“My talent was the only thing I had control over,” Demi Lovato tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in an At Home With interview. The Disney star-turned-global pop phenomenon recalls the turning point where innocence fled. Lovato—who grew up on set around child actor peers beginning as early as age seven for Barney and Friends—left public school when she was 12 to escape bullying for the safety of homeschooling. In isolation, she developed an eating disorder which she describes as a “slippery slope.”
“At that point in my life, I felt like I had nothing to lose,” she continues. “I was already in such a dark place at 12 years old that I needed something to live for at that point. And music is honestly the only thing that kept me alive because it kept me dreaming of the future.”
She goes on to describe the famed career that followed as a “catch-22″—it both exacerbated the existing issues and kept her motivated as something to work for. Lack of privacy became a significant implication for the artist who was among a class of celebrities who pioneered the social media realm of global access. The inception of the camera phone changed everything. She explains, “If I was a Disney kid at a party, I could not be seen with a red cup, no matter what was in it. If I had Coca-Cola or a Jack and Coke, I couldn’t be seen with that Coca-Cola because nobody knew what was in the contents of the red cup and [what] the red cup kind of symbolized. All times everywhere you go. Never be seen slipping up.”
As detailed in her new documentary series, the limelight was a dangerous place for a perfectionist like her, bound to oppressive external judgment by her mental health issues like depression. Further, into her teens, Lovato’s eating disorder worsened. Her branding felt inauthentic as others made her decisions, and she realized, “I wasn’t living my life for myself.” She explains, “I started making choices for myself that in the beginning was very destructive.”
Her partying evolved into a long-fought battle with substance abuse, which inspired her new album, Dancing With The Devil…The Art of Starting Over. “I pushed the limits for so long, and I really did dance with the devil. And fortunately, I made it out on the other side,” she tells Lowe. The process began in 2018, following Lovato’s nearly lethal overdose, a catastrophic relapse after six years of sobriety.
Her new album serves as an “unofficial soundtrack” to the accompanying documentary. She feels creating a duel project was “healing and cathartic” as she delivered her story as a guidebook for those struggling with any strain of her past vices.
“It tells my story in a more intimate and poetic way than my documentary does,” Lovato shares with Lowe. “My documentary is very factual. And this is where I really get to shine in sharing my story so that people already know what I’m talking about. They’re not left like, “Oh, what does this line mean?” It’s like, well, I talk about it in my documentary. Here’s my skeletons in my closet. You know exactly what these songs are about, but now you get to see my poetic spin on it.”
The opening track, “Anyone,” was penned just four days before her overdose is an eerie premonition, an earth-shattering cry for help. The titular song, “Dancing With the Devil,” is her best lyrical attempt to convey the push-and-pull of addiction. Almost made it to Heaven /It was closer than you know / Playing with the enemy / gambling with my soul/ It’s so hard to say no, she sings with clear-minded levity.
“California Sober” brings it up to speed, highlighting the balance she’s found that saved her. As someone who admittedly did not want to be sober—despite her brush with death—Lovato sought a haven from self-destruction without the fear of letting herself down. The song title is a term she heard from friends that she coined to describe the middle path and balance required to move forward, “because my perfectionism gets me into trouble so much so that I will lose my life over it.”
She continues, “Whether it’s from an eating disorder or whether it’s trying to remain perfect. And that’s what I did when I first relapsed when I first decided not to be sober anymore. After six years, I said, who cares? And that’s why I ended up where I did. So having compassion for myself, understanding that it’s a journey, that I don’t have to count my time to feel secure in the growth and the progress I’ve made. That’s important to me.”