Courtesy of Island Records

April 14, 2021

The Story of Starting Over

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Demi Lovato has never been out of the limelight, even though before last week, she had not released an album since 2017. Her latest album, Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over, is her seventh studio album. It documents her battles with love, body image, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and depression in an uplifting way, showcasing her willpower. 

Demi has never been silent about her struggles, releasing several documentaries and books about them over the years. We’ve seen songs covering these topics as well, especially in her albums Confident and Demi, respectively, which contain some truly heartbreaking ballads. However, we have never gotten an entire album dedicated to her journey of healing. Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over truly takes the listener on this journey, from being in the midst of her dark moments, to finally being in a good place. The album is raw, honest and extremely emotional.  

The first song on the album, “Anyone,” was initially released last year, when she performed it at the Grammys, yet this is its first appearance on an album. This is the album’s only single, and essentially conveys Demi’s feelings on loneliness and how they led her to turn to substance abuse. She cries for someone to hear her and help her but, as she repeats throughout the song, “nobody’s listening.” Her strong vocals make the song extremely powerful and moving, resonating with anyone who has ever felt alone. The song sets up the journey that the rest of the album goes through, where she learns to find strength and companionship in herself. 

The album gets extremely personal, with the third song of the album, “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye),” a heartfelt letter dedicated to her younger sister. Demi sings about wanting to be a role model for Madison, someone she can rely on. She talks about how Madison inspired her to get better. She hammers in the emotion by ending the song with her and her sister saying “I love you” to each other. 

Surprisingly, the song titled “Intro” is the fourth song on the album. It is more of an interlude than a song, as Demi explains the album in less than thirty seconds, drawing the connection between the album’s two very distinct titles which are also both titles of songs on the album. The fact that she is speaking and not singing draws you in, and really gets to the heart of her  healing journey. “Intro” also functions as a good introduction to the next song on the album. 

Opening up about her struggles with eating disorders and body image, “The Way You Don’t Look at Me” is another extremely intimate song. She sees the way her lover looks at her has changed, and it only makes her feel worse. She sings, “I’m so scared that if I undress you won’t love me after,” directly echoing sentiments about the pressures of appearance and love. Demi has struggled with body image issues ever since her Disney Channel days, and this song puts her previous songs about confidence into perspective. Her message is that confidence is not permanent, it fluctuates daily and is influenced by many factors, including your lover. 

The second half of the album is more upbeat and Demi collaborates with several famous artists, including Ariana Grande, Saweetie and Noah Cyrus. 

Her feature with Ariana Grande, “Met Him Last Night,” is a typical pop song with an R&B twist written by Grande, talking of falling in love with a man they describe as “the devil” and how they know “it ain’t right” but they fall in love anyways. It is a duet never heard before but much awaited, and it does not disappoint. Their voices blend perfectly together and the song is a perfect one to dance to. It is the best song on the album. 

Demi’s collaboration with Noah Cyrus in the song “Easy,” is about how hard it is to leave a loved one. There is a reluctance but a necessity to leave, and to make it look “easy” both for her and for the lover. This song is a contrast to the typical themes she sings about, which focus on being left rather than leaving. You see a shift in her mindset: she is taking control, taking back her power. 

There is one song in the album that is not Demi’s. She covers the song “Mad World” by Gary Jules (itself a cover of the original by Tears For Fears), believing it was essential to the album because of how much she loves it. It fits in with the tone of the album, of feeling alone in the world. Demi’s deep and strong voice makes it a perfect rendition of the original song. Listening to it, you can hear how the lyrics relate to her personal struggles. 

She concludes with the song “Good Place,” where she recognizes her struggles both in her dark times and healing journey. It is an upbeat and inspiring ending to the ups and downs of the album. She is in a good place now, and is able to continue her journey in better places. 

Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over is definitely worth listening to, even if you’re not a Demi Lovato fan. The album showcases extreme pain and courage that everyone can relate to on some level. It’s more than just an album, it’s a story. When you listen to it, it’s not just music — it’s her heart and soul. 

Keshonna Jackson is a Freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at kej49@cornell.edu.