This review contains mentions of rape and sexual assault.
At the 2008 American Music Awards, Demi Lovato, then a Disney star for her starring role Rock campHe smiled when a red carpet reporter asked him about the inspiration behind his solo pop-punk music. “Believe it or not, at 16, I’ve been through a lot,” he replied with a dignified chuckle. “Come on, how much anguish can you have at 16?” the man insisted. “Oh, a lot,” Lovato responded immediately.
Over the next several years, while diligently playing the role of a chaste pop star, yet fascinated by metal music, Lovato struggled under immense pressure from the media and music industries (child stars, we often forget, are workers). Behind the scenes, Lovato struggled with an eating disorder, self-harm, and substance use. She recently revealed that she was raped at the age of 15; Although she reported the assault to the adults, the assailant continued to work with her. After entering a treatment center for the first time at age 18, Lovato was transparent about her struggles with addiction and recovery.
In the summer of 2018, after six years of sobriety, Lovato relapsed. On July 24, he suffered an opioid overdose that caused three strokes, a heart attack, multiple organ failure, pneumonia, permanent brain damage, and long-lasting vision problems. As he explains in the recent documentary Dancing with the devil, the drug dealer who supplied Lovato that night sexually assaulted her and left her for dead. It is a miracle that he survived.
Along with the documentary and a series of confessional interviews, Lovato’s seventh album, Dancing with the devil … the art of starting over take control of the narrative. In 19 songs, the 28-year-old leans toward her personal struggles; the pop star who once professed a desire to “be free from all demons” has apparently come to terms with the reality that she must live alongside them. In the powerful ballad “Anyone”, Lovato tries to find solace in her art, but falls short. “A hundred million stories / And a hundred million songs / I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody listens to me,” she says. Written before his relapse, it is a cry for help from a place of loneliness and despair. The sneaky “Dancing with the Devil” describes the steep incline that led to the overdose: “A little red wine” turned into “a little white line” and then “a little glass pipe.” “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” relives the moment Lovato woke up in the hospital, legally blind and unable to recognize her little sister.
After this gloomy three-song prologue, Dancing with the devil expands to reveal the person that Lovato is, or pretends to be, today; there’s a lot of dumb skin, rewritten endings, and references to getting to heaven. While Lovato’s previous record, that of 2017 tell me you Love Me, He dabbled in R&B and electropop for pool parties, here he explores a variety of influences from the soft rock of “The Art of Beginning” to a haunting cover of Gary Jules’s haunting version of Tears for Fears’s “Mad World” . “Lonely People” points to a stadium singing chorus that names Romeo and Juliet, undermining the positive vibes with the crudest final thoughts: “The truth is that we all die alone / So you better love yourself before leave “.
At nearly an hour in length, the album attempts to cover a great deal of ground, airing out years of trauma and reconfiguring Lovato’s public identity. She offers a bond over her recovery, she is “California Sober” and her sexuality. In “The Kind of Lover I Am,” a sort of sequel to her 2015 bi-curious anthem “Cool for the Summer,” Lovato fully embraces her weirdness and overflowing heart. “I don’t care if you have a dick / I don’t care if you have a WAP / I just want to love / You know what I’m saying,” he says at the exit. “Like, I just want to share my life with someone sometime.”
Lovato is certainly not the first pop star to speak out about the perpetuation of sexual and emotional abuse in the music industry; Like Kesha, her heartbreaking revelations refuse to be shoved under the rug for fear of bad publicity or isolating a fan base. But even when Lovato has an upbeat or upbeat tone, it’s hard to look past the tragedy at the album’s core. The “Melon Cake” synthesizer takes its name from the birthday dessert Lovato’s team served her in the years before her overdose: a cylinder of ripe watermelon topped with fat-free whipped cream and topped with sprinkles and candles. Even when Lovato confidently declares that melon cakes are a thing of the past, the image is so depressing that it’s hard to focus on anything else, especially what is meant to be a fun song. But isn’t that what many of us do to survive? We try to reframe our traumas as lessons learned; we use humor as a defense mechanism; We move on because living in guilt or shame fuels the downward spiral.
One of the rare times when Dancing with the devil Going beyond a 1: 1 recreation of Lovato’s life is “Met Him Last Night,” a sneaky duet with Ariana Grande. Both artists have lived through a horrible tragedy and responded with grace and empathy, writing songs about their experiences both for themselves and for anyone who might see their own trauma reflected. But “Met Him Last Night” doesn’t point to catharsis, at least not explicitly. Instead, the two nonchalantly trill about lost innocence and deception in the shadow of “him,” apparently Satan. It’s the closest thing to escapism in an album totally 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 in ICU in astonishing detail. There’s the machine that cleaned her blood through a vein in her neck, the presumably drug-filled duffel bag, and the sponge bath that gently traces over the “survivor” tattoo on her neck. Although Lovato co-directed the video, stating that sharing her lived experiences is part of her healing process, the visual feels almost unnecessarily voyeuristic: an artist recreating her worst moment with the assumption that she speaks for herself.
Dancing with the devil asks you to trust that what happened Demi Lovato is enough. Without a doubt, the music will reach listeners who struggle with their own burdens and look to Lovato as a role model, just as they have since she was that teenager on the red carpet, forced to justify the depth of her lived experience. This moment of removing our makeup brings us closer to her than ever: the release of the four-part documentary, the multiple editions of the album, the unrestricted press tour. But the diaristic nature of the music, and the forceful force with which it is delivered, shows Demi Lovato as the person and leaves out Demi Lovato, the artist. It’s an unenviable position – having such a heartbreaking story 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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