Dennis Leupold
Madison Vain
September 29, 2017 AT 11:25 AM EDT

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On Demi Lovato’s sixth album, Tell Me You Love Me, out now, the singer embraces her R&B influences like never before. “I’m really proud of that,” she says, speaking of jams like lead single “Sorry Not Sorry,” which has been bouncing around the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in recent weeks, and the set’s title track. “[Those songs] helped me find the direction that I wanted to accomplish.”

Below, the 25-year-old reveals to EW the soul divas and pop icons who shaped her.

THE FIRST ARTIST I REALLY LOVED

I was definitely into the Spice Girls. They had just come out with their movie, Spice World, and I was obsessed. I was singing their songs in the mirror and dancing around my room to them.

THE ARTIST I MOST WANT TO SEE IN CONCERT

I’ve always wanted to see Aretha Franklin live. I became a fan of hers when I was about 8 years old. My mom passed along [the fandom], and then I explored
a little more on my own. My mother always had music on in the house and loved country music, like Martina McBride.

THE FIRST SONG I PERFORMED IN PUBLIC

It was at the talent show when I was in kindergarten. I sang “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, and it felt natural, but the problem was my microphone went out while I was on stage — like, right in the middle of it! But I fought through it and won people over. [Laughs]

AN ARTIST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN I LOVE

I listen to a lot of Billie Holiday. I connect with the soul in her music — she sings straight from the heart about her personal experiences. And there’s a lot of pain in her voice. When I listen to it, I feel like I understand exactly what she’s going through. Like her, I try to write about whatever I’m passionate about. I try to get everything off my chest.

THE FIRST SONG I WROTE

It was a song about getting butterflies in your stomach. I had a crush! It was so bad. [Laughs] Literally only my mom has heard it.

A SONG THAT ALWAYS PUTS ME IN A GOOD MOOD

I’ve really been into Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” I just think she’s real. She’s also very relatable and just young and happy. It’s refreshing to see somebody in the rap industry be like that — so many rappers put on this hard persona that doesn’t make you want to be friends with them. With her, you want to be friends.

A SONG THAT ALWAYS MAKES ME CRY

“Never Gonna Leave Me” by Sia. The chord progression, the words — everything is so deep and so meaningful.

AN ARTIST I’VE TRIED TO EMULATE

Christina Aguilera, for sure. I normally do Christina at karaoke. Her vocals are just phenomenal. Whenever people listen to my new album, I want to make
sure that they can sing along to it like a pop album but also hear what I can do with my voice. I felt like I really meshed R&B with pop in the exact way that I wanted to there. I’m really proud of that.

MY FAVORITE ARTIST TO WORK OUT TO

I love Eminem. I started getting into him when he did the MTV Video Music Awards performance [in 2000] with all of those copycats standing with him. And then when he did [his 2010 LP] Recovery, I really related to that.

MY FAVORITE ROAD-TRIP TUNES

I have multiple playlists, but my favorite has to be a full emo one where I just listen to all of the songs that I used to listen to back in the day when I was in middle school and high school. I don’t know why I like to do that.

THE SONG I WANT PLAYED AT MY FUNERAL

“All the Way Up” by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana. I think it’d be ironic and funny.

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