Release Date: April 2nd 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Dancing With The Devil
- I.C.U. (Madison’s Lullabye)
- The Art Of Starting Over
- Lonely People
- The Way You Don’t Look At Me
- Melon Cake
- Met Him Last Night (feat. Ariana Grande)
- What Other People Say (feat. Sam Fischer)
- The Kind Of Lover I Am
- Easy (feat. Noah Cyrus)
- 15 Minutes
- My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend (feat. Saweetie)
- California Sober
- Mad World
- Good Place
- Gray [UK Bonus Track]
- I’m Sorry [Target Edition Bonus Tracks]
- Change You [Target Edition Bonus Tracks]
- I Love Me [Expanded Digital Edition]
- I’m Ready (feat. Sam Smith) [Expanded Digital Edition]
- Ok Not To Be Ok (feat. Marshmello) [Expanded Digital Edition]
- Sunset [Deluxe Edition]
- Anyone (Live Acoustic) [Deluxe Edition]
- Dancing With The Devil (Live Acoustic) [Deluxe Edition]
- I.C.U. (Madison’s Lullabye) (Live Acoustic) [Deluxe Edition]
Demetria Devonne Lovato, or Demi Lovato as she is known by her fans, friends and the general public. A future star in the 2000’s, she was thrust into the spotlight at a very young age. Fame at a very young age can make you or break you- it can destroy and warp a person’s psyche beyond belief and beyond reparation, and while we all may be laughing and just shrugging off the effects of fame and the pressure of always being watched as something that comes as part of the package of being a role model for young kids; let me tell you that the long lasting effects of not having much of a childhood can be closer than we all can imagine, fathom and comprehend. In 2018 Demi Lovato had an overdose on drugs. The type of drugs were irrelevant- the fact was that in July 2018 in the middle of her Tell Me You Love Me World tour, she was fighting for her life, broken beyond comprehension and stifled by what she later described as a toxic management relationship. I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I’m not the one to speak ill about anybody especially without any proof or tangible evidence, but when the evidence presented before me is Demi fighting for her life way back in 2018 and her revealing interview with Ashley Graham in 2020 about her plight; well then that gets very real and scary. Truth be told, I wasn’t really much of a Demi Lovato fan, but right now as of this moment, I am definitely a Lovatic. Not to the extent of camping outside of a concert line for hours and hours and hours- that’s crazy talk, however after investigation into Demi’s story and her songs and her passion for making the world a better place; I can definitely say that the world needs to sit up and take notice of this emotional and powerful singer.
We all could have lose her that day back in 2018 and the world would’ve gone on maybe without a care in the world nor a glance at her discography. But in a world right now where music authenticity, honesty and vulnerability are few and far between, Demi shines like a beacon of light in a dark tunnel, reminding us all of hope and unity and reassurance on this crazy road called life. Sure, like contemporary Selena Gomez in that she’s been around for a long time, Demi has been in the business for a while and it could be strange on one hand to include her on my list of future influential artists. But like I have said time and time again, popularity and influence don’t necessarily go together- sometimes they’re like oil and water; and it is my belief that right now Demi’s influence is growing, possibly this year overshadowing her popularity, as she reminds us all what it means to be alive and human, having crazy thoughts and doubts about everything as we navigate our hopes, dreams, plans and unforeseen circumstances along the road called life that is the absolute hardest but the most rewarding.
Taken verbatim from my blog post about Demi Lovato way back in March 2020, where I spoke about how she is right now one of today’s future influencers (well, more like current influencers but she fits more in my list than in Jon’s!); I figured that quoting something I wrote a while ago, and wrote good, was better than me trying to come up with a new introduction. Because Demi has recently been an artist who has resonated with me lately. I’ve written a blog about her last year, and have also favourably reviewed her many singles inclusive of “Anyone”, “Still Have Me”, “Commander In Chief”, “OK Not To Be OK” and “I Love Me”. If you’ve read my blog or my reviews, then you can tell that right now I’m heavily invested in her music. If Demi’s music though, isn’t your cup of tea, due to any reason, then that’s fine. But let me just say that there’s no denying the passion, heart, soul, emotion, honesty and vulnerability in Demi’s songs as a whole. I mean, if you don’t cry or get emotional during “Skyscraper” or “Warrior”… well, I don’t really know what to say. Can I say that you’re not really human? All jokes aside, Demi has had a rough past, with her tenuous relationship with drugs and alcohol coming to a head in 2018 when she overdosed. It was just prior to her overdose that “Anyone” was written and recorded (with the 2020 official studio version containing a great proportion of the 2018 recording!), and the fact alone that we could have lost her makes this album that I’m about to extensively review all the more special and relevant for anyone struggling with issues beyond imagination. And so as we search for new music to listen to and new music to be challenged and inspired by; let me direct you to probably the most impacting and inspirational album of the year. Demi’s Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over.
I never want to box myself into anything anymore. That’s what, I think, led to all this — me putting pressure on myself and feeling pressured by others to be something of a role model. They don’t have to love it [my album and what I’m singing about]. They don’t have to like it. As long as they have a conversation about it and they learn something, then I feel like I’ve done my part.
If I’m painting a picture as an artist, telling my truth is so important to me. I don’t censor my substance use in ‘Dancing With the Devil.’ I don’t hold back from that, so I don’t want to hold back from any other place in my authenticity, you know?” While I desperately hope that it doesn’t trigger anybody, I also know how important it is for people that are going through those things to have an outlet to be able to listen to. I want to make sure that people know that I’m not glamorizing anything. That’s the sad reality of how lonely it can be when you’re in that position.
Standing tall at 19 tracks long, as well as an extra track for the UK, 2 extra tracks for Target, 3 extra tracks for the digital expanded edition and 4 extra tracks for the deluxe edition (all up adding to 29 songs!), Demi’s new album is a mouthful, and something that on the surface could be heard in bite sized pieces to avoid the whole entire process being overwhelming. However these tracks flow together quite well, and tell a story of how far Demi has come in every single facet. If you want to gain full appreciation of everything Demi has to say, this project must be listened to in order, and mustn’t be background music whatsoever. If you’re not a fan of Demi yet, and are just entering into her discography, then Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over isn’t the album for you first up. You won’t understand it… perhaps Unbroken or Demi would be better if you’re a new-ish fan… but let me just say that this project is Demi’s crowning achievement and quite possibly her most vulnerable and personal album yet. Touching upon a wide variety of hard-hitting topics, Demi’s prowess as a songwriter and a singer is on full display here, and even though I myself haven’t heard a full album from Demi from start to finish (I’ve heard enough songs to write my blog though!); let me say that there’s so much I’ve learned through this album- it’s astounding how much I can learn from someone I probably couldn’t envision myself being a fan of even two years ago! With Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over (DWTDTAOSO) reminding us that sometimes it’s the more honest and emotional songs that speak to you and resonate with you the most; let me tell you all a quick synopsis as to what this album is about… and then I’ll stress to you all that you need to buy all of Demi’s discography and maybe listen to her songs in order!
Essentially the soundtrack to her life over the past 2-3 years, and a companion piece to the revealing documentary YouTube series Dancing With The Devil (which I have not seen but I definitely aim to!); DWTDTAOSO opens with the heartbreaking yet confronting “Anyone”, Demi’s single from early 2020, and her first since she overdosed. The beautiful thing and probably the saddest thing about “Anyone” is this- it was written and recorded in 2018. A mere 4 days before her near-fatal drug overdose. The lyrics are raw, the music is simple (just a piano) and Demi’s voice is full of emotion- Demi’s voice is struggling here, and we hear some pretty intense lyrics, as Demi belts out ‘…a hundred million stories and a hundred million songs, I feel stupid when I sing, nobody’s listening to me, nobody’s listening, I talk to shooting stars but they always get it wrong, I feel stupid when I pray, so, why am I praying anyway if nobody’s listening?…’.
It almost certain that all of this is a prayer and a cry for help. Possibly to God? Regardless, the fact that this was done just 4 days before Demi could have died, makes this track all the more special and heartbreaking at the same time. Not knowing the context of this song makes me think it’s just a B-side. Yet a watch of Demi’s heartfelt, candid and honest interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, as well as watching a video of Demi perform this track at the Grammys…well no more needs to be said. God is moving through this song, even is Demi doesn’t know it. Demi asks for ‘anyone’ to help her- and God has answered. Whether Demi acknowledges this fact or not in the future, well that’s somewhat irrelevant, and…well it’s in the future so who knows how Demi rekindles her relationship with God and Jesus. But what “Anyone” has taught me, is that at the end of our rope when we feel like there’s nothing left is usually when we receive some sort of spiritual enlightenment, some sort of epiphany. It’s then where we generally become much more reflective, and wanting to hang onto anything that can save us and heal us. Hearing someone’s cry for help, that desperation and pain permeating the voice…well that completely wrecks me, but it does also give me an appreciation of my faith in Jesus, as I pray for God to reveal more and more of himself to others, inclusive of Demi Lovato.
The rest of the album brings us along the same journey Demi has been on for the past few years, and is like a snapshot into her psyche. Boy, it’s complicated, but these songs have the power to heal and divulge to us something about ourselves that we may not have known prior. The booming, grandiose first title track (“Dancing With The Devil”) is as dark and as hopeless, yet needed in society as you can get; as Demi authoritatively declares in this ballad that ‘…I was dancing with the devil, out of control, almost made it to Heaven, it was closer than you know, playing with the enemy, gambling with my soul, it’s so hard to say no when you’re dancing with the devil…’, and vividly depicts her struggles with drugs and alcohol. The title track is even more powerful and profound when watching the haunting and emotional music video, as we’re all reminded that we often do stumble and fall, however the track infers that with friends and family around us, we can start to get our lives back on track from whatever it is we’re wanting to leave behind. “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” is another emotional tear-jerker, and is where Demi goes even deeper thematically, as the piano reflective ballad delves into Demi’s relationship with her sister, and the fact that Demi was blind just after her overdose and could not see her sister. Obviously, Demi’s eyesight is back (albeit not to normal as before!), yet the feeling of helplessness at not being able to have control to see loved ones- is captured beautifully in this vulnerable, personal and heartbreaking track that places importance on family and sibling bonds that can’t be broken no matter what.
With these aforementioned three songs being about Demi’s darkest days shortly before and after the overdose, the rest of the album (coined The Art Of Starting Over), showcases the gradual healing of Demi into the wonderful woman she is today. The second title track (aka “The Art Of Starting Over”) is a laid back jazzy summer-y melody that essentially declares Demi to be actively taking her life back, and that even though new beginnings can be lonely, Demi’s thankful that she has herself to help her get through; while Demi dives deep into the very real, not often spoken about enough theme of loneliness and depression in “Lonely People”, with the acoustic guitar driven pop tune being anything but lyrically, yet still necessary to listen to, as we remember that this life is all the more satisfying and complete with friends and family around. Demi also presses further into the themes of self-worth and identity, especially in the tracks “The Way You Don’t Look At Me” (an acoustic guitar ballad about feelings of isolation and shame when people don’t notice here for whatever reason) and “Melon Cake” (a no-nonsense track declaring that she’s done with pleasing people by only eating healthy food, like melon cake- in essence a song saying ‘no’ to people who managers and agents who seemed to be controlling her); while “Met Him Last Night”, a sassy, high-octane, energetic duet with Ariana Grande, features both singers detailing their dalliance with a toxic person, someone who isn’t good for them- a song similar in theme to Avril Lavigne’s “I Fell In Love With The Devil”. It’s a song that has overall received high praise from critics and fans alike, for its delivery and the fact that it’s super catchy- but I’d like to point out the lyrics, which are clever also, as Demi and Ariana remind us that sometimes we all do stupid stuff (like stay in a relationship we shouldn’t!), however we’re all doing the best we can at a point in time… so I reckon this song is necessary as it proves people are human and we fall- even celebrities and our role models. Should we shun them or give them grace? Or maybe I’m thinking too much into this track?
Driven by the piano and light acoustic guitar, we are presented with a heartfelt, emotional and much needed reflective ballad in “What Other People Say”, with both Demi and Sam Fischer singing in perfect harmony, and with real emotion that brings chills down my spine. With Demi referencing her drug overdose in the chorus, and highlighting the notion that we all can be caught up in other people’s opinions of us so much so that we lose sight of who we are, as she declares ‘…I used to not take chances with God’s name, but it’s been so long since I last prayed, and now I’m all f***ed up and my heart’s changed, ’cause I care more about what other people say…’; we are confronted with the reality that we all can lose our way and we can all become people we don’t want to be all for the sake of fitting in, and for the sake of peer pressure. Letting people’s opinions about us affect us on a deep level isn’t what should happen. But as it does sometimes, this confessional and prayer of sorts, reminds us that it’s not too late to change, it’s not too late to ask for help, and it’s not too late to be a better person that you once were. It’s not to late to pray to God and it’s not too late to push aside negative comments and not let them affect us.
“Carefully”, a piano based ballad, earnestly and fervently reminds us that we all need to treat our friends and family (and even strangers!) with dignity and respect, and quite carefully, as we all need to cherish what we have before it’s gone for whatever reason; while Demi outright addresses her queerness and pansexuality in the open and vulnerable “The Kind Of Lover I Am”, and her failed engagement in the intense accusatory and explosive “15 Minutes”, with both of these songs depicting the kind of security and assurance Demi has in herself- because even a year ago I reckon these songs would’ve never been recorded, by Demi and by any artist probably. Is Demi paving the way for more honesty and vulnerability in every aspect and facet? Probably, and this is definitely a good thing- as songs like these remind us that people are people and whatever story you have, you can share it as it will help and inspire someone. Demi also delivers a couple of heartfelt potential singles and emotional duets, with “Easy” with Noah Cyrus being a break up song that reminds us that feelings still linger after the break up and that healing takes time, and “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” with Saweetie being an anthemic ode to friendships in general, and reminding us all that sometimes friendships are stronger than any relationship, and sometimes platonic friendships are just what we need to help us through the day.
“California Sober”, an acoustic guitar laid back track, has Demi vulnerably relaying the ins and outs of being ‘California sober’, of being healthy now yet not depriving yourself of the things in life that still make it worth living (like wine, certain types of food in moderation); while a surprise inclusion on DWTDTAOSO is the Tears For Fears cover of “Mad World”, however Demi makes this piano ballad her own, and is a worthy cover. Yet the track list is bloated as it is, so perhaps the song, as good as it is, could’ve been cut out or released as part of an EP at a later date? “Butterfly”, another emotional and personal melody, speaks about Demi’s tumultuous relationship with her father, as she sings about how seeing a butterfly reminds her of him and the good times they had together, while the album closer (at least on the standard edition!) is “Good Place”, and speaks about Demi being in a good place right now, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually; as we’re met with the perfect way to end the album, with Demi declaring that she’s overcome a lot and is on the other side of ‘starting over’.
Not to be outdone with 19 tracks (already a long and perhaps excessive album by normal standards!), 10 more songs have been released on DWTDTAOSO on various deluxe editions. “Gray” (UK Bonus Track), “I’m Sorry” and “Change You” (Target Edition Bonus Tracks), are all songs which aren’t available on the internet anywhere, and hence I haven’t heard them (although I hope them to be released to the wider community in some format someday!), while “I Love Me”, “Ok Not To Be Ok” and the Sam Smith duet “I’m Ready” finally receive the recognition they all deserve with their inclusion on the digital expanded edition. And last, but not least, Demi released 3 acoustic versions of “Anyone”, “Dancing With The Devil” and “ICU”, and a brand new song “Sunset”, a gospel infused celebratory track about how deep she cares for a particular person, and letting them know that she longs for them to not have a ‘sunset’ to their love. And with that, it’s time to bid adieu to this gigantic 29 track album (which could have been released on 2 discs!), and by far her most vulnerable and honest album by far. Given though than all of these songs were borne out of her overdose, it’s a bit icky to say that this album is the best of her career- as I don’t want to sound as if I’m glorifying drug use and a drug overdose. Yet DWTDTAOSO grew from that, from something horrible (showing us all that God is continually working!), and I am proud of Demi for how far she has come, and how she has grown into a much more confident and secure person!
With Demi Lovato having such an eventful year last year, the question begs to be asked- when will Demi ever catch a break and be happy for once for an extended period of time? Perhaps the time is coming now, and perhaps God is showing her providence and grace and happiness now- at the right time. Regardless of whether Demi has unfairly or fairly been dealt blow after blow after blow; what matters is that these songs from DWTDTAOSO hit us where it is needed the most- with the theme of the project essentially being that ought not to let what other people say about us hold any weight at all. It is songs like “What Other People Say”, “Dancing With The Devil”, “Easy”, “California Sober” and “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” which makes me excited for whatever Demi Lovato has next! And… that’s all I reckon! Seriously, listen to this project (after everythign else Demi related, of course!), especially since Demi has recorded a clean version of this album (in fact she’s recorded a clean version of every ‘explicit’ song in her discography!). Listen to DWTDTAOSO even if you are feeling ok, and are mentally, emotionally and spiritually in a great place, and firmly believe that you do have people in your corner. And listen to this album, as we are reminded of the importance of friends, family and people who build you up really are. If nothing else, then that’s a good reason why the Demi recorded this album- to realise that the words we believe about ourselves and what we say aloud and what we affirm; is what is most important in this life. So well done Demi Lovato; I can’t wait to hear what you have next in store! Can I say that this album is album of the year thus far? Or maybe album of the year period? Now, can we please petition in some way for a hymns/gospel album or a Christmas album from Demi in the future?
“‘Anyone’ was the first song I shared with the world in regards to what I’ve been going through the past couple years. I feel like it was really the catalyst of the new beginning of this journey, so it was the perfect song to open the album right out of the gate. The rest of the project goes through my story and my journey, so you see where it ends up when you listen to the full thing.”
“Dancing With the Devil”
“I wrote this song with a really good friend of mine named Blush at the end of 2018. That was a very difficult year for me, and I wanted to tell that story in a song. It was really important to me that I introduced that song in the documentary. I remember playing it for Ratty, the director, and we decided we should name the documentary Dancing With the Devil. It’s so significant and means so much to me.”
“ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)”
“Madison is my baby sister. When I woke up in the hospital after my overdose, I was legally blind and couldn’t see. So when she came to my bedside I actually asked her, ‘Who is standing there? Who are you?’ It was a really emotional moment for everyone who was there. I was able to take that situation, write a beautiful song out of it, and also be able to express to my little sister how much she means to me and how clearly I do see her on a daily basis.”
“The interlude of this album is very simple, very raw. I didn’t want it to be too long or complex. I wanted it to be a brief intro to this new chapter of my life which I feel is [about] the art of starting over.”
“The Art of Starting Over”
“This song came about in a writers’ camp for the album that took place in Malibu. When they played me the idea, I remember I jumped on it right away. I’ve been obsessed with the song ever since and knew it was going to be the title track.”
“My favorite lyric from this song is ‘All that love is/Is a means to an end/Romeo and Juliet are dead.’ It’s so dark and it doesn’t even rhyme that well, but when I sing it, it does. That’s the cool part about being a singer—you can make anything rhyme. And it’s true: Why do we romanticize this story about this couple who had a really unhappy ending? It’s weird.”
“The Way You Don’t Look at Me”
“This is about that feeling you get when you’re with someone and you know they’re not paying attention to you. They’re not watching you when you get out of the shower, their eyes aren’t lingering on you when you walk by naked, and it sucks. That’s a shitty feeling, especially when you love the person. It also talks about how not feeling seen or valued can result in body image [issues] or eating-disordered behaviors. I talk about that in the beginning of the song, and I think it’s really important to express. In ‘Dancing With the Devil’ I talk about my struggles with substances, and in this song I talk about my struggles with food. Sometimes it’s difficult. People can really internalize not feeling seen or heard in a relationship.”
“I used to eat melon cake on my birthday in place of an actual birthday cake. It was this watered-down, diet version of a birthday cake that was basically fat-free Cool Whip or coconut cream on top of a watermelon cut like a cake. It was never the vibe. The song is me saying goodbye to melon cake. That might seem insignificant to someone who hasn’t struggled with food issues, but for someone like me who has overcome that, I was stepping out of my comfort zone by eating actual birthday cake. It was a big step for me, and I wanted to celebrate it.”
“Met Him Last Night” (feat. Ariana Grande)
“I remember playing ‘Dancing With the Devil’ for Ariana back in 2019 when I was at her concert in London. We were backstage and she was so excited. She’s always been super supportive of me and my career, and it’s so awesome to have a friend like her in the industry. She started writing this song and immediately thought of me, so when she gave it to me I was like, ‘We should just sing this together.’”
“What Other People Say”
“Sam Fischer and I did this song together, and I’m so grateful to know him because he’s so fun to work with. Performing this song with him on Ellen was a blast. I’m really glad that we got to do that together.”
“This is a song about wanting to be loved—but wanting it to be done carefully. It’s kind of self-explanatory, but it’s really about offering yourself up to somebody. One of my favorite lyrics in the song is ‘I could be your favorite dream/Baby, nobody can love you like I do.’ It’s so simple but it’s powerful, and I don’t have a favorite dream, so it’d be nice to find that.”
“The Kind of Lover I Am”
“I feel like this is the song I’m going to play people if we start dating so they can get a sense of who I am. I’m just an open, free-spirited person who wants to be happy, and I deserve that. Everyone deserves that.”
“Noah [Cyrus] and I sing this song together, and it was originally sent to me by Matthew Koma, who is a talented producer and artist. I fell in love with it the second I heard it and immediately thought of how incredible Noah’s voice would sound on it. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with her because she’s so brilliant.”
“Crickets. Is that an answer?”
“My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” (feat. Saweetie)
“Saweetie’s so good at those best-friend hype songs and I knew she’d be perfect on this. She killed it. It’s such a great song and definitely an anthem for anyone who has just gone through a breakup.”
“I wrote this song to try and explain that sometimes recovery is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and in my case, it looks a little different than maybe other people’s journeys. But it’s working for me, and this song explains why. I hope people can listen to it from a place of curiosity and understanding and compassion. I hope they can try to respect my truth the same way I respect other people’s truths.”
“I saw this song in Donnie Darko when I was 14 and have listened to it over and over. I kind of forgot about it until I went to Big Bear [in California] and was sitting by the fire listening to music and it came on. I immediately texted my producer Mitch Allan and said, ‘We have to cover “Mad World.”’ He was like, ‘Cool, I’ll make the track.’”
“I wrote this song about my birth dad. I always had a complicated relationship with him, and I felt like it was in his death that we actually grew closest. I had more compassion and understanding for who he was, and came to understand why he couldn’t show up for me the way that I had always wanted him to. When a butterfly came right up to my finger on Father’s Day last year, around the anniversary of his passing, I knew I had to write a song about it. My favorite lyric is ‘You were never really graceful/Now you’re just what you’re supposed to be.’ It perfectly explains my dad’s transition from life to death. I feel like he became graceful and delicate in a way that he was never able to be on earth.”
“This song best represents where I’m at today. It is the message I want to get across to anyone who’s ever struggled and can relate to my story. It’s an example of where you can be when you do the work on yourself. I hope people listen to this album and hear the struggles, but also come to a happy ending. Maybe this song can help them find the happy ending in their own journeys.”
6 songs to listen to: I.C.U. (Madison’s Lullabye), Met Him Last Night, What Other People Say, Easy, California Sober, I Love Me
RIYL: Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Natalie Grant, Meghan Trainor, Jess Glynne, Rachel Platten