Singer and actress Demi Lovato is barely 19. But she's managed to compress a lifetime of up-and-down experiences into those few tender years. She's starred in two Disney movies (Camp Rock, Princess Protection Program) and a TV series (Sonny With a Chance), and she's had a No. 1 album (2009's Here We Go Again). Her heart's been broken by Joe Jonas. And her subsequent well-publicized meltdown landed her in rehab for bulimia, cutting and depression.
In other words, she's lived, loved and lost as much as some of us do in two or three times as many years. And now she's back to tell all about it, with a new outlook and a new album, Unbroken.
Demi talked about hitting bottom and how it's changed her perspective recently in "An Open Letter to My Fans," a video posted on YouTube: "Last year, everything stopped. And for the next three months, I woke up in a treatment center every day, away from my family and friends. I spent a lot of time and holidays thinking there. I thought about the sadness that I felt, the pain that I was in and the addictions that I was struggling from. When I got out, I recorded some songs about how bad things got. And eventually, you know, something positive came out of it. Then I began to work on some other songs, too. And they were about the most important lesson that I had learned during that three months: that life is what you make of it. My life began to change again, and I became happier, healthier and stronger. … I love the life that I have. And that's what this record is about. It's about making people feel positive. It's about enjoying life and what it's like to be me, Demi Lovato."
Two tracks are so intimately vulnerable you're tempted to look away for privacy's sake. But you shouldn't, because both take us to a place of hope and inspiration. On "Skyscraper," Demi vows to carry on despite being emotional devastated by romantic betrayal. "Go on and try to tear me down," she sings. "I will be rising from the ground/Like a skyscraper." And on "For the Love of a Daughter," powerful, painful and poignant lyrics ponder the damage done by a physically (and perhaps sexually) abusive (and alcoholic) father. "Your selfish hands always expecting more," she sings confrontationally. But then, despite Dad's terrible failures, this daughter says that she longs for something better for him: "Oh, father/Please, father/I'd love to leave you alone/But I can't let you go/ … Please, father/Put the bottle down/For the love of a daughter."
Several upbeat tunes delight in the joy of blossoming romance ("You're My Only Shorty," "Give Your Heart a Break," "My Love Is Like a Star"). And on the last two, Demi strives to convince wary guys to trust that the love they're feeling is real. She also demonstrates healthy self-respect on "Mistake" when she leaves a no-good guy: "I ain't that dumb to stick around, stick around/I ain't got the time for looking back."
Then, on the title track, Demi vows to take a chance on love again even though she's been hurt before: "I'm gonna love you like I've never been broken/I'm gonna say it like it's never been spoken." "Together" advocates unity, love and acceptance with, "Can you imagine it all/If we could all get along?/Then we all could sing this song/Together." That track's guest contributor, Jason Derulo, suggests we should realize that true beauty is more than just skin deep.
Several lines on "Unbroken" could refer to Demi offering up to a guy either her heart or her body: "Tonight, tonight/I'm letting go, go, go, go/I'm gonna give it like it's never been taken." Then she adds, "Gonna give you every little piece of me." A tad suggestive, "Hold Up" imagines a new love as a heist-and-hostage situation: "If the weapon is your love, I got my hands up/ … Now you're wanted, better keep me as your hostage, tie me up."
"All Night Long" also hints at an intimate encounter ("Come home with me/We'll stay up all night long/I want you in, I want you bad/Let's keep the party going all night long"). Guest Missy Elliot pushes things further: "Want to spend the night/ … You're talking how I like/You play daddy, I'll play wife." In similar territory, "Who's That Boy" quickly moves from making lusty dancehall eyes to racier fantasies ("I could see us making waves/From the back of the club/To a bed in the shade"). Demi says this guy's "body needs a spotlight" and repeats the line, "D‑‑n, he's everything."
In the wake of a breakup, sad sentiments on "Fix a Heart" sound pessimistic to the point of hopelessness ("'Cause you can't bandage the damage/You never really can fix a heart").
Demi Lovato confesses (on "You're My Only Shorty"), "Love makes me crazy, restless, dumb and paranoid." Such "impairment," however, doesn't stop her from plunging into love enthusiastically once more, despite the risk involved: "But I'll take a chance on us and/Hope you don't destroy my heart."
This young woman seems to know a little something about having her heart destroyed. The cumulative damage is more than evident on the album's rawest (emotionally) tracks. But those experiences aren't keeping Demi from trying again. And in that respect, I know what she's talking about when she says this album expresses a "positive" message. It's a good thing, I think, to keep our hearts open to the possibility of real and lasting love, even if we've been burned to the ground before.
And it's better than good when you apply the hopefulness of a song like "Skyscraper" to more than just love affairs—as Lovato has said she means it to be taken—to the pain and dissolution of abuse, desperation and addiction.
What's not so positive is Demi's tendency to conflate love with lust. More than once on Unbroken, it seems as if she's as interested in getting to the bedroom as she is making sure that the romance lasts.