Not so long ago, it wasn't clear that Disney actress and singer Demi Lovato was going to make the trip, celebrity-wise. Sudden fame and fortune as a teen had conspired with Lovato's inner demons and a broken romance to land her in rehab for addictions, self-harm and an eating disorder.
In 2011, however, Lovato came roaring back with her triumphant rebuttal, Unbroken. Then, 2012 saw her sitting at the judges' table for Fox's singing competition The X Factor. Now, "Heart Attack" is the first salvo from her fourth album, Demi, and the 20-year-old from Albuquerque is starting to look like a genuine contender for sustained—and hopefully healthy—superstardom.
The song throbs with the infectious lilt of Lovato's proven pop vocal chops slathered over an up-to-the-minute EDM sonic foundation. Its lyrics center around a young woman who longs for love but is scared of giving in to it. Actually falling for someone leaves her feeling dangerously vulnerable. And when that happens, her first instinct—and, it turns out, her last one too—is to protect herself.
"Puttin' my defenses up," the song begins, "'Cause I don't wanna fall in love/If I ever did that/I think I'd have a heart attack."
From there, Lovato contrasts two different kinds of relationships: one in which she's toying with boys who are more interested in her than she is in them, and one in which she feels she's falling head over heels faster than she knows how to summersault.
As for the first group of guys, she brags, "When I don't care/I can play 'em like a Ken doll/Won't wash my hair/Then make 'em bounce like a basketball."
With the new (true) love interest, however, it's an entirely different scenario: "But you make me wanna act like a girl/Paint my nails and wear high heels/Yes, you make me so nervous that I just can't hold your hand." A bit later, she adds, "Never break a sweat for the other guys/When you come around, I get paralyzed."
The song had me thinking that it was going to resolve with Lovato admitting that the promise of real love makes taking that risk worthwhile in the end. But she never gets there. Instead, she settles for the equation of love equals hurt plus pain.
"It's just not fair/Pain's more trouble than love is worth/I gasp for air/It feels so good, but you know it hurts." Fear, then, seems to get the final word as Lovato sings, "The feelings are lost in my lungs/They're burning, I'd rather be numb/ … So scared I'll take off in a run/I'm flying too close to the sun/And I burst into flames."
She repeats five more times at the end of the song, "Puttin' my defenses up/'Cause I don't wanna fall in love/If I ever did that/I think I'd have a heart attack."
In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Lovato said of the song's subject matter, "I think everybody's been in a situation where they've been hurt several times." Translation: It's natural to feel fear when you're on the verge of risking your heart after having it broken in the past.
No argument with that logic. As for the song's logic, however, what we're left with is the suggestion that as much as we might long for love, it's just not worth the risk. There are hints here that Demi knows full well that "puttin' my defenses up" isn't the best thing in the world for her to do. But hints aren't horses, and you can't hook your musical wagon to them, hoping they'll pull the weight.
I've heard worse messages in pop songs. Lots of them, actually. But I've heard better as well. Lovato surrenders to anxiety on "Heart Attack" in a way that leaves me longing for more from this song … and from a singer we know has done more than her fair share of overcoming fear to get where she is today.