Content warning: This article discusses excessive drug use.
Less than three years after her hospitalization for a drug overdose in 2018, Demi Lovato has returned to the studio stronger than ever with her April 2 release, “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over” (2021). An album filled with empowering highs and heartbreaking lows, Lovato paints the trauma and recovery she’s endured since her hospitalization as a reawakening. She stakes a claim in her story, negating the tabloids and lies circulating in the media as a result of her hospitalization.
The album opens with “Anyone,” a powerful ballad in which Lovato cries out “Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone.” Part of the three-track prelude on the album, “Anyone” presents the time in which Lovato relapsed after six years of sobriety. Lovato starts the album with the raw emotion necessary for a comeback record. Following is “Dancing with the Devil,” one of the two title tracks off the album, where Lovato comes to terms with her addiction. She strikes, “Almost made it to heaven / It was closer than you know.” The chorus is powerful, as Lovato exemplifies her vocal and songwriting abilities. She closes the prelude with a lullaby to her sister Madison titled, “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye).” The track references Lovato’s experience in the ICU following her overdose when she was temporarily blind, all while her sister sat by Lovato’s bedside. Another example of her sharp songwriting on the album, Lovato closes the prelude at her lowest point, leaving only recovery to follow.
“The Art of Starting Over,” the second of two title tracks, demonstrates Lovato’s familiarity with fresh beginnings, having dealt with addiction in her past. Despite a misjudged relationship she viewed as a potential “cure” to her struggles, Lovato pushes to overcome another toxic situation while on her road to recovery. Lovato shifts to “The Way You Don’t Look at Me,” a heartbreaking story of her struggles with body image and an eating disorder. Lovato addresses the hurt from a relationship here, too, singing, “This hurts harder than my time in heaven / You don’t think I see / The way / You don’t look at me,” implying this love has caused her more pain than her overdose-induced hospitalization. It is evident that Lovato’s self-reflection and attention to personal detail emanate on this record.
The synth-heavy collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Met Him Last Night,” is a highlight on this record. Both Lovato and Grande croon about a man who, while charming, is not someone worth pursuing. Despite his efforts, Lovato and Grande acknowledge the damage from his toxicity, and free themselves from his game. In her song with Sam Fischer, “What Other People Say,” Lovato details the difficulties she’s faced with self-image since becoming a celebrity. Both confirm, “I’m better than that, I’m better than that,” while battling their circumstances that stem from their upbringings. One of the best tracks on the album, Lovato reconciles with her tendency to listen to public opinion rather than acknowledge her own self-worth.
Songs such as “Carefully,” “The Kind of Lover I Am” and “Butterfly” may have been better condensed into one song since they don’t particularly stand out on this record. In addition, Lovato’s cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (1982), while vocally stunning, could have been left off the album. The most out-of-place track on the album is “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” with Saweetie. The pop-rap collaboration is upbeat and fun, but would’ve worked better on a different album or as a non-album single. In comparison to the other collaborations, this one falls short.
Another standout track is “Easy” with Noah Cyrus. Cinematic in nature, the track is the best example of Lovato’s vocal ability and emotional range. In “Lonely People,” “Melon Cake” and “15 Minutes,” Lovato rejects her former relationships and management for taking advantage of her. All fit well on this album. In terms of growth, “California Sober” and “Good Place” underscore the most introspection from Lovato. On “California Sober,” Lovato explains how sobriety was a factor in her mental decline, and how, in this moderate lifestyle, she’s able to take back her freedom. She concludes the album with “Good Place,” realizing she’s finally reached a place of happiness in her world.
With “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over,” Lovato has crafted a cohesive, well-written record, detailing her struggles with addiction and triumphant return. Lovato sets the record straight surrounding her circumstances amid a sea of endless media speculation, spotlighting her ability to confront and conquer the demons within herself.