Not quite two years ago, former Disney girl Demi Lovato rose from the ashes of a highly publicized personal meltdown with her comeback album Unbroken. Vulnerable, confessional and inspirational moments competed with Lovato offering just a bit more than her heart to suitors.
From all indications, Lovato's life since then hasn't been nearly as "dramatic." But it has been full. Her stint as a judge on The X Factor—sandwiched between Britney Spears and Simon Cowell—has elevated her superstar profile beyond her Disney fan base. And when she hasn't been giving fledgling singers feedback on their performances, Lovato's often been giving interviews in which she's talked candidly about her past struggles with body image, eating disorders and addiction.
So it would seem that Lovato has successfully traversed her "wild period" and settled into a slow, steady ascent, both personally and in terms of her pop culture visibility. Entertainment Weekly said of that trajectory, "Unlike other ex—Disney princesses, Demi Lovato knows that growing up means more than just being old enough to do Jell-O shots." But mature insight and candid personal reflections this time around seem fewer, as Lovato retreats instead into more generic teenybop pop that's all about the roller-coaster ride of young love (and, as it turns out, a fair bit of young sex, too).
Lovato boldly declares her intent to love a man as if she'd "Never Been Hurt." And "Warrior" finds her standing strong after a bruising breakup ("I'm a survivor/ … I'm not broken or bruised/Now I'm a warrior/Now I've got thicker skin/ … I'm stronger than I've ever been").
The Miley Cyrus sound-alike "Made in the USA" praises a suitor's chivalrous ways ("You run around opening doors like a gentleman/Tell me every day you're my everything"). Conversely, on "Without the Love," Demi questions why a guy is professing his love when she knows he doesn't care that much: "Why are you singing me love songs?/What good is a love song/A love song without the love?" Other lyrics imply a sexual relationship (not good), but suggest that Lovato is wondering why she's so intimate with a guy she doesn't really know.
"Shouldn't Come Back" hesitantly recognizes that reopening the door on an unhealthy relationship isn't a good idea. On "Nightingale," Lovato longs for someone to watch over her and protect her. "Two Pieces" tells the (mostly) sweet story of two broken people finding solace in their relationship. Demi also recognizes that fear of getting close to someone is holding her back on "Heart Attack."
But instead of resolving to overcome her fear on "Heart Attack," she suggests instead she'd "rather be numb" than risk more disappointment.
That, however, is a relatively minor concern compared to Lovato's references to sex on several other tracks. "Neon Lights" finds her relishing the "next step" in a relationship: "You'll be coming home with me tonight," she gushes. And even though she tells a guy who's more into her than she is into him, "This isn't love, boy, this isn't even close," she's still willing to use him sexually: "Stop trying to get inside my head/Don't wanna do more than hook up."
Two songs include lyrics that imply cohabiting and/or sleeping together: "In Case" and "Two Pieces." The latter boasts the lines, "Now I can lay my head down and fall asleep/Oh, but I don't have to fall asleep to see my dreams/'Cause right there in front of me/There's a boy."
"Fire Starter" brags, "I'm a bad a‑‑" and "I'm a fire starter, I'm a sweet disaster." Sensual excitement in that song is couched in terms of a drug high: "I'm so high, I'm burning up, kiss your lips, I'm waking up." On "Nightingale," Demi tells us she's "feeling like h‑‑‑."
I know it's naive and anachronistic of me to think that in our sexualized secular culture, pop singers should distinguish between romantic love and the physical embrace of it outside of marriage. After all, unless a couple is grounded pretty deeply in a Christian worldview that informs their shared conviction, what reason do they have not to express their affection physically? Love and sex are synonymous these days, right?
Yet it still makes me wince when someone like Demi Lovato starts singing about going home with guys and about her desire to casually hook up with someone she knows she's not interested in. I want to believe she's been through enough hard experiences to know better when it comes to the wisdom of such risky and immoral choices.
But she hasn't and she doesn't. At least not in her songs. So despite the step forward Lovato has made over the last few years, Demi represents two steps back.