More Demi: As is often the case with popular music artists, everybody thinks they know Demi Lovato. The countless column inches have been devoted to their pronouns, their depression, their dating life, have resulted in the public genuinely feeling that they know Lovato inside out. They know their motivations, their every emotion, and they feel that they can judge them based on the conclusions that they have drawn.
Incidentally, Lovato has decided that they are happy with “they/them” or “she/her,” having previously opted for the former. This concerned and confused people with, apparently, not much in their life to be concerned and confused about. For the purposes of consistency, we’re going with “they/them” in this article. Frankly though, Lovato has every right to use whatever pronouns they want to. Contrarian voices be damned.
The irony is that if people really want to know what Lovato is thinking, what their motivations are right now, all they have to do is listen to new album HOLY FVCK. The record is essentially a journal of the two years since they recorded the previous album, Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over. As prophecies go, that title was a bit of a doozy because Lovato has entered a whole new stage of their career.
“It’s definitely a statement album,” Lovato says of HOLY FVCK. “It’s definitely showing the world who I am. I had to do a lot of growing to get here. It’s just life. The music created, it’s just about getting older, life experiences – everything has led me to where I’m at today, and that means artistically, as well.”
Apparently the demons that they’re expelling here, the emotion that they’re expressing with full-blooded passion, has led Lovato into punky waters. A lot has been made of the artist’s switch of genres, and the addition of sonic crunch and extra edge is certainly notable. Welcome even. But it’s also not as stark, as inorganic, as some are suggesting it to be. Lovato is certainly happy to embrace the punk label.
“I don’t mind that at all, I think that that’s dope,” they say. “Fuck yeah, I’ll take it. But to me, as long as people are enjoying the music, that’s all that matters. I made the music because I enjoyed it. I put it out because I wanted people to share it as well. I wanted to share it with people. I guess all that matters is that I enjoyed the music, but I’m so happy that other people are going to be able to, as well.”
Here’s the thing – any time a pop artist decided to dip their toes into harder, heavier waters by experimenting with punk, or metal, or rock ‘n’ roll in general, they are met with a sledgehammer of distrust. Their integrity is questioned because, “how can somebody who made that music now want to make this music?”
But here’s another thing, and this is coming from somebody who has been involved in the punk and metal scenes for decades – aficionado of those genres can be the most pig-headed, gatekeeper-esque snobs. In the case of punk, that mindset makes no sense at all. By definition, punk is about doing whatever you want to do and not giving the slightest shit what anybody thinks. To enforce rules about musical styles, fashion, or anything else is fundamentally against everything punk stands for.
So there will be suspicions that Lovato is using punk – both musically and aesthetically – for reasons that don’t pass the aforementioned gatekeepers’ tests. Fuck ‘em.
“In a way I feel like it’s not new,” Lovato says. “I feel like it’s going back to my roots. But at the same time, it’s harder than what I used to perform and sing. So it’s definitely new in a way, but it’s also nostalgic for me. I grew up with the emo scene, and so I listened to a lot of that, I listened to harder music, and then I started writing and recording music when I was 15, so I was smack dab in the middle of the 2000s when all of that was blowing up. And so it definitely is a part of who I am artistically.”
If Lovato was using punk for their own commercial, career reasons, it could be argued that they were only following in the footsteps of great capitalist provocateurs such as Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and even Andy Warhol. As it happens, there’s nothing about HOLY FVCK that suggests they don’t mean it. They were involved in the writing of all the songs, and the emotions are their own. Recent single “Substance,” for example, tackles the very inauthenticity that we’re talking about.
“It’s definitely about reminding people of human connection and the meaningfulness that life has in store for us,” Lovato says.
The album, Lovato says, is serving the purpose that they intended it to do – it’s allowing them to release the demons that have led them to suffer so terribly in the past. Depression, addiction, eating disorders – if this is the album they needed to make to help them through hard times, then we’re delighted that they found this path.
“I feel like, even with ‘Happy Ending,’ I was going through a really rough time when I wrote it,” Lovato says. “I was going through depression and I was kind of losing hope. That got out a lot of that emotion for me, that hopelessness. It got it out, and it was very cathartic and therapeutic for me. I started turning a page shortly after, I think because I had started making music that was so vulnerable and true to where I was at that moment. And then I had that song to listen to over and over again, to get it out and cry to if I needed to.”
Who would deny them that? We’ve lost way too many musicians because of a social desire to brush struggles with mental health under the carpet. You’d think we’d know better by now.
“It’s definitely challenging,” Lovato says. “But I would say, someone in my position is not any more special than someone who’s dealing with depression that’s not in my position. I definitely know what it’s like to deal with it. Now, dealing with depression in the spotlight is challenging because sometimes people don’t realize that, just because you have a lot of stuff, a lot of followers or whatever it is, that you don’t feel things. I’m an empath – I feel everything. I feel other people’s emotions. I pick up on energy. So I’m definitely very sensitive and I have to be careful. I have to guard myself from people that are gonna say, ‘She’s got everything, why’s she upset?’ I don’t look at that, I don’t read it.”
That’s smart, though not always easy in the internet age. Lovato, thankfully, seems to have found some peace, thanks to an album that is crunchy, packed with great tunes, and that many of their fans will be able to relate to. Are fans of Crass, the Exploited or Black Flag likely to love it? Probably not. But people who love the music of Paramore, Avril Lavigne, Bowling for Soup and even Green Day very well might. Just pry those minds open.
Lovato is about to go on tour, having recently warmed up with dates in Illinois and Iowa. According to the singer, the gigs were great.
“My band is so sick,” they say. “They’re so talented and I’m so grateful to be touring with them. The shows were really fun. It was really nice to get back on stage – I was super nervous, but it’s because I care. I really wanted to put on a great show. I’m so glad that I was able to.”
That band includes superstar guitarist Nita Strauss, who joined up with Lovato straight out of Alice Cooper’s band.
“She’s such a fucking rock star,” Lovato says. “She’s just so cool but so talented, and so it’s really amazing to get to perform with her because she’s such a rock star.”
A glance at the first two set lists and then a look at YouTube tells us that Lovato is performing older songs on this tour, but they’re getting a punky spit ‘n’ polish.
“I changed the arrangements on some of my older hits, and it’s really fun to be able to switch it up like that,” Lovato says. “My fans are enjoying it.”
Lovato is here, in Inglewood actually, at the YouTube Theatre on Sept. 28. Some of the arrangements might be switched around by then.
“I’m gonna probably keep the set list very similar to Iowa and Illinois, but I’m gonna be changing some of the arrangements, so that they sound more rock rather than what they used to sound like, and I’m just excited for everyone to hear it,” Lovato says.
A new single, “29,” is about to be released, a song about “self-realization and something that a lot of people will be able to relate to.” And after the tour, Lovato is looking forward to taking some time off. But looking ahead, who would they get a kick out of collabing with?
“I’m touring with Dead Sara and Royal & the Serpent on this tour,” Lovato says. “I’m so excited because, not only are they friends of mine, but their music is amazing and I’m a fan of their work. Getting to tour with them has been dope. But I think a dream of mine has been to collaborate with Paramore. Maybe something with them in the future would be awesome.”
You heard it here first.
More Demi: Demi Lovato’s HOLY FVCK album is out now. She performs at the YouTube Theatre on Wednesday, September 28.
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