“Anyone! Lord, is there anyone? I need someone.” These are the words Demi Lovato sings in “Anyone,” the opening track on her new album, “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over,” released Friday.
The last years have been a turning point in her lifelong struggle against addiction, and now she is writing her new chapter in bright pop and cool R&B.
The Grammy-nominated artist has frequently found herself in isolating conditions. As her recent YouTube documentary “Dancing with the Devil” details, Lovato says she has survived an unstable home, a childhood in the spotlight as a Disney star, two sexual assaults, and battled addiction and an eating disorder.
She has also been under immense pressure to simultaneously be a poster child for recovery and sobriety as she endures all this. That pressure has come in forms like periods of strict diets to try and get ahead of her eating disorder. All this eventually culminated in her overdose, which almost killed her and left her partially blind. She’s been vocal about how her new album is about lessons learned after that overdose.
Given the subject matter, you might expect an album full of pain and anguish. It would be perfectly valid for Lovato to release an album condemning those who did her wrong after everything that she’s experienced. But she focuses on herself throughout the album, discussing the lows of her past as if they are in a faraway rearview mirror.
Lovato’s new record does discuss a past of disappointment, but it would be a mistake to describe it as anything other than a celebration. For the singer, the last years have been a turning point in her lifelong struggle against addiction, and now she is writing her new chapter in bright pop and cool R&B, intertwined with quiet revelations from the lessons she had to learn along the way.
Some songs take a more reflective tone. “The Way You Don’t Look At Me,” which features acoustic guitar and a country feel, seems vulnerable and stripped-down for Lovato. Other tracks are meant to be fun, pop anthems. The wildly catchy, danceable “My Girlfriends are My Boyfriend” seems like a Lovato version of the singer Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” — all about blowing off men to have fun, live in luxury and enjoy female friendships. And although some songs aren’t ultimately as memorable, they’re all easy listening.
No song is more emblematic of the album’s message, though, than “Melon Cake,” a ridiculously hummable, sass-filled track that rejoices in Lovato’s progress with her eating disorder. In it, she sings, “You could find me starving for attention most days, amongst other things, God help me.” Later, she proclaims “Now I’m saying no more melon cakes on birthdays! … Finally get to do things my way.”
Although her documentary records a grim description of her pain, her album provides a hopeful look for the future. “I just want to f—— share my life with someone at some point! Right now I’m good though,” she sings in “The Kind of Lover I Am,” a song in which she also embraces her LGBTQ identity.
Lovato’s breezy, easygoing new album suggests she has taken accountability for her life moving forward; as she has stated in the documentary, she has realized the ways much of her addiction and eating disorder stem from trauma — notably her troubled home, the sexual abuse and the lack of assistance she says she received afterward. (The alleged abuser of her teen years was never held accountable.)
Like Taylor Swift re-recording her music in order to finally own her old work or Britney Spears’ fight to end the conservatorship by her father, the music industry can no longer confine Lovato so strictly. By improving her relationship to herself and to others, she has learned to exercise more autonomy and seek more positive support. It’s healthy to see a pop star address her own trauma in a way that allows room for joy in recovery and her self-described “spiritual growth.”
“Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over” is not a loud exclamation of independence; it’s a sigh of relief from someone who grew up trapped in others’ expectations and rules. Whereas before it seemed Lovato internalized her illness as a deficit of her own, pushed to “fix” herself through restrictions, she has now released that shame. That difference comes across in the album. By the end of the album, the butterfly imagery on the cover feels well-deserved.