The tornado of media attention surrounding Demi Lovato in recent weeks continues with the release of her latest album, Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over. Lovato’s willingness to relay the painful details of her 2018 overdose has led to extensive media coverage of the tragic occurrence.
The release of the album after months of media coverage, however, makes it seem as if the record is an afterthought, which is reflected in its unfinished sound. In many ways, the work is both therapeutic and heartbreaking, but is left raw and cheap in its production which prevents the album from flowing and connecting with itself.
The album was released on Friday, the day after the release of her music video for “Dancing With The Devil,” where Lovato is shown reliving her overdose by acting out memories of her body being found by friends and later hooked up to machines to bring her back to life. The video is harrowing and heartbreaking, and it laid down the foundation for the album, which encompasses similar themes.
And for the most part, the album did live up to this sad expectation. The first three songs are familiar releases that talk openly about her overdose in a way that provokes tears and goosebumps. The album begins with “Anyone,” the song she performed at the 2020 Grammy Awards. It’s just her voice and the piano, and the ballad unfolds from there. The gut-wrenching lyrics force the attention of every listener—a pattern that continues in the next two songs, “Dancing With The Devil” and “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye).” The latter song is again stripped down to just Lovato and the piano. The song details Lovato’s shame in having to recover from addiction in the eyes of a child she loves, and the story remains in your mind long after the song’s conclusion.
At this point, the slow flow of the album is interrupted by a recording of Lovato explaining that the “art of starting over” starts now. Lovato abruptly pivots from continuing the narrative of the overdose into the story of her recovery. In “Intro” she announces, “Let me take you on a journey / One that sheds the skin of my past / And embodies the person I am today / This is the art of starting over.”
This pivot is strategic but misguided. It’s hard to fill 19 songs with lyrics that genuinely convey the tragedy of her overdose, and the switch provides new material for listeners to digest. But the pivot comes too soon on the album, breaking up the narrative Lovato started shaping. “The Art of Starting Over” is the first song in the second chapter of the album, and it sets up a blueprint for the songs that follow: a first verse that sounds like it was copied directly from her personal diary followed by a catchy, repetitive, and for the most part empty chorus.
“Lonely People,” “Melon Cake,” “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend,” and various others follow this blueprint. The album talks about her struggle with body image and eating disorders, loneliness, and addiction in a blunt manner that gives the album a vital purpose of de-stigmatizing such circumstances. But, the songs’ catchiness and repetitive nature lessen the value and meaning of Lovato’s personal experience. This pattern ensures many of these songs will reach the top of music charts, but by following this formula, the songs lose their authenticity in exchange for a generic sound.
In an effort to launch her songs to the top of the charts, Lovato invited other trending artists to be featured on the album. Ariana Grande, Sam Fischer, Noah Cyrus, and Saweetie all make an appearance on the album. But with the exception of Cyrus’ feature, their songs are poppy, upbeat, and focused on capturing the attention of a wider audience rather than emphasizing the somber tone of the first half of the album.
Ultimately, Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over is an important collection. It approaches difficult topics with confidence to provide people struggling with similar problems a voice and a sense of companionship. But in many ways, the majority of the album sacrifices Lovato’s realness for cliché and catchy choruses. At too many parts, it seems too pre-packaged to be truly genuine.
Photo Courtesy of Island Records