I love Demi Lovato. When someone insults her in front of me, I become irrationally, somewhat comically, angry and must physically restrain myself from yelling, “She’s been through so much!” It’s amazing how many objections people raise about Demi (I like to think that she and I are on a first name basis). Are her pop songs and funky hair colors really that offensive? Okay, she does advertise for Sketchers, but we all have our shortcomings and I think we can gather the strength to move past this one. These defensive feelings are not out of the ordinary, as those who talk shit about others easily peeve me, but they apply especially to Demi (she’s been through so much!).
Let’s just take a moment to remember that Demi is only twenty-two years old. For most people of that age, graduating college without being arrested for underage drinking or drunk and disorderly conduct is a feat worthy of praise. In her twenty-two years, Demi has starred in her own Disney show, toured with the Jonas Brothers in their hormone-fueled-teenage peak, beaten her mental illness and substance abuse all while releasing four successful albums. If you do not find this impressive, consider lowering your standards.
Her battle with eating disorders, mental health and substance abuse is no secret, helping fans relate and cope with their own challenges. Her open-book approach to sharing her personal life is a stark contrast to the heavily stigmatized discourse on mental illness in the United States. More often than not, those with depression or other mental illnesses are cast as people who are too lazy to “just be happy;” those with eating disorders, especially young women, are reduced to vapid and self-obsessed individuals, and those who struggle with drug and alcohol use are deemed too weak to control their urges. Demi has challenged all of these misconceptions recently by teaming up with the Be Vocal, Speak Up campaign. Facing her demons in such a public manner brought to light the challenges that many American youth face but keep in the dark to avoid being socially branded. Demi educated the public about these issues without once romanticizing her condition, which the mass media is often guilty of – she kept it real.
Aside from her social crusades, Demi is a kick-ass musician. Her vocals are incredible, her talent is undeniable. Like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, she has risen beautifully from her Disney ashes and truly come into her own. Crafting her own frequency of pop, her music is flawlessly catchy and often hints back to the trials of her past. Covering the pop bases, Demi sings of relationships and nights out with friends, but somehow does so in a way slightly more sincerely than her musical counterparts. Are they still kind of cheesy? Yes. Is “Neon Lights” the most brilliant song ever written? Not at all. But that doesn’t mean her music has no value. Demi is a pop artist, which means she creates likeable tunes to sing along to in the car or trudge along to on the elliptical.
While masked in a bubbly façade, much of Demi’s work still carries important weight. The 2011 ballad “Skyscraper,” off of Unbroken, documents Demi’s struggle and the will it took for her to get back on her feet. Admittedly, comparing oneself to a piece of urban infrastructure might not be the most eloquent way to express ones’ personal journey, but we get what she’s trying to say. Skyscrapers can be rebuilt: they’re sturdy and immovable. And with Demi’s all-out, powerful vocal delivery of lines such as “Go on and try to knock me down / I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper,” you can’t help but find yourself relating to her. You may even be thinking of yourself as some unyielding piece of urban planning — a durable bridge, perhaps. You can’t possibly root against Demi once you experience a track like this.
Present-day Demi has gone nowhere but up since the release of “Skyscraper.” Her single, “Cool for the Summer,” is one of her strongest yet. Setting the scene of a steamy summer fling, the lyrics hint at a curious, possibly bisexual, relationship. The gender of her interlocutor is ambiguous; there is no inclination towards either gender. Provocative, playful and cheekily sexual, many have compared the track to Katy Perry’s iconic “I Kissed a Girl.” Their similarities are most obvious when Demi sings, “Got a taste for the cherry / I just need to take a bite,” channeling Perry’s famous cherry chapstick. Demi’s vocals are lighter and more dynamic than her usual power-ballad-type delivery, playing with the lyrics in a mischievous tone.
“Cool for the Summer” is an important evolutionary stepping stone in Demi’s career. In the past, she has used her music to educate the public on the seriousness of teenage mental illness and substance use. She refrained, and still does, from glorifying drug and alcohol use in her music. Now, she is moving into a new arena for social change – challenging traditional sexuality. The unapologetic nature of “Cool for the Summer” lets listeners know that curiosity is OK, that it doesn’t have to be a one time thing. By going against the naturalization of heterosexuality, Demi is once again providing an example to individuals that may be hiding their true feelings in fear of negative social repercussions. Not to mention, the track is addicting as hell. I’m not entirely sure what being “cool for the summer” means, but Demi makes me want to be just that.
Demi Lovato is a goddess. She uses her fun, widely accepted art as a powerful vehicle for change – provoking critical thought about the culture in which she is so well known. Turning the expected canon of a pop diva on its head, Demi combats the negative influences of popular society by bending its materials to fit her own mold.