs, the 28-year-old leans down in her personal struggles; the pop star who once declared a desire to “be free from all demons” has apparently accepted the reality that she should live with them. On the power ballad “Everyone”, Lovato tries to find comfort in his art, but falls short. “Hundreds of millions of stories / And hundreds of millions of songs / I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody listens to me,” she belts. Written before her relapse, it is a cry for help from a place of loneliness and desperation. The slick “Dance with the Devil” outlines the precipitation that led to the overdose: “A little red wine” became “a little white line” and then “a little glass tube.” “ICU (Madison’s Lullaby)” relives the moment Lovato woke up in the hospital, legally blind and unable to recognize his little sister.
After this gloomy three-song prologue, Dance with the devil expands to reveal the person Lovato is – or aims to be – today; there is a lot of scaly skin, circumscribed endings and references to reach heaven. While Lovato’s previous record, 2017 Tell me you love me, dabbled in pool party R&B and electropop, here she explores a range of influences from “The Art of Starting Over”‘s soft rock to a haunting cover of Gary Jules ‘haunted cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” “Lonely People” aims for a stadium singalong with a choir naming Romeo and Juliet, undermining the positive vibes with the strongest concluding thoughts – “The truth is that we all die alone / So you better love yourself before you walks.”
In almost an hour, the album attempts to cover a huge amount of ground, air years of trauma and reconfigure Lovato’s public identity. She offers a state of union about her recovery – she is “California sober” – and her sexuality. On “The Kind of Lover I Am”, a kind of sequel to her bi-curious anthem “Cool for the Summer” from 2015, Lovato fully embraces her affection and her overflowing heart. “I do not care if you have a cock / I do not care if you have a WAP / I just want to love / You know what I say,” she says by outro. “Like, I just want to fuck share my life with someone at some point.”
Lovato is certainly not the first pop star to talk about the music industry’s continued sexual and emotional abuse; Like Kesha, her gut-wrenching revelations refuse to be pushed under the rug for fear of bad publicity or isolating a fan base. But even when Lovato strikes an optimistic or optimistic tone, it’s hard to look beyond the tragedy at the core of the album. The synthetic “Melon Cake” comes from the birthday dessert that Lovato’s team served her in the years before her overdose: a cylinder of ripe watermelon frosted in fat-free whipped cream and topped with sprinkles and candles. Although Lovato confidently declares that melon cakes are a thing of the past, the picture is so depressing that it’s hard to focus on anything else, especially on what is meant to be a fun song. But is that not what so many of us do to survive? We try to reformulate our trauma as the experience; we use humor as a defense mechanism; we move on because living in guilt or shame promotes the destructive spiral.
One of those rare moments when Dance with the devil Moving beyond a 1: 1 recreation of Lovato’s life is “Met Him Last Night,” a sleek duet with Ariana Grande. Both artists have lived through terrible tragedies and responded with elegance and empathy and written songs about their experiences both for themselves and anyone who might see their own trauma reflected back. But “Met him Last Night” is not aimed at catharsis, at least not explicitly. Instead, the two blaze about lost innocence and deception in the shadow of “him”, apparently Satan. It’s the closest thing to escaping on an album that is completely focused on harsh reality.
At the other end of the spectrum is the music video for “Dancing With the Devil,” which recreates the night of Lovato’s overdose and the ensuing battle for her life at the ICU in surprising detail. There’s the machine that purified her blood through a vein in her neck, the duffel bag presumably filled with drugs, and the sponge bath softly tracing over the “survivor” tattoo on her neck. Although Lovato co-directed the video, saying that sharing her lived experiences is part of her healing process, the visual feels almost unnecessarily voyeuristic: an artist recreating their worst moment with the assumption that it speaks for itself.
Dance with the devil asks you to trust that what Demi Lovato has been through is enough. The music will undoubtedly reach listeners struggling with their own burdens and viewing Lovato as a role model, just as they have done since she was the teenager on the red carpet, forced to justify the depth of her lived experience. This start-up makeup moment brings us closer to her than ever before: the four-part documentary rollout, the many album releases, the press tour that has not been withheld. But the diaristic nature of the music and the blunt force with which it is delivered, Demi Lovato shows the person and equates the artist Demi Lovato. It’s an enviable position: to have a story so shocking that the emotional catharsis we feel in real life overshadows what she wanted to create on the album.
Buy: Rough Trade
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