Release Date: August 19th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Demi Lovato– HOLY FVCK (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Freak (feat. Yungblud)
- Skin Of My Teeth
- Eat Me (feat. Royal & The Serpent)
- Holy Fvck
- Happy Ending
- City Of Angels
- Come Together
- Dead Friends
- Help Me (feat. Dead Sara)
- 4 Ever 4 Me
Last year in April 2021, Demi Lovato released one of the most inspiring, confronting, powerful and thought-provoking albums of the year. Dancing With The Devil… The Art Of Starting Over was Demi’s first album in 4 years, and was (and still is) an album that made me a Demi fan. It was an album that was incredibly honest, personal, and vulnerable; and it was an album that chronicled the journey Demi has had ever since she overdosed in 2018 up until the point of recording the album. We reviewed Demi’s 2021 album here, and we concluded that it was one of our favourite albums of 2021 and it was an album that spoke a lot about issues that are relevant and relatable to I’m sure many of us. Songs like “Anyone”, “What Other People Say”, “I Love Me”, “It’s Ok Not To Be Ok”, “I.C.U. (Madison’s Lullabye)”, the title track as well as her stirring cover of “Mad World”; are all songs that are probably some of the most powerful and poignant that Demi has ever recorded, and this album will always be an album that I will go back to listen to again and again within the coming months and years.
Also last year, shortly after the release of Dancing With The Devil… The Art Of Starting Over, was another monumental for the life of Demi. Demi announced that she was (and still is) non-binary. For the people who don’t know what that is, it means identifying sometimes as neither a male or female. This meant that Demi chose to use ‘they/them’ pronouns exclusively from May 2021 onwards… and let me tell you the truth. While Demi’s choice was championed and praised amongst virtually all of mainstream society; I’d have to say that this same choice rattled and affected some casual fans… inclusive of myself. See, at the time that we as a site reviewed Demi’s album, and when we blogged about the artist in 2020…well, Demi identified as a ‘she’. As of this month though, Demi has updated her Instagram profile, and is now comfortable to include they/them/she/her as pronouns. So how do I approach what Demi has been doing post-Dancing With the Devil…the Art of Starting Over, and how to I write about an artist who still looks female, but wants to be known as ‘they’? Demi has recently released her brand-new studio album Holy Fvck (a rock album and a clear and distinct departure from her pop albums previously), and she has made it clear in the past that she is still non-binary, and that she can still change her pronouns at a moment’s notice. But because it’s something that I myself wasn’t exposed to or made aware of prior to Demi (I knew about Sam Smith, but didn’t care for the music, thus was indifferent!); it’s going to be tough to think about Demi as a ‘they’. Granted, Demi now uses she/her as well as they/them, but it’s kind of the concept that will take some time getting my head around. I must admit, the whole genre debate is so confusing, and it seems as though Hollywood and ordinary people are picking sides right off the bat. Regardless of people’s feelings regarding Demi and the choices made surrounding gender identity, one thing is clear- that everything that Demi has done, inclusive of Dancing With the Devil…the Art of Starting Over, is heartfelt, emotive, poignant and compelling.
With Demi having undertaken a podcast since her previous album; I was nonetheless still intrigued about Demi’s new album Holy Fvck. I mean… we all know what this album means and stands for (for those who still don’t get it, replace the ‘v’ with a ‘u’… and that’s how the album is pronounced!), and so is it somewhat heretical or blasphemous or just plain wrong for me, as a Christian man, to review this album and give it my thoughts, especially since the album cover has some religious connotations, as well as many of the song lyrics in the album? Perhaps. But what I reckon is my duty as a believer and as a writer in this website, is to tackle the complicated and hard and messy topics and the ‘difficult’ and confronting albums. Demi’s Holy Fvck is one such album, that will ruffle some feathers of many people who listen; and will challenge the status quo. Holy Fvck is uncomfortable, and it definitely isn’t safe, but it is authentic, real, passionate, compelling, poignant, honest, vulnerable, and impacting. And so as I have listened to this album a couple of times through now, what I’ve found is one of the most revealing and enlightening albums I’ve heard this year (alongside TobyMac’s Life After Death). The album could be polarising and controversial. It’s only been released a couple of days, so it’s still early days. But could we possibly have stumbled upon one of the albums of the year?
There wasn’t a specific approach that I had in mind when it came to the album, where I was like, ‘Oh, I want this to have religious undertones.’ It just came out in the writing process. I wanted to take my power back. I grew up in the church as a Christian, and I had some anger towards it. Being queer, I definitely felt like I was misunderstood. There was also a kind of sexual oppression that I felt came from the church. There’s a song called ‘Heaven’ that I wrote, and it’s actually based on a Bible verse about masturbation. It’s Matthew 5:30: ‘If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off—it’s better to lose one part of your body than your entire body to hell.’ I have my own sex toy, so it’s no secret that I am very sexually empowered. I also write, ‘I met God just for a minute, sat in his house, took a look around and saw I didn’t fit in.’ That song kicked off the album, and from there I ended up writing ‘Holy Fvck.’
When you get older, you start to realize where your trauma comes from. There’s a healthy amount of angst when it comes to understanding your trauma and honoring it—honoring your anger. In order to be spiritually balanced, you can’t ignore the negative feelings that you have, because then you’re just pretending and living with this facade that everything’s okay all the time. I think that I have a healthy relationship with anger, because I’m able to honor it without letting it control me or send me into a rage like I did when I was younger. You have a better understanding of yourself. I’ve learned that over the past year, and from just getting older and going into my 30s.
Coming into listening to Holy Fvck and the entirety of the 16 tracks, you get the sense that Demi is unapologetic, unafraid, grounded in who she is, and secure in her identity. As a cisgendered male, I don’t think I’m probably the right person to say that Demi has figured it all out, considering that she is queer and non-binary and presenting as a woman. But these lyrics are extremely and exceptionally honest and vulnerable… and that’s probably all that you could actually hope for in an album, don’t you think? Album opener “Freak”, with Yungblud, is a no-holds-barred rock anthem, where Demi passionately addresses the haters and the people who are boycotting her music just because she is non-binary. Demi sings out that people think that she is a freak, and this song is actually Demi taking back that power and owning that sentiment, turning it into something empowering for her: it’s like being in the spotlight, you feel like a piece of meat. Everyone’s got their eyes on you, people want to take a bite out of you to hurt you, or just claim ownership of you and this is totally taking the power back and saying “you can’t do that to me and I know I’m a freak and I love it”. The overall meaning behind the song, “FREAK”, is basically about feeling like an outcast, you feel like a misfit but you’re also owning it and you don’t care what people think and you’re kinda taking the power and saying “yeah I’m a freak and there’s nothing you can say that will hurt my feeling because I own it”. And for the rest of us, this melody is also addressing the misfits and the people who don’t belong. Demi reminds us that we are normal, and we are loved and cherished and wanted. We don’t have to conform into what society wants of us and we can just live and be and exist. This song can be an anthem for the LGBTQIA+ community… but I personally reckon it can be an anthem for anyone who is different in the world and anyone who feels like they don’t belong. There is assurance in this song; and being told that you’re not the only one having issues and problems… is somewhat very freeing and liberating.
The rest of Holy Fvck is an unabashed and hard-hitting project, with plenty of lyrical gold to extract if you are all patient and see past Demi’s pain, anger, and intense emotion. “Skin Of My Teeth”, the lead single and probably the most vulnerable and powerful melody on the album, speaks about Demi’s addictions with drugs and alcohol; as she fervently and ardently sings to the haters, telling then that though she is alive by the skin of her teeth, that whether she goes in and out of rehab many times or not, and whether she relapses many times or not, is her business, and not anyone else’s. It’s a pretty out-there track, and though some of us are suspicious or dubious, and think that ‘Demi will relapse again and it’s only a matter of time’, this melody provides us with heartfelt emotion, and it’s hard not to feel empathetic and a kinship with her issues. Everyone is addicted to something. It may not be drugs and alcohol, but we all do have our demons and our vices. Demi is still clearly working on these issues. She may not be there yet, but this song reminds us that she’s still on a journey, and that is extremely commendable. “Substance”, a personal album highlight of mine, lyrically follows in the same vein as “Skin Of My Teeth”, as Demi sings about something that could easily be taken from the book of Ecclesiastes. Demi outlines that it seems as if the world isn’t championing substance and media that allows you to think deeply and critically; and this song reminds us all that at times, we can all be numb to the real issues of the world, and rather we can instead be consumed by things that won’t matter at the end of our lives- the trivial things and the stuff that will fade away in the end. Demi passionately encourages us to get out of our own heads and do something radically different than what the norm is; while the concept of mortality and the fact that we’re all going to die someday, is explored in this track as well: We’re just coming out of covid. You know, we’ve been in a period of time where we just lived off of TV and our phones because we couldn’t get outside and do things and I know we’re all exhausted of that. “Am I in my head or have we all lost it” is like, have we all lost the substance of human connection and being in the present moment?
“Eat Me”, a hard-hitting, blunt, and uncompromising rock melody, is sung with Royal & The Serpent, and is a track that speaks about not conforming into what the public or society or Hollywood or even friends and family, expect you to. Obviously, the melody is about Demi coming out as non-binary, and hence now not conforming into what society says a female should be like. But this song, like “Freak”, is applicable to all of us in many situations- the song can be about how Christians shouldn’t compromise or conform to the world’s standards, or the song can also be about how a child doesn’t have to conform to their parents’ lofty expectations. However, you take this potent and impressive melody, Demi needs to be congratulated here, regardless of if we agree with her being non-binary or not- simply because this song opens up avenues for discussion for heavy topics that would have otherwise been swept underneath the rug. The title track, probably the most controversial, provocative, and contentious, has Demi singing in extreme absolutes, singing about being a devil and an angel, but overall embracing her sexuality and her identity as a queer non-binary person. it’s a melody that is quite lyrically dichotomous and is one of those songs that I personally do not relate to (for obvious reasons). It’s a track that I feel isn’t needed within this gigantic track list… but this song is nonetheless part of Demi’s story and her journey, so I won’t admonish her for including it here. I didn’t resonate with this song, but if any of you listening to the album feel like this melody is written for you, that this song allows you to accept your identity as ___, then I’d say this song is valid and necessary for many groups of people to feel included and accepted. I mean, I don’t really understand why you would wrap your identity up with your sexuality (because as a believer, my identity is in Jesus, and that’s who I reckon everyone’s identity should be in)… but this song undoubtedly will speak to someone. It just hasn’t spoken to me, and that’s ok.
“29”, a harrowing, revealing, poignant and resolute anthem, has Demi taking back the power of her and ex Wilmer Valderrama’s 12 year-gap relationship. When they met, he was 29 and she was 17… and though by today’s standards, that relationship would have been inappropriate and all kinds of icky, Demi and Wilmer dated for a while. I don’t know if it was love or if he was gaslighting her or if he was preying on her, but Demi’s song here and now, when she is ironically 29 herself, reminds us that with age comes wisdom. Wilmer ought to have been wiser than to be involved with someone who is 12 years younger. But apparently, he wasn’t. And as such, this melody reminds us to always check ourselves and our motivations behind what we do. Can our decisions be misconstrued by the papers and the media, and will we be vilified and crucified because of it? If so, then it’s probably not a wise decision to undertake. Am I unpacking “29” more than I need to? Quite possibly. But, with Demi relaying that the song is about the wisdom that comes with age. You know, I’ve had certain experiences that I’ve looked back on, and I’ve had a lot of clarity on, and I wanted to write a song about it. I’ve had a lot of clarity in several experiences in my life, whether it be romantically, whether it be just like growing pains. This is one of them.; then I’d say that this ‘analysis’ is pretty spot on. “Happy Ending”, one of my favourite melodies on the album, is a guitar led ballad where Demi speaks about trying to find her happy ending, and the fact that she has explored many avenues (drugs, alcohol, trying to find love, her version of God, trying to be a pop princess) but without success; while this track also alludes to the fact that we can try to fill our lives up with stuff, but we will never be truly happy unless we come to terms with who we are, and who we are in Jesus. Obviously, this song isn’t about Jesus, and this song is about searching for meaning and purpose. But Jesus and God and this song are intrinsically linked, and even if you dislike the version of Jesus being presented to you in your past, the reality is that Jesus can fill the void in your heart- and I hope and pray that Demi realises this true fact. “Heaven”, a hard-hitting song that speaks about giving into momentary satisfaction and pleasure, and about masturbation; is also a track in which Demi speaks about feeling shamed by the church because she wanted to explore her sexuality. Reminding us that as believers we shouldn’t even condemn people for even the worst of their hang-ups and vices, “Heaven” also encourages us to as Christians have a dialogue with people different belief systems, especially LGBTQIA+ people- the act of masturbation per se isn’t the issue in my opinion, but it’s rather the mindset behind it, as in why do you masturbate, and does it bring you closer to Jesus or not. “Heaven” the song is a melody that destigmatises masturbation- and I personally don’t agree with that melody lyrically. But like with the title track, this song is still part of Demi’s journey, and is needed and necessary to understand her evolution and her mindset of the theme of this album as a whole.
“City Of Angels” and “Come Together” are very sexually charged songs about the act of having sex with someone and the act of giving your whole entire being over to someone special. These melodies can also be read through another angle though- “City Of Angels” speaks about Demi being bored with L.A., having lived there for 15 years, and thus wanting to have a new experience from a different angle and a different point of view; while “Come Together” can be read as a sweet love song between two people who are perfect for each other. It just depends on how you read the songs and how much you read between the lines. And although I personally don’t relate to these two tracks in the way that Demi intended, their presence in the album doesn’t bother me at all; and reminds me that the tracks are key in Demi’s journey as a person. These two may not be songs that I like or gravitate to or even advocate… but they are songs nonetheless that are pieces in the puzzle of Demi Lovato… and for that reason, I do appreciate their value in understanding Demi more as a person. “Bones” and “Wasted”, two songs that beautifully depict two sides of a relationship, go hand in hand thematically. Musically, “Bones” is a rock melody similar to something Evanescence would record, as Demi sings about wanting to have sex with someone (or to ‘jump someone’s bones’) the first time you see them. “Wasted”, an earnest rock ballad and a personal highlight, speaks about a euphoric feeling of something akin to love, as Demi compares the high that she gets when she’s in her feelings for someone to the high that she gets when she’s on drugs (but it’s a better euphoric high and without the hangovers and the side effects). But hand in hand, these two songs make sense paired together on the track list as it speaks about Demi’s attitude towards love- wanting to physically feel accepted, and grateful that her feelings of love towards this person is so much better than drugs and alcohol.
“Dead Friends”, a head-banging rocker, is actually a reflective and melancholy track, as Demi lyrically delivers probably her most vulnerable track on the album- she laments being alive while many of her friends have died. As Demi sings out that ‘…I miss the hell we can’t raise, I miss the time we can’t waste, I miss the texts they can’t send, I miss my dead friends, we had the rest of our lives, didn’t get to say goodbye, God only knows where they went, I miss my dead friends…’, we are met with the sense of possibly survivor’s guilt- Demi overdosed in 2018 and she’s still alive, but some of her other friends weren’t so lucky. With this melody putting life in perspective and reminding us not to take each moment for granted, we are also encouraged to live life to the fullest because we do not know how long each of us have left on this planet. “Help Me”, a almost metal-like rock track with Dead Sara on guest vocals, is a satirical and facetious jab at the people who do not know Demi who seem to think they are ‘helping’ her by telling her how she should live. It could be a song directed at Christians who probably are genuinely concerned or worried for her soul. But Demi has made her mind up and she won’t hear any of the advice or help that seems to be coming her way; however, this help, though possibly genuine, isn’t really warranted, and unless you personally know Demi, you shouldn’t really be commenting about her decisions. You can agree or disagree with them (like how I have done in this review), but even as believers, we have no business to prescribe what Demi should do with her life. it is her life, and though we might think that going down a certain path might bring her consequences that she may not be prepared for… well, that’s really a conversation she has to have between her and God, or her and her family.
Personally though, the last two songs are Demi’s crowning achievement on Holy Fvck. “Feed”, a powerful, engaging and God-breathed ballad, speaks about having two sides to yourself- the good side and the bad side. While I don’t really agree with that concept on a basic level; I can see what Demi is trying to say. That there is your sinful nature and there is the Holy Spirit inside of you. That is essentially what Demi is describing, but in the chorus, she also sings about how these pieces of you are at war with each other, and only you decide which piece of you that you are going to give attention to. The Holy Spirit speaks, and so does your old sinful nature, and like the song says, some days we may give into our sinful nature and other days we will resist and listen to the Holy Spirit. That’s just the way life is, and Demi subtly alludes to the fact that every day life is a struggle to do the right thing (aka to listen to the Holy Spirit). We may want to, but sometimes we slip up. That’s just part of life as well. As long as our intentions are pure and our hearts are in the right place, then at least we’re growing and at least we’re moving in the right direction. For me personally, “Feed” reminds me of a sermon I heard today at church and really connected with (and also reminds me of Romans 8), and so this track moving forward will always be important and meaningful to me. “4 Ever 4 Me”, the album ender, ends what is a rollercoaster ride of an album… in true pop/ballad fashion just to show us that Demi isn’t completely out of the ‘pop game’. A stirring ballad about Demi possibly finding ‘the one’ and the person she is completely in love with (and after everything that happened with Max, I do hope she finds true happiness with someone special!); Demi herself relays that this is a love song, and this melody is one that I pray and hope that everyone who hears it is touched by it and strives to find an everlasting love like that: It’s a love song and it was really inspired by “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. You know, I don’t have a lot of love songs and I have several on this album, but I think this one is the most sappy, the most hopeful…and I wanted to end the album with this song because it’s so hopeful and I talk about how challenging things can be towards the beginning of this album. I started out so angry and sad and all these emotions, and I end the album on such a high note. It’s about falling in love and it’s about feeling the hopefulness of forever with somebody.
There’s an arch to this album. The beginning of the album is honoring my anger, then it goes into being sexually empowered—songs like “City of Angels” and “Bones”—and then it goes into love songs, like ‘Wasted.’ I wanted to make a song where you hear the title, and you think it’s going to be about something else; With ‘Wasted,’ I wanted to write a song about being wasted off of love. You might think it’s about getting high, but it’s about finding a high that’s better than any other high I’ve ever felt.
I have a lot of thoughts about Holy Fvck. There are songs I don’t really agree with, like the title track and “Heaven” especially. There are songs that are probably more explicit than should have been, like “Come Together” and “City Of Angels”. There are songs that musically do my head in- they’re simply too loud, like “Freak” and “Help Me”. But put together and listened together as one unit, it’s all cohesive surprisingly. I thought I would feel differently or something…when I revisited Demi Lovato after her coming out as non-binary. But even though I will always have a soft spot for Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over; Holy Fvck is surprisingly very enjoyable, inspiring and meaningful on the whole. It speaks to my soul even when I thought that it wouldn’t. I was all prepared to be disgusted and ashamed of ever liking a Demi Lovato album. But Holy Fvck challenged me and made me widen my perceptions on how music should sound like or be. Demi Lovato’s lyrics here certainly isn’t something that I agree with fully. That much is true. I don’t think I’ll ever fully agree. But I can appreciate the boldness, courage, tenacity, vulnerability, and honesty permeated throughout every track, and that is why I will listen to this album again in a heartbeat.
I’m proud of that work [my pop albums], but it didn’t make me happy. There was always this kind of emptiness that I felt, because I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t. Now, I identify as non-binary, so when I say, ‘Would you like me better if I was still her,’ [in the song ‘Eat Me’] it’s… a reference to people wanting me to stay who they wanted me to be in their eyes.
What I learned about myself making this record is that it’s okay to own your truth. The last album that I made [Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over], I’m proud of it, but I don’t feel like there was a lot of myself in it. There was a lot of authenticity in the lyrics, but sonically, let’s just say I don’t go back and listen to that music today. This album, I’m excited to perform it and listen back to it. I haven’t gotten tired of it.
Is it weird that I reckon Demi Lovato’s album is one of the most important of this year? As a believer, it could sound odd for me to champion this album, with all of its flaws and imperfections. But like with my other favourite album of the year of TobyMac’s Life After Death (another hard-hitting project you all need to listen to!); Holy Fvck isn’t perfect and Demi doesn’t pretend to be perfect either. It’s just an honest album and Demi is authentic. Her album is about a moment in time and may not represent Demi’s views even in a year’s time. But if any of you are worried about her salvation, then how about you pray for her? Without being a showman and letting her know about it? God can work in her life and God can do something magical and miraculous. But it isn’t our job to be the word police or the thought police. If this album isn’t for you, then don’t listen. But I believe that God speaks through anything since He spoke through Balaam’s donkey. He can speak through Demi’s album (I wholeheartedly believe that), and I believe he has. Holy Fvck reminds us not to judge a book by its cover, and what Demi has taught me today, if anything, is to always keep an open mind. Demi’s work till now has shown us a true fighter and someone who has great amounts of resilience and strength. Regardless of what we may say or think about Demi Lovato’s gender identity, the fact of the matter remains- that gender identity shouldn’t discredit or even discount the music of the person, ever. Demi’s discography still stands tall, and songs like “Skyscraper”, “Give Your Heart A Break”, “Heart Attack”, “Sorry Not Sorry”, “Confident”, “Really Don’t Care” and “Let It Go” will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Can God use Demi? Definitely! Is Holy Fvck the album of the year, even if it is imperfect? Quite possibly!
5 songs to listen to: Substance, Happy Ending, Wasted, Feed, 4 Ever 4 Me
RIYL: Avril Lavigne, Olivia Rodrigo, Evanescence, Nickelback, Lifehouse, Creed, Train, Goo Goo Dolls, Skillet