Demi Lovato Heals Her Wounds Through The Power Of Music
Demi Lovato is glowing.
On the lower level of Steinway & Sons' New York City showroom, she sits perched with perfect posture and a warm smile as her makeup artist dusts a hint of blush across her cheeks. In this moment — lights in place, cell phones silenced, cameras ready to roll — it's hard to believe that just a year ago Lovato vowed to take a break from the industry, her nearly decade-long music career included.
"I am not meant for this business and the media," she candidly tweeted in October 2016.
It's a significant shift for someone who has long been in the spotlight. However, Lovato's ascension from tween Disney star to full-fledged chart-topping pop songstress hasn't come without its bumps or bruises as she's openly discussed her struggles with bipolar disorder, bulimia and substance abuse. But this time around there was no juicy tabloid headline to churn out, no scandal on the horizon to be uncovered, no countdown to a rehab stint.
"I had just been getting frustrated with feedback online with certain things that I had tweeted and said in interviews," Lovato explains. "I had just started to become jaded and frustrated about how people were more focused on the things I was saying rather than my music."
Lovato was simply a 24-year-old woman then, who understood that taking time to find a balance between the anxieties and ambitions that come with a career as such was the best choice of self-care she could embrace. And so she retreated.
However, her break came to a sudden and unexpected halt two months later when she received her first-ever GRAMMY nomination. Her fifth studio album, Confident, a fun and super-sexy coming-of-age pop gem, was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album.
Up against the likes of Adele's 25, which would win the category, Justin Bieber's Purpose, Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman, and Sia's This Is Acting, the announcement alone gave Lovato a renewed faith in her music that she once felt was being overshadowed.
"It was just the recognition that I really needed to get inspired again,” she reminiscences of the moment as if it all just happened yesterday.
In that moment, Lovato's upcoming sixth album, Tell Me You Love Me, was born.
Continuing her vow of silence, she unshackled the chains and stigma of celebrity and hunkered down on placing on all her time, energy and emotions into the new body of work. Unlike some of her contemporaries, she doesn't just use her platform to belt out Top 40 hits and marvel in clout. She's found a larger purpose in her career: a fully evident love and enthusiasm for speaking out on addiction and mental health, as well as self-empowerment and spreading its healing powers.
On Tell Me You Love Me, she channels the drama (mostly breakups and matters of the heart) that once consumed her life, making for the strongest, most enduring body of work the singer/songwriter has ever created.
There's a stark contrast between the past five albums Lovato has released and Tell Me You Love Me. It's more savory and soulful, and influenced by commanding voices like Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera and Kehlani.
"I don't have much fun singing the pop songs," she reveals.
But while the album leans towards more of a slick, modern R&B sound with the help of super producer DJ Mustard, among others, she hasn't abandoned the pop tendencies that brought her this far.
"One of the most important rules that I live by today is to always speak your mind and always stand up for the things you believe in."
Take the album's lead single, "Sorry Not Sorry." Produced by Warren "Oak" Felder, who has lent his shapeshifting sound to the discographies of contemporary hotshots like Kehlani and Alessia Cara, the unapologetic gospel-tinged track takes Lovato's oft-undervalued yet dynamic vocal range to new heights. Soaring over chest-thumping bass and electronic synths, it’s a match made in heaven for the defiant, no-nonsense anthem.
Other released singles like the title track and "You Don't Do It for Me Anymore," both searing ballads, prove that Lovato has reached a new level as an artist. The latter, which she points out is void of background vocals and stacks of instrumental tracks, is one of her many favorites on the project.
With Tell Me You Love Me, it's clear that Lovato wants to make music that shows the world what she can really do.
"I've got this super personal song that I'm nervous about people hearing for the first time," she shares, noting that she recorded it half in tears. But no matter how painful revisiting old wounds can be, Lovato isn't ashamed to be vulnerable.
"One of the most important rules that I live by today is to always speak your mind and always stand up for the things you believe in," she declares. "Those two things give your career and your life purpose."
For many years, Demi Lovato has graced our television screens, performed in sold-out stadiums, posed for magazine covers, and developed a deep affinity for philanthropy. To say the least, it's been quite the journey for an individual who just celebrated her 25th year of life. On Tell Me You Love Me, it seems Lovato has finally found her voice: fresh, fierce, and unapologetic.
And the music itself? Well, it will play louder than any controversy ever could.
(Ashley Monaé is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in the pages of PAPER and Nylon and online at Pitchfork, Billboard and Highsnobiety, among others.)