Demi Lovato performed her title track “Dancing with the Devil” live for the first time last night at the drive-in premiere for her docuseries of the same name in LA. The song chronicles her relapse, near-fatal drug overdose, and subsequent recovery, with lines like “I told you I was OK, but I was lying,” and, “Tin-foil remedy, almost got the best of me, I keep praying I don’t reach the end of my lifetime." It is startling and revealing, and one of the many ways Demi is going all-in to reclaim her narrative in the aftermath of the events of July 24, 2018 when, as she told CBS Sunday Morning, she essentially “had to die to wake up.”
The docuseries first premiered at SXSW last week, and the first two episodes drop on Demi’s YouTube channel today at 3 p.m. EST. There has been a lot of coverage about the doc, and Demi’s controversial “California sober” lifestyle. I have seen all four parts of the series, and to be honest, I am still processing it. It left me quite winded. I was not expecting to walk away from it with lines from the doc vividly playing in my head a week later, or have Will Ferrell’s testimonials about Demi and their partnership on Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga make me tear up, but here we are. Cody’s write-up of the trailer aptly sets up the breakneck pace of director Michael D. Ratner’s storytelling, which prominently features a very honest Demi, and her surprisingly candid inner circle. It is very different from the measured, contemplative tone Ratner brought to Justin Bieber’s Seasons last year, especially the first two parts, which are a beat-by-beat account of the lead-up to Demi’s relapse.
Demi’s new era — which also includes her seventh studio album, Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over, due out on April 2 — is one of radical acceptance and honesty unlike what we have seen from her popstar peers who are still in the game. This journey and promotion lands her on the cover of PAPER magazine as well. Inside, Demi details her struggles with perfectionism, her eating disorder, her acceptance of her queerness (but how she is “too fluid to commit to a label” in regards to her sexuality), and insists she wants to be the one in control of her own narrative.
"I don't ever want to be living in fear," she says, in the magazine. "And I feel like the best way to not do that is by living my truth."
There is a consistency in Demi’s messages throughout the past week or so, in her docuseries, and her new music. She is embracing her freedom, and is doing what she can to not sit in a shame spiral about her past actions and mental health challenges, and move forward. That is easier said than done, of course.
She tells PAPER:
"… Right after I got out of rehab in 2018… I saw an article somewhere that said I was morbidly obese … And that is the most triggering thing that you could possibly write about somebody with an eating disorder. That sucked, and I wanted to quit, I wanted to use, wanted to give up. And then I just realized that if I don't look at those things then they can't affect me. So, I stopped looking and I just really try not to look at anything negative.
"In my career, it benefits me to be a perfectionist… In my personal life, it definitely doesn't. Having been in recovery from eating disorders, body image and perfectionism are not friends in my eyes, and so it's been difficult to balance. But for the most part it's just something that you have to walk through with as much grace as possible."
Part of that grace is Demi’s choice to revisit her trauma and the stigma of addiction, and connect it to her work and creative journey. Maybe that outlet is just what she needs. Recovery is not a straight line for anyone, and Demi knows that audiences may not be on her side when it comes to sharing this truth, including how she experimented with hard drugs like meth before developing her dependency on heroin and crack cocaine, which led in part to the overdose.
In the fourth and final episode of the doc, she explains, “I say this with humility, but this is a very powerful disease, and I'm not going to pretend like I'm invincible. ..... You can't change someone's mind who thinks that I'm a junkie, and I will always be one. I'll just have to show them differently."
That’s seems to be the plan. At the SXSW Q&A last week (which she posted on her YouTube channel last night), Demi was in great spirits. Seated with Ratner, she kept talking about how much she missed her fans, and how she so desperately wanted to get her side of the story out there. So long as she is open and willing to share, the question becomes how audiences will receive her honesty, and whether they will support her transparency. Sir Elton John appears in the final episode of the series as well, and frankly says that Demi’s plan of moderation will not work, coming from his experience as a music icon with about 30 years of sobriety. As Lainey pointed out over email this morning, including this perspective from Elton is an editorial choice, to show that she (or her team, or Ratner) is aware that people will have their doubts about her approach to recovery. Either way, you have to respect how she continues to give all of herself to her creative endeavours, and push past any negative self-talk and public perception. Now, it is time for everybody else to take in what she has to say, and she is hoping she will win them over once again.