the inside track

Demi Lovato’s Rock Side Has Always Been There

Photo: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

In 2008, Demi Lovato released “La La Land,” the opening track off her debut album, Don’t Forget. The song was punk but poppy, rhymed “models” with “McDonald’s,” and featured the kind of belted chorus Lovatics still shout at each other 14 years later. At the time, “La La Land” felt edgy and rebellious, especially coming from a Disney star. It also teased what was to come. In the years since, Lovato has developed a reputation for buzzy top-ten hits (“Sorry Not Sorry,” “Heart Attack”) as well as personal ballads such as “Skyscraper” and “Sober.” But the artist’s rock bona fides never truly disappeared, and she spent the ensuing years fusing it into her ever-evolving discography from Camp Rock’s “This Is Me” and 2009’s “Here We Go Again” to 2013’s “Neon Lights” and 2015’s live performance of “Stone Cold.” (She even turned in a rousing cover of Paramore’s “Misery Business.”) Those songs make Lovato’s new album feel like an awakening. HOLY FVCK is filled with the kind of hellish-sounding anthems — “CITY OF ANGELS,” a nod to being bored and living in Los Angeles; “29,” a smack at her relationship with Wilmer Valderrama; and “WASTED,” about the importance of being high off yourself — that always seemed to be bubbling under the surface. These songs are loud, emotional, and blunt, the climax of “Rockvato” with Lovato at her screamiest and best.

But it’s “COME TOGETHER” that serves as HOLY FVCK’s true culmination. Here, Lovato’s career is laid bare, existing as a road map to her past, present, and future. On the vulnerable, booming chorus, Lovato sings, “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 when we come together.” The rhythm is fast building, and her vocals erupt like fireworks, recalling the sonics of her wiry 2009 track “Remember December.” Meanwhile, the second verse is slow and teasing — “We dance in darkness / Your hands send shivers down my spine” — resembling the poetic fragments of 2009’s “Catch Me” (“See this heart won’t settle down / Like a child running, scared from a clown / I’m terrified of what you do / My stomach screams just when I look at you.”) On the bridge, Lovato seems to be answering the questionWhy are you a fan of Demi Lovato?” by dropping that hyperspecific high note she always manages to hit in songs like 2015’s “Cool for the Summer” when she roars, “Take me down into your paradise” and on 2011’s “Give Your Heart a Break” when she powers through the second pre-chorus: “The world is ours, if you want it / We can take it, if you just take my hand / There’s no turning back now / Baby, try to understand.”

By freeing herself from constraints — and singing honestly about her own love, pain, mistakes, and heartbreak — Lovato’s career has always felt a bit punkish compared with those of her fellow pop stars. It’s what’s made her musical trek so stimulating. And with “COME TOGETHER,” she magically cues all those rock snippets from the past decade-plus. As she recently told the L.A. Times, “When I worked on Disney Channel, I knew I could go this hard.”

Demi Lovato’s Rock Side Has Always Been There