As a teenager, Demi Lovato appeared to have everything a person could want: fame, beauty, money; and a promising career as a Disney Channel actor and pop star. But while her life looked picture-perfect on the outside, that wasn’t actually the case at all.
Lovato alleged she was raped at age fifteen by a Disney Channel co-star who never got punished. Shortly after, she developed an eating disorder and an addiction to drugs and alcohol that led to a near-fatal overdose in 2018.
Lovato’s seventh studio album Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over deals with these difficult topics unflinchingly; leaving listeners deeply moved by her traumatic experiences and ultimately inspired by her resilience.
Album opener “Anyone” is a desperate plea for help in which Lovato reveals crushing feelings of loneliness and depression that contributed to her addiction.
“Anyone, please send me anyone / Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone,” Lovato belts out in a powerful vocal performance that will give you chills. She is accompanied by just a piano in the song, allowing listeners to take in every word of the lyrics. (Her emotive performance of the song for the 2020 Grammy Awards, where she broke down in tears, goes to show how authentic and meaningful this song is to her.)
From there, the album goes into “Dancing with the Devil,” an emotional gut-punch of a song about her 2018 overdose. The gospel and blues-inspired song goes in-depth into the grip of addiction as Lovato sings. “Thought I knew my limit, yeah / I thought that I could quit it, yeah / I thought that I could walk away easily / But here I am, falling down on my knees.”
The music video for “Dancing with the Devil” shows Lovato reenacting her hospital stay after her overdose; reminding us that this was a true-to-life situation that nearly resulted in her death.
With its realistic glimpse into the complexity of addiction and a completely dominant vocal performance by Demi Lovato, “Dancing with the Devil” is easily the high point of the album.
A few tracks later, Lovato tackles body image and disordered eating in “Melon Cake”. The title refers to her former management team making her have watermelon with fat-free whipped cream on top instead of a cake for her birthday. “And now I’m sayin’ no more melon cakes on birthdays,” she sings on the upbeat track; celebrating her body and refusing to give in to pressure to be “Barbie-sized.”
One of the most touching tracks is “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)”; a vulnerable song about how Lovato always wants to be there for her little sister to look up to but feels guilty for her mistakes. In “Butterfly,” she works through the complicated issue of grieving for a toxic parent’s death over a backdrop of shimmery synths and a jumpy bass riff.
Other themes that Lovato touches on in the album include depression (“Mad World”); female friendships (“My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend”); societal pressure (“What Other People Say”); and exploitation by a lover for her fame (“15 Minutes”).
The album ends on a hopeful note with “Good Place,” which ties everything together. In the stripped back acoustic guitar ballad, Lovato sings about her slow and steady path to recovery and healing. “And with a whole lot of work, whole lot of hurt, whole lot of grace / Now I’m in a good place,” she sings in the moving closing track.
The primary issue with the album is that a few songs feel like they don’t need to be there; such as the underwhelming “Lonely People” and the Noah Cyrus-assisted breakup song “Easy”. Although, it is perhaps to be expected in an album that has nineteen tracks. With some trimming, Lovato could have made the album even better.
Still, Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over is a remarkable project that owes its success to its raw realness. Demi Lovato has always had a powerhouse voice; and paired with these personal and poignant songs, she manages to create something truly special.
Have you listened to Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over? Let us know your favorite song below!
Header: Demi Lovato (Island Records)