Client: FIASCO (2013).
Words: Taylor Glasby
Photography: Elliott Morgan
Stylist: Nicole Freeman
That Demi Lovato is only 20 years old makes what’s she’s crammed into her life fairly remarkable, for reasons good and not-so-good. Most will be aware of her via the tabloids for which she makes heavenly copy; in the UK she is more notable for her stints in rehab and Joe Jonas though in America her acting/music/X Factor judging career has made her a household name.
Her new studio album might be the one to swing the balance, a feat of endurance for UK Lovatics given this will be her fourth; its first single ‘Heart Attack’ is being touted as her breakthrough song. The day of the shoot, however, Demi is less about singing and more focused on hobbling about. Her busted fibula and a bespoke cast makes taking photographs quite the truncated experience. She’s tired, quiet and, frankly, not thrilled to be sat in a studio on a cold London day. There’s tension in the air and no one’s quite sure how to make it dissipate.
Anyone worried this would be the Demi that came through the lens is given a masterclass in turning on the old razzle dazzle. The change is instantaneous and fascinating. Perhaps it’s unfair to put such admissions in writing alongside images that create an opposing scenario, after all Lovato is a professional. She takes her work seriously. But in a black or white celebrity landscape of total car-crashes or the grindingly pious it creates curious shades of grey.
Lovato specialises in these grey areas having spent the past couple of years publicly living and talking about life between highs and rather brutal lows. Exposure to raw emotion, she says after the cameras have been packed away, is vital to her song-writing. It’s not just a studio thing, it’s a day to day experience.
“What I don’t feel necessary is talking about my private life, it’s not going to help anybody! The way I see it, I already share so much with the public eye that I don’t owe them everything.”
“I still stay pretty vulnerable with everything that I do, but there’s no point in writing music if you’re not going to open up with the audience,” Lovato says, fiddling with the chunky leg cast that’s been her unwanted accessory of late. “If you turn on the radio and hear a song that you can’t relate to it feels weird so I just want to make music that people relate to. I feel ‘Heart Attack’ is a pretty good example because everyone is so afraid of falling in love.”
That’s a pretty sweeping statement, and Lovato considers her reasoning. “It’s different times,” she replies. “Maybe 50 or 60 years ago divorce was unheard of and, like, everyone was forced to be together. But now people are so careless with love, I feel like a lot of people get married and if they become unhappy they just divorce them. There’s tons of stories where people have fallen in love at a young age and they’re still in love and still married, it’s not impossible,” she concedes. “But I do know that people need to take it seriously.”
Words like that generally come from first-hand experience, so does it make Lovato in for the long haul, even through tough times? “I am,” she insists. “I used to not be, I used to be the girl that got bored in two weeks but now there’s no fun in dating if you’re not looking for someone to be with for a long time.”
It just so happens that when she was probably that “bored” girl she went through some very public relationships, the most obvious being Joe Jonas, which sent her onto the radar of every celeb news portal in America, if not the world. Their past relationship/latest interaction continues to be flagged up by gossip sites and it’s made Demi decisive on one thing.
“I would not want to go through that (public relationship) again,” Lovato says frankly. It’s also made her see contemporaries in a different light. “There are certain people in the industry who love the attention so they go out to places that are very popular… it’s so cheesy. It’s so obvious. There’s situations where I’ve dated somebody and never got photographed with them, I stayed in areas where I knew there wasn’t going to be paparazzi ‘cos I don’t like that attention. If there’s a red carpet I know I’m doing my job but when it comes to my personal life I don’t like that stuff.”
“It’s more important people learn to love and accept themselves for who they are and I would hope that I had something to do with that.”
That she’s been burned by the amount of space given to the intricacies of her personal life around men has given her some regrets. “Once the media’s in…” she sighs. “And you talk about your boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever… I was open about dating someone but it made the break up that much worse. It would have been better if I had conducted it in private then I could have dealt with my heartbreak in silence. Not in silence, but not in magazines. I want my music to be heard and to perform, but when I come off stage I want to be off stage.”
This creates a rather obvious disparity since Lovato has made a number of revelations that most people would rather keep, well, personal. Recently she exposed the discovery of a half-sister she’s never known, she confessed her bipolar disorder, her self-harm… and not always quietly either. Announcing a battle with bulimia to one of America’s most high profile journalists is the antithesis of maintaining a level of privacy. Lovato, thus, has a personal life and a personal personal life.
Lovato has her reasons for it. “I only talk about things that I feel will help other people. So if it’s about bullying or eating disorders or any form of addiction then I will talk about my issues ‘cos I know someone out there will hear it and be like, ‘oh, she’s been though that, I can get through that too’. What I don’t feel necessary is talking about my private life, it’s not going to help anybody! The way I see it, I already share so much with the public eye that I don’t owe them everything. I found a really good balance between that.”
In keeping with her desire to desire to evoke change in people can she see that happening with one of the most complicated issues facing young women… their bodies? Lovato is just one of many female celebrities making noise about the perception of figure but is it working?
“I would hope so,” she says tentatively. “It’s difficult when we live in a world, America especially, where every commercial on TV is about weight loss, it’s so messed up over there. It’s more important people learn to love and accept themselves for who they are and I would hope that I had something to do with that. I think there’s been a shift. Our culture is learning how to appreciate a woman’s figure naturally. It’s about letting people be who they are.”
Lovato, who has earned her fans’ undying love through being so willing to wear her heart on her sleeve, has one final curveball to throw; when it comes to talking about her most public offering, her music, she clams up. Her most repeated phrase is “you’ll just have to listen to it”. Even revealing the direction she’s taken makes her tight-lipped.
“I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in ‘who do you want this album to sound like’ or ‘this album sounds like blah blah blah’,” she hedges. “I’m going make songs and if I like them I’m gonna record them. It’s not bubblegum pop but it’s mainstream pop music and it has different elements in it but I don’t like comparing it to other artists or genres, I’ll let everyone else be the judge of that.”
She positively squirms when pushed to elaborate on her craft. “I’m a perfectionist,” she shrugs. “When I’m in the studio, I’m the one that’s like, ‘can I take it again, can I take it again?’ I always like to challenge myself, it’s not fun if you’re not challenging yourself. But I’ve done a lot of surrendering over the past few years – going through treatment, even on X Factor and learning I’m not always right – and I’ve had to do a lot of trusting especially with the people I work with. So when my producer says he’s got it, then I let it go.”
It takes a fair amount of coaxing to get her to reveal a favourite new track. “I love a song called ‘Nightingale’”, she says reluctantly. “I’m really proud of the emotion I put into it and I showcase my vocals a lot on that song, I’m really excited for people to hear it.” And on that Lovato – studded leg cast, complex layers of psyche, big voice, raw confessions and all – limps for the exit leaving me with more questions than I started with. Clever girl.