Looking back at her days of teen stardom through the lens of an adult, Lovato has compassion. “In hindsight, I don’t blame my 17-year-old self for being so miserable,” she said. “When I’m angry, it means that I’m actually hurting,” she added. “Young women in the industry who get labeled with ‘difficult to work with’ — it’s like, hey, maybe just for a second, consider that it’s not that I’m a bad person. It’s just that nobody’s listening to me and I’m hungry, and I’m tired and overworked and doing the best I can for an unmedicated 17-year-old.”
Exposing her imperfections to the world did little to alleviate internal pressures, though. Behind the scenes, Lovato pushed herself to be the idealized version of a successful pop star as her career progressed. Her first two albums from 2008 and 2009 were filled with spunky pop-punk in the mode of Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne. Her third LP, “Unbroken,” which included the hit ballad “Skyscraper” and the irresistible “Give Your Heart a Break,” was a creative leap, adding more R&B influences and serious subjects.
She said she avoids revisiting her subsequent two albums, “Demi” (2013) and “Confident” (2015). “I don’t know if it’s because it reminds me of the people that were in my life during those times or if it just doesn’t feel that authentic to myself,” she said. “I had really believed in myself after putting ‘Skyscraper’ out, for the Grammys. I was like, I might have a shot now! And then I put out another album — nothing.”
Discouraged by the reaction, she recalibrated. “So I dove into, all right, what is the formula for a pop star that’s top of the charts?” She counted off the criteria on her right hand: “She shows her skin, she’s a lot fitter, and you know, she wears leotards onstage. So I played that role for a minute. And that didn’t fulfill me at all.”
Fired up, she continued: “It’s weird to think that I had more sense of identity as a 15, 16-year-old than I did as a 23-year-old.”
One song from that dark period in 2015 did hark back to Lovato’s earlier work, with its disco-punk chorus driven by grindy guitars. “Cool for the Summer” spoke the most truth, about hooking up with girls. Lovato heard its beat at the studio of the producer Max Martin and was immediately captivated: “I was like, we have to write to that. That’s so [expletive] hard.”
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