Demi Lovato lifts weight off her heart with poignant ‘Dancing With The Devil…The Art of Starting Over’

Photo of Demi Lovato "Dancing with the Devil" Album
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Content warning: drug addiction, eating disorders

Demi Lovato has been to hell and back. Released April 2, Lovato’s seventh album Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over illustrates the last few tumultuous years of the artist’s life in devastating detail. In stark contrast to her previous pop records, Lovato’s latest album is more than just passionate — it’s therapeutic.

Following her album’s two-part, conspicuous title as a roadmap, Lovato splits her record into sections, one addressing trauma and the other conveying recovery. With just three songs, the first part perhaps acts as more of a prologue than a chapter, but its brevity isn’t to be underestimated; here, Lovato offers some of the most emotional reflections of her career.

Lovato laments helplessly that “nobody’s listening” to her on “Anyone,” the song’s stripped qualities emphasizing her past isolation and the absence of the support she desperately needed. Her vocals remain as powerful as ever, but as she realizes her pained words are ringing hollow, her reflections blur into pleas.

“Dancing With The Devil” follows as the intense aftermath of her lonely struggle. Drowning in red wine and tangled in white lines, Lovato vulnerably recounts her 2018 opioid overdose as the height of her long struggle with addiction. “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” narrates Lovato waking up in the hospital blind and unable to see her sister — “I was blind, but now I see clearly/ I see you,” she sings gently. She renders the intensive care unit as not just a place of recovery, but of realization.

And so her next chapter begins. Embracing the shadow of her past one last time before letting it go, Lovato steps into the light with her spoken-word interlude “Intro” and revelatory track “The Art of Starting Over.” She starts to mold trauma into hope, her past pain branching into motifs of growth, independence and forgiveness. Across her record’s 19 tracks, she shows us that starting over can be truly, beautifully transformative.

“The Art of Starting Over” is effectively the antithesis of “Dancing With The Devil,” with Lovato centralizing her newfound strength and complete control of her life. While her lyricism is anything but subtle throughout the album (here, she chants “I let the darkness out” at the bridge), her natural joy is exhilarating. Unlike her previous works, her oozing confidence isn’t sensual or theatrical — for the first time, she sings to express true contentment and inner peace.

Throughout the album, Lovato remains refreshingly definitive about her invigorating independence. She reflects on her eating disorder with the unflinchingly upbeat “Melon Cake,” referring to the birthday cake alternative given to Lovato by her former management. “Carefully” prospers as an intimate portrayal of finding strength in vulnerability, and Lovato maturely lets go of an ill-fated relationship on “Easy,” a track uplifted by Noah Cyrus’ forlorn inflections and the bittersweet swell of strings.

Amidst these heavy topics, Lovato intersperses some fleetingly fun dance-pop for relief. In the beaming, bright “The Kind of Lover I Am,” Lovato embraces her pansexuality, and she later harmonizes gloriously with Ariana Grande on the sultry “Met Him Last Night,” which feels like a golden bonus collaboration straight off Thank U, Next. Later, the club-ready “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” takes after Grande’s “7 Rings” and features a lively rap feature from Saweetie. 

As the album approaches the end of its one-hour runtime, this chapter of Lovato’s journey comes to a satisfying close with “Good Place.” The well-executed album, regardless, isn’t without minor flaws: Her “Mad World” cover should have belonged solely to the album’s deluxe version, “Intro” was an unnecessary, self-evident preface and “15 Minutes,” along with the final warbly 40 seconds of “The Kind of Lover I Am,” would have fared better as interludes.

Although Lovato might have delineated her story just as clearly with fewer tracks, each song bares her heart and soul: Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over triumphs as a shaky exhale of relief. On this strikingly candid album, Demi Lovato finally knows her worth — and she wants the world to know it, too.

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].