Photo Credit: Demi Lovato via Instagram
At first glance, Demi Lovato’s new rock era could seem like a gimmick – the blasphemous album title, the all-caps typeface, and of course the album cover itself; which sees Lovato sporting a pixie cut while posing in bondage on a crucifix-shaped mattress. But to those familiar with Lovato’s history, their bold new direction will be welcomed. It will seem more than justified – a deserved rebuke to both the purity culture that defined Lovato’s generation of Disney stars, as well as to the wave of conservative critics who have singled out Lovato ever since they declared themself non-binary and released a blistering protest track against then-President Trump.
Moreover, Lovato’s embrace of hard rock, far from being a gimmick, dates back well over a decade. When a fifteen-year-old Lovato was asked about their taste in music, they told of their fascination with metal music. They went on to namecheck bands like Job For A Cowboy – whose discography includes songs entitled “Reduced To Mere Filth,” “March to Global Enslavement” and “Constitutional Masturbation.”
The closest teenage Lovato was allowed to get to replicating the music of their influences was the commercially friendly pop-rock of Don’t Forget. But 14 years later, the singer – who just recently turned 30 – has freed themselves from expectations. It would be an understatement to say the road to get here was tough – a near-fatal drug overdose and multiple relapses have been a part of the journey – but this struggle is crucial to the success of HOLY FVCK.
Whereas the polished pop of 2021’s Dancing With The Devil… could feel unconvincing in its attempts to convince listeners of Lovato’s healing (indeed Lovato ended up checking back into rehab after its release), HOLY FVCK is an album of brutal honesty about desire, internal struggle and the bending, uneven path of recovery. “Am I going to die // Trying to find my happy ending?” Lovato asks on “Happy Ending,” seeming unsure what the answer is – or if they’ll ever find one. On the lead single “Skin of My Teeth” they offer a self-aware rebuke to critics (“Demi leaves rehab again // When is this shit gonna end?”).
Demi’s personal struggles are central to the success of HOLY FVCK – whereas so much of modern pop-punk consists of privileged men pitying themselves (just look at the latest MGK record), the visceral pain at HOLY FVCK’s core grounds its messaging and justifies its heaviness. And, wow, is it heavy – recalling Metallica and Hole as much as it recalls 2000s pop-punk. Royal & The Serpent-featuring “Eat Me” sounds almost carnivorous as Lovato spits out the words “Dinner’s served, it’s on the floor // I can’t spoon-feed you anymore // You’ll have to eat me as I am.”
Other highlights include “City Of Angels” – a sexually charged anthem, which consists of the album’s funniest line (“You call me they, but I’m still daddy’s girl”) – and “Dead Friends” – a devastating exploration of survivor’s guilt. “29,” however, is the album’s crown jewel. Addressing Demi’s former relationship with Wilmer Valderrama, who Demi dated when they were 17 and he was 29, it sees Lovato reckoning with the predatory nature of the relationship that they couldn’t understand at the time (“Thought it was a teenage dream, a fantasy // But it was yours, it wasn’t mine”). The first verse draws stark focus on Lovato’s innocence at 17: “Petal on the vine, too young to drink wine // Just five years a bleeder, student and a teacher.” Those lines instantly recall the classic “Petals” by Lovato’s key influence – Hole – and with HOLY FVCK, Demi Lovato proves that just like Hole lead singer Courtney Love, they can expertly turn righteous rage into anthemic rockers.
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