By Julia Lynn Rubin
Photos by Ellen von Unwerth
Produced by Erica Cornwall
Styling by Dianne Garcia
Makeup by Etienne Ortega
Hair by Cesar Ramirez
Nails by Natalie Minerva
Demi Lovato is about to enter a new musical era, and from the sounds of it, it’s going to be dynamite.
Over the first couple of months of 2022, the 29-year-old artist has been in and out of the studio creating songs and, in turn, teasing them to their fans over social media. The clips contain crashing guitars, soaring vocals and cutting lyrics such as: “I’m alive by the skin of my teeth / I survived but it got harder to breathe…,” all of which have helped the excitement within their devoted community of self-named “Lovatics” rise to a boiling point.
“It’s definitely not R&B or soulful,” Lovato says of the future album’s direction. “I would say it’s more rock than anything.” The tone reflects some of Lovato’s current musical tastes. “I really like Royal & the Serpent. There’s [also] a band called Turnstile that I’m really into.”
Just a week after our interview, the Grammy-nominated singer teased a snippet of a high-energy rock song called “Choke on It,” featuring none other than Royal & the Serpent (aka Ryan Santiago). And in February, Demi shared a photo of themselves hanging out with their favorite band Turnstile, a Baltimore hard-rock group that is currently embarking on a tour for their newest album. Perhaps this is a hint that another collaboration is in the works.
This year definitely marks yet another musical turning point in the career of the hyper-talented vocalist who has released seven studio albums, four of which have over 1 billion streams on Spotify, and counting.
Lovato grew up in Colleyville, Texas, singing, dancing, and playing piano and guitar. In 2008, the then-16-year-old starred in their breakthrough role singing and dancing in Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock.” They released their debut single, the catchy guitar-driven banger “Get Back,” which was quickly met with high praise from both fans and critics alike. It was also the lead single off of their first album, “Don’t Forget,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified RIAA Gold. Lovato’s sophomore album, “Here We Go Again,” was released the following year and expertly mixed pop, jazz and soul with their original rock influences, including some clear sonic nods to Paramore (“Here We Go Again” and “Remember December”), and even a stunning collaboration with John Mayer (“World of Chances”). The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 108,000 copies during its first week of release, making them only the eighth solo artist to chart on the Billboard 200 while under the age of 18.
This was well before the existence of popular streaming services like Spotify, which are essential nowadays in helping music fans find new artists. Before streaming became the norm, it was harder for fans to discover emerging artists, let alone for young, brand new artists to debut with numbers this impressive.
Over the next decade, Lovato strayed further from pop-rock and experimented with a multitude of musical sounds and styles. This diverse strategy paid off well, as their star continued to rise. Lovato’s third album, “Unbroken,” gave us the incredible ballad “Skyscraper” and the made-for-radio smash “Give Your Heart a Break.” Their self-titled 2013 release contained some of the colorful pop-rock heard on earlier releases like the fan favorite “Heart Attack” (which peaked in the Top 10 and has over 1 billion streams on Spotify), yet they also played with country (“Made in the USA”), raw piano ballads (“In Case”) and synth-heavy electro-pop (“Neon Lights”). Then in 2015, Lovato released their smash hit “Confident,” which earned them their first Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album.
Lovato’s past two albums have included 2021’s “Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over,” a decadent and sprawling California pop epic, and 2017’s flinty, sexy, R&B-infused “Tell Me You Love Me,” perhaps best known for “Sorry Not Sorry,” its gospel-pop hit. Yet through all of the different sounds they’ve played with over the years, their roots have always been in rock, so a return to that sound feels fitting.
Lovatics—the moniker given to their most ardent fans—lovingly refer to their early albums as the original “Rockvato” era. During concerts and live performances Lovato was frequently seen banging out self-written songs on the guitar and piano, and while they kept up with both instruments and still included them in many future shows, over time Lovato began to favor back-up dancers and elaborate performance sets. In essence, they went full pop star.
In February, Demi posted a group photo to Instagram of themselves with their manager Scooter Braun and members of their team at Islands Records, flipping the bird to the camera along with the cheeky caption: “A funeral for my pop music.”
The photo was only meant to be a joke, they assured us, as they and their team members all happened to be wearing black that day (Demi, a known jokester, also once held a hilarious “funeral” for the discontinued Taco Bell Mexican pizza). Yet the post quickly sparked conversation online among fans eager for a new musical era, or perhaps a return to “Rockvato,” and after two years of a global pandemic, they are extremely eager to see Demi return to the stage.
“I’ve only made a few songs so it’s still very new,” Lovato says of the upcoming album. “My writing style hasn’t really changed much. It’s just going into the studio, thinking about a concept that I’m passionate about and wanting to write a song about it.”
Including the aforementioned track “Choke on It,” the snippets of in-progress songs that have been released feature more live guitars, impressive vocals and striking lyrics like: “It was a teenage dream, just a fantasy” and “Get your tickets to the freak show, baby, step right up to watch the freak go crazy.”
Over the years, Demi has also experimented with a wide array of sounds through their extensive work with other artists, from electro-pop (“No Promises” with Cheat Codes and “Solo” with Clean Bandit) to pop-punk (“Irresistible” with Fall Out Boy and a remake of All Time Low’s “Monsters” featuring Blackbear) and even Latin dance (“Échame la Culpa” with Luis Fonsi). Demi has certainly more than proven they can sing anything and sing it damn well, but it seems they really light up and come alive while performing raw, instrument-driven songs, especially in front of a live audience.
As with most major artists, there have also been a large number of unreleased, shelved tracks that have surfaced online over the years. Avid fans collect and share these so-called “leaks” in special online communities, sparking excitement over artists’ past and future projects as well as speculation as to what the artists might be doing next. Some singers, like JoJo—with whom Lovato did a gorgeous duet for the remix of her song “Lonely Hearts”—have even made them the forefront of their tours.
“There’s always gonna be songs that don’t make the album and you wish that they did,” Lovato says when asked about future plans to resurrect other shelved songs. “[But] if they didn’t make the album, it’s for a reason.”
It just goes to show that Lovato is consistently working hard to create new, original material, always one-upping themselves with each respective project, proving why the singer has previously referred to themselves as a “perfectionist.” They are, at heart, a massive music lover, and a big fan of evocative, personal lyrics.
“My first tattoo was of lyrics to a song,” Lovato explains. “I have one of my great-grandmother on my arm, [a] lion on my hand and lyrics to another song on my other hand that say: ‘Love will live forever in the infinite universe.’ It’s from a song called ‘Infinite Universe’ by a band called Beautiful Chorus.”
When it comes to tattoos, Lovato is something of a connoisseur. They have over 22 known tattoos and counting, the latest being their most eye-catching: a large black spider on the side of their freshly-shaved head.
“It was Grandmother Spider who taught us many things,” Lovato wrote in a post about the new ink. “She taught us about pottery and weaving. She taught us about fire and light and dark. She taught us that we are all connected on the web—each one of us having our place in the world.”
The art was done by Los Angeles-based celebrity tattoo artist Dr. Woo, someone who evokes the singer’s endless praise. “He’s really great,” Lovato says. “He works out of his studio, so I just go to him [directly].”
While attending the 2011 Warped Tour, Lovato got a pink kiss mark inked on their wrist, a friendship tattoo they later covered up in 2015 with an intricate rose design. As for whether or not they plan for any future cover-ups, Lovato is adamant: “If I wanted to cover my tattoos up, they would’ve been covered up by now.”
Other notable tattoos include a feather behind their ear, a butterfly on their neck, the phrase “Stay Strong” on their wrists, lyrics from their song “Warrior” on their shoulder blade, and the words “Let Go & Let God” on their feet. “[The tattoo process] is not a spiritual experience to me,” they say, “but it’s important to me to get pieces of art on my body that represent who I am.”
When it comes to tattoo regrets, Lovato has none. “I’m proud of all of my tattoos,” they say. “I really love the lion on my hand and the birds on my arms.” This stance on keeping all of their tattoos “as is” seems reflective of their current positive, forward-focused mindset.
“My goal is to stay in the present moment,” Lovato tells us. “I don’t like to think that far ahead.” Staying in the moment includes enjoying some well-deserved downtime, spending time with friends and family, and taking their dogs, Cinderella and Batman, on walks. “I’ve gotten outside quite a bit lately.”
The near future, however, definitely includes more incredible music, and that appears to be their current focus.
“I haven’t performed any of my new music, which is what I’m looking forward to most,” Lovato says, and while they may not sing every one of their old hits in future concerts, they do “still love performing ‘Cool for the Summer.’”
The sapphic smash hit was released in 2015 and featured tantalizing lyrics like: “Got my mind on your body and your body on my mind / Got a taste for the cherry, I just need to take a bite.” This was years before Lovato publicly came out as pansexual, but the hit meant quite a lot to young queer fans. In the spring of 2021, Lovato announced that they identify as non-binary and now use the pronouns “they/them.”
“My gender identity has nothing to do with my music or the direction that it takes,” Lovato clarifies, “but I am proud to be non-binary and I talk a little about acceptance from others in the lyrics of my new songs.”
Fans are most definitely clamoring for those new songs, which may be released sometime later this year.
“In terms of my dream vision, I am just excited to be performing again and releasing music,” Lovato says. “I hope my fans can find inspiration in my new songs coming out and something to relate to in these times of uncertainty.”
We can’t wait to hear it.