Demi Lovato Returns to Her Pop-Punk Roots on Holy Fvck

TThe public has seen Demi Lovato go through many reinventions throughout her career. Her Disney debut was in 1982. Sonny With a ChanceA handful of Disney Channel Original Movies are also available. Camp Rock Protecting Princesses Programme. Her debut album was released in 2008. Don’t Forget—a pop-rock record that featured her powerhouse vocals on songs like “La La Land” and “Trainwreck” as well as the title track. We Go AgainAnother rock-oriented album, this time with Hollywood Records (still a Disney part), was released in 2009.

Lovato decided to leave the public eye in 2010, and everything changed. From singing about boyhood and heartbreak, Lovato began to talk openly about her mental illness, her eating disorder and her experiences with substance abuse. She became a beacon of hope for young people facing similar challenges, and when she returned with her next string of albums over the next decade, she conveyed this message through different musical genres ranging from R&B to dance-pop to hip hop.

Lovato assured fans that after having been open about these struggles, she’s unbroken and confident. She sought love after two very public failed relationships and attempted to push through the noise that came along with openly battling drug abuse—to the point where she came close to death. Demi is open and honest about her experiences at Disney. She felt like a victim of an evil machine, which ate her, swallowed her, and then turned its back. It makes perfect sense that Demi would avoid returning to the pop-punk sounds that were her trademark at the time if they trigger memories from darker times.

But on her eighth studio album, Heilige Fick!On August 19, Lovato released her debut album, “Love and Darkness,” which she embraces that dark side of music that gave birth to her career. And the album makes it clear that pop-punk is the best vehicle for Lovato: It allows her to drive home the idea that she doesn’t take herself too seriously while also making truly poignant music.

These are the key takeaways we have from this new release.

Demi returns to pop-rock roots, but goes deeper

Lovato’s last project, 2021’s Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over, had some highlights—like the emotional ballad “Anyone,” a pleading cry for help—but the album itself wasn’t enjoyable sonically. She struggled to marry the elements of her music that work the best—impactful lyrics, kick-ass vocals, and most importantly: that lack of self-seriousness.

On her comeback single, “SKIN OF MY TEETH,” released in June, she kicked down the metaphorical door between herself and her audience with the opening lyrics: “Demi leaves rehab again/ when is this sh-t gonna end?/ Sounds like a voice in my head/ I can’t believe I’m not dead.” She’s poking at the fact that she’s been in and out of rehab for the past couple of years, and referring to herself in the third person calls to mind the breathless tabloid coverage of her personal challenges.

This album is a tour through her emotions. At first they seem as wild and vengeful, but she turns out to be deeper and more melancholy. We hear Lovato talking about death more openly as she grapples with survivor’s guilt after having almost died from a drug relapse in 2018 on “DEAD FRIENDS,” where she sings, “I danced with the devil/ I made it through hell, and I don’t know why/ How am I different? I did, and they didn’t, and it doesn’t feel right.”

Lovato’s previous albums had an innate talent for singing softly and close to the microphone. It was almost like she tried to not scare away people with her loud voice. Not so on this album: She’s fully embraced the emo, pop-punk aesthetic, yelling from the mountain tops, using every ounce of energy to get rowdy and show off her exuberance.

She is very open about past painful relationships.

The best song on the album, no contest, is “29”—lyrically, vocally, in every regard. It’s the perfect encapsulation of what this album set out to do: make a point no matter who Lovato pissed off in the process. Although it’s not confirmed to be about her relationship with former That ’70s Show Actor Wilmer Valderrama. The details strongly suggest that this is the case. Lovato now 29 sings about her 12 year-old age gap with a past partner.

“Just five years a bleeder/ Student and a teacher/ Far from innocent/ What the f-ck’s consent?/ Numbers told you not to/ But that didn’t stop you,” she sings in the first verse. In the second verse, she digs the knife in deeper: “I see you’re quite the collector/ Yeah you’re 12 years her elder/ Maybe now it doesn’t matter/ But I know f-cking better.” Though she has not confirmed nor denied it, the lyrics seem to reference her ex’s current relationship with his fiancé, model Amanda Pacheco, who is 12 years his junior.

Songs are often lyrically heavy but sonically very light.

On 2017’s Please Tell me you love Me, Lovato tried her hand at being more open about her sexuality with tracks like “Concentrate” and “Sexy Dirty Love,” but the lyrics were surface-level at best. They didn’t reach into her desires, wants, and needs as a sexual being, nor did the songs on that album explore the conflicting emotions that arise from her Christian upbringing.

Lovato explores these themes more deeply in the tongue-in-cheek “COME TOGETHER.” “Got me closer to the edge than ever/ We both want it, but we don’t surrender/ And we could make it last forever/ But paradise is even better whеn we come togethеr,” she sings. While these lyrics may be understood as a love song about a couple coming together, they also contain a double meaning that refers to sexual intimacy. She traverses through uncharted waters as she navigates masturbation on “HEAVEN.” In a “Genius”-verified annotation, she writes, “Growing up, I was often shamed by my religion for exploring, and I just wanted to write a song about it because I was in this place where I was angry.”

But Lovato didn’t forget to have some fun, on songs like “BONES,” where she describes the feeling of wanting to jump someone’s bones, backed by playful guitar licks. Although the majority of the album is heavy on hardcore beats and in-your face drums, Lovato manages to retain enough humor to not make it too serious.

Even when the lyrics are not clear, her voice is strong.

Lovato’s voice has stood out above most of her peers since she was a teenager on Disney. Her voice is powerful and she can belt. You can watch her perform on Holy Fvck, there are a few duds that don’t pack the emotional punch of others, but Lovato’s performance saves those songs from being entirely skippable. Her vocals elevate the two closing tracks, “FEED” and “4 EVER 4 ME,” which otherwise fall flat. The same can be said for “CITY OF ANGELS,” a love letter to Los Angeles that is dry in its lyrical content, but Lovato’s high note in the last chorus of the song is stunning.

Creating a body of work takes time, but Lovato’s work is strengthened by the fearlessness with which she channels her struggles into her songs and uses the creation process as a way of coping. It’s refreshing to see her tackle her demons to the ground with a smile on her face, all the while paying homage to where she came from—even if it stings.

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