This review mentions rape and sexual violence.
Demi Lovato, then Disney’s chief lady for her star, entered the 2008 American Music Awards Camp Rock– smiling when a reporter from the red carpet asked about the inspiration behind her pop-punk solo music. “Believe it or not, I’m 16, I’ve been through a lot,” she replied with a decent giggle. “Come on, how many heartbeats can you get in 16 years?” the man insisted. “Oh, a lot,” Lovato replied at once.
For the next few years, serving as a chaste pop star — albeit fascinated by metal music — Lovato struggled under tremendous pressure from the media and the music industry (the children’s stars we so often forget are workers). Behind the scenes, Lovato struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and substance abuse. She recently discovered that she had been raped at the age of 15; although she reported the attack to adults, the attacker continued to work with her. After first entering a medical facility at the age of 18, Lovato was transparent about her addiction and recovery.
In the summer of 2018, after six years of sobriety, Lovato relapsed. On July 24, she overdosed on opioids, causing three strokes, a heart attack, multiple organ failure, pneumonia, permanent brain damage and long-term vision problems. As she explains in a recent documentary Dancing with the devil, the drug dealer who supplied Lovato that night sexually assaulted her and left her dead. It’s a miracle she survived.
Arriving with a documentary and several interviews with confessions, Lovato’s seventh album, Dancing with the devil … The art of starting all over again takes control of the story. After 19 songs, the 28-year-old girl leans towards her personal struggle; the pop star, who once professed a desire to “be free from all demons,” seems to have accepted the reality that she must live next to them. In the power ballad “Anyone” Lovato tries to find solace in his art, but is briefly described. “One hundred million stories / and one hundred million songs / I feel stupid when I sing / nobody listens to me,” she explains. Written before her relapse, it is a cry for help from a place of loneliness and despair. The “Dancing with the Devil” jump outlines a steep slope that led to an overdose: “A Little Red Wine” became a “little white line” and then a “little glass pipe.” “ICU (Madison Lullaby)” experiences the moment when Lovato woke up in the hospital, legally blind and not recognizing her little sister.
After this gloomy three-song prologue, Dancing with the devil expands to reveal who Lovato is – or aspires to be – today; there is a lot of shed skin, rewritten endings and references to reaching the sky. While the previous record of Lovato, 2017 Tell me you love me,, Gathering at R&B and electric poolside pools, she explores a variety of influences, from the soft rock “The Art of Starting Over” to the haunting cover of Gary Jules’ haunting world “Crazy World”. “Lonely People” aims for the stadium’s single with a chorus calling Romeo and Juliet, undermining the positive mood with the brightest final thoughts – “True, we all die ourselves / So you better love yourself before you go.”
For almost an hour, the album tries to cover a huge amount of land, radiating years of injury and reconfiguring Lovato’s public identity. She offers a state of union regarding her recovery – she is “California sober” – and her sexuality. In “The Kind of Lover I Am”, a kind of sequel to his amazing 2015 anthem “Cool for the Summer”, Lovato fully embraces his whimsy and overflowing heart. “I don’t care if you have a dick / I don’t care if you have WAP / I just want to love / You know what I’m talking about,” she said at the presentation. “Like, I just want to fuck share my life with someone someday.”
Lovato is certainly not the first pop star to speak out about the continuation of the music industry of sexual and emotional violence; like Kesha, her disclosure refuses to be thrown under the rug for fear of bad publicity or fan isolation. But even when Lovato sets an optimistic or optimistic tone, it’s hard to go beyond the tragedy at the heart of the album. The synthetic “Melon Cake” got its name from the dessert that the Lovato team served it in the years before the overdose: a cylinder of ripe watermelon, frozen in low-fat whipped cream, sprinkled with sprinkles and candles. Although Lovato confidently states 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 should be a fun song. But aren’t so many of us doing to survive? We try to reshape our injuries as lessons learned; we use humor as a defense mechanism; we move on because being in guilt or shame contributes to a destructive spiral.
One of the rare times when Dancing with the devil goes beyond the recreation of Lovato’s life in a ratio of 1: 1 – “Meet him last night”, a slippery duet with Ariana Grande. Both artists experienced a terrible tragedy and responded elegantly and empathetically, writing songs about their experiences both for themselves and for anyone who can see how their own trauma is reflected. But “Met It Last Night” is not aimed at catharsis, at least not explicitly. Instead, the two blissfully talk about the lost innocence and deception in the shadow of “him”, apparently Satan. This is closest to escapism in an album that focuses entirely on harsh reality.
At the other end of the spectrum is a music video for “Dancing with the Devil”, which impressively recreates the night of Lovato’s overdose and the subsequent battle for her life in intensive care. There’s a machine that cleans her blood through a vein in her neck, a clothes bag probably full of drugs, and a sponge bath that gently traces the tattoo on her neck. Although Lovato co-directed the video, saying that sharing experiences is part of her healing process, the visual feels like an almost unnecessary voyeur: the artist recreates their worst moment, assuming it speaks for itself.
Dancing with the devil asks you to trust that enough of what Demi Lovato went through. The music will surely reach listeners struggling with their own burdens and looking at Lovato as a role model, as she has been since she was that teenager on the red carpet, forced to justify the depth of her experience. This moment of makeup removal brings us closer to her than ever before: the unfolding of a four-part documentary, multiple album releases, a press tour without restrictions. But the diaric nature of the music and the dull force with which it is transmitted demonstrates Demi Lovato’s man and artist Demi Lovato. This is an unenviable position: to have a story so painful that the emotional catharsis we experience in real life overshadows what she wanted to create in the album.
Buy: Rough trade
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