After another tumultuous period within the public eye — including a heavily publicized heroin overdose and a broken-off engagement —Demi Lovato has staged yet another career comeback.
On the surface, one might think Lovato’s countless rebounds and revivals might be an exhausted career tactic, with maudlin albums and promo cycles centered around whatever intimate struggle Lovato’s recently grappled with. However, Lovato's latest album, “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over,” was released April 2 and marks new territory for the singer, offering listeners a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek reflection of her past two years — with Lovato finally being in on the joke.
The former Disney star begins the album with a three-song coda meant to illustrate her near-fatal 2018 drug overdose, including songs “Anyone,” “Dancing with the Devil” and “ICU (Madison’s Lullaby).” While these songs are heart-rending and achingly personal, one can’t help but feel as if they’re retreading the same territory as Lovato’s seemingly endless “Groundhog Day” collection of confessional ballads, with hits like “Skyscraper” and “Sober” already aptly covering the touchy subject.
After a rocky start, the album picks up steam with the title track, in which the songstress sheepishly discloses that, “I guess I’m mastering the art of starting over / New beginnings can be so lonely / Thank God I’ve got me to hold me.” Lovato follows this up by belting out an anti-romance anthem, “Lonely People,” declaring that, “Romeo has no sequel.”
The vocalist’s sonic inspirations for “Starting Over” are a pleasant surprise, with Lovato forgoing the soulful, R&B-inspired production of her previous albums, instead opting for a Kacey Musgraves-esque rock-country-pop fusion.
Country-rock undertones can continue to be felt on tracks like the tender “The Way You Don’t Look At Me,” and the redemptive ballad “Good Place”. Lovato later channels Alanis Morisette, penning an unforgiving farewell to a fame-hungry ex on the track “15 Minutes,” where she devilishly laughs at her ex-fiancé’s much-memed moment where he allegedly called paparazzi to capture him crying over their breakup at a beach in Malibu.
On paper, the project may seem haphazard and disjointed, but Lovato’s full commitment to the Musgraves-Lite act including a ’70s inspired album artwork with Lovato donning a long black wig covered with butterflies, two of Musgraves’ insignias — is surprisingly commendable.
Lovato also finally learns to poke fun at herself throughout the album — a much-needed move from her previously straight-faced career. The laugh out loud, explicit outro on the bouncy ode to pansexuality, “The Kind of Lover I Am,” is due to become a trending sound on TikTok any day now. “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” is a cheeky love letter to Lovato’s female friendships with a biting verse from rapper Saweetie.
The songstress also covers sensitive topics with a wink and a nudge, describing her new “middle path” relationship with substances as being “California Sober,” allowing herself to recreationally use marijuana from time to time in lieu of relying on cold, hard sobriety. Regarding her experiences with disordered eating, the singer campily exclaims “no more melon cake on birthdays,” in the groovy song “Melon Cake,” where she describes how her overbearing former management team would only allow her to have a “birthday cake” made of watermelon covered in fat-free whipped cream for years.
The album isn’t without fault due to songs like “Easy” featuring Noah Cyrus and “Carefully” being lethargic and forgettable. A random overproduced cover of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears is also aimlessly featured toward the end of the tracklist.
Additionally, a debatable sentiment appears throughout the entirety of the album and Lovato’s overall career so far. On the track “California Sober,” she firmly declares that she’s “tired of being known for her sickness,” claiming that being the poster child for mental health and fighting addiction “almost killed her.”
Lovato’s claim is questionable considering how the singer’s career has revolved almost solely around her various ailments and addictions. Throughout her discography, a myriad of songs about her mental health and addiction exist, and in the past four years, there have been two documentaries detailing Lovato’s struggles with addiction. Even last week, Lovato released a music video of “Dancing with the Devil” where she reenacts the night of her overdose and recreates the clothes and hairstyle she wore that night. When someone continues to profit immeasurably off of their personal struggles, can a sentiment like this even be true?
Lovato exists best as an artist when she leaves the ashes she’s risen from far behind. The singer can be seen letting go of her past and looking forward on the album’s crown jewel, “Met Him Last Night,” which features Ariana Grande. Lovato and Grande lend their contrasting vocal styles toward a sweet and salty club banger, harmonizing in quintessential pop-diva style. The singers’ vocal techniques contrast starkly over the warped synth beat — Lovato known for her growly belting and Grande taking her signature soft and breathier approach. This allows the listener to realize the truly unmistakable nature of both singers’ voices.
While “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over” has its shortcomings, it marks an exciting change in Lovato’s career. Through the quirky production choices and blatantly confessional lyricism, it seems as if the singer has finally begun to dance on her own terms, and for that, listeners are sure to be grateful.
Contact Jake Dodohara at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.