Demi Lovato breaks down 11 songs from Dancing With the Devil... The Art of Starting Over
"Demi says the best place to listen to the album is in the car."
At EW's cover shoot with Demi Lovato, the singer and her team are still sorting through nearly two dozen songs, trying to decide which are going to make the cut or become bonus tracks, and then in what order they'll be arranged to best follow the narrative flow of her documentary and the last three years of her life.
Then there's the question of the album title — by this point, it's already got two halves, but the punctuation question (slash? colon? ellipses?) is a moving target that eventually lands on Dancing With the Devil... The Art of Starting Over. Nineteen tracks make the final cut, including her first spoken interlude and collaborations with Ariana Grande ("Met Him Last Night") and Noah Cyrus ("Easy").
What's not up for debate is the ideal listening environment to first hear the still-not-fully mixed tracks, so I trek through the rain out to the parking lot with one of Lovato's publicists, connect her phone to my car's (hopefully) adequate stereo system, and settle in.
Here are some highlights from Dancing With the Devil... The Art of Starting Over, with some added context from EW's interviews with Lovato and one of her frequent co-writers, Justin Tranter. "We all know she's such a powerhouse singer," Tranter says. "But I love getting to see the other side of her that really shows us that vulnerability. As a person, she always shares that with the world. But to have that now really come into the music is pretty awesome."
UPDATE: Full track listing below.
This song, while not technically new, kicks off the album — and for added heartbreak, it's the live version from the Grammys, including her tearful first try and second start. The melody climbs through Lovato's four-octave range in a soulful cry for help. She would later perform the song on the roof of the Beverly Hilton Hotel's parking garage ahead of a drive-in premiere of her new documentary, where there was no fumbling — just a reminder that for as good as Lovato is in talking about the hard times she's survived, she's recognized first and foremost for being a stellar vocalist.
"Dancing With the Devil" and "The Art of Starting Over"
The album's mash-up title came from two very different-sounding tracks: "Dancing" evokes Adele's Skyfall theme (and can be heard in the titles of Lovato's documentary), while "Starting Over" sounds more early Stevie Nicks. Lovato describes it as "the perfect driving song," and adds, "There's been so many times in my life where I've had to start over once again, whether I felt like I've hit rock bottom, or after a breakup. We can pull ourselves back up and keep fighting the good fight."
This stripped-down ballad echoes a key scene in her documentary in which Lovato wakes up post-overdose, temporarily blind, and can't recognize her sister sitting at her bedside. Lovato co-wrote the song with the artist Bianca "Blush" Atterberry. Lovato says she's not sure yet whether she'll want to tackle the song in live performances, given how heavy it is, but playing it privately for her younger sister was "a really emotional and personal experience."
This guitar-driven song, produced by Oak, ends on a tough-love note: "We all die alone, so you better love yourself before you go." Tranter and Caroline Pennell, a season 5 contestant on The Voice, tag-teamed in writing the track with Lovato. Tranter says it was inspired by a text from the singer about how even if she was happier single, it could still be lonely. "We all romanticize and glorify these very f---ed-up relationships," Tranter says. "Romeo and Juliet — that's not a happy ending.
A plinky-plunky bop about the bad old days when Lovato struggled with pressure "to make me Barbie-sized," as she sings here — including a yearly watermelon "cake" for her birthday. "I think everyone was doing the best they could at the time," she says now. "I think they hadn't worked with someone with an eating disorder before." In the documentary, we see Lovato treated to a special 28th birthday celebration — with three real cakes. "The song actually feels joyful, because she's past that," says Tranter. "Or at least, as past it as you can be."
"The Kind of Lover I Am"
This one leaves no room for misunderstanding: "Doesn't matter if you're a woman or a man, that's the kind of lover I am," sings Lovato. "I'm a very fluid person when it comes to sexuality, so I wanted to write a song about that," she tells EW. "That's something that I hadn't written about since 'Cool for the Summer.' But this isn't about bi-curiosity anymore. It's a part of who I am and I feel very secure in that." Or as co-writer Tranter puts it: "If you're interested in being Demi Lovato's lover, this is what's happening."
A savagely upbeat banger, Lovato neatly turns claims from her ex-fiancé that she was trading on their breakup for clout right back around: "Good riddance — you got your 15 minutes." Tranter explains that this song was written as part of a weeklong COVID-safe songwriters camp at a rented mansion in Malibu, where teams of producers and writers assembled in different rooms that Lovato would rotate through. "Blush had cut a quick scratch vocal, just so we could get the idea down," Tranter says. "Demi heard it, and just started sobbing. It was really emotional, and really something that Demi needed to do and say."
"My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend"
A weirdly coy (but catchy) throwback tribute to the power of gal pals, "Girlfriends" includes a fun feature from Saweetie. "I recorded it as soon as I heard it," Lovato says. But compared to other confessional tracks, she didn't co-write this one — and it sounds less fully realized for it.
In a dreamy, trippy tune co-written by Pennell that begs the listener to "approach with caution," Lovato also pleads, "Handle me carefully, my insecurities don't take vacations." But fundamentally she sees it as a fun listen — one especially suited for cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway.
"The Way You Don't Look at Me"
A standout track with a swirling, melodic hook, it opens with Lovato singing, "I've lost 10 pounds in two weeks, 'cause I told me I shouldn't eat." In the second verse, she adds, "I'm so scared if I undress that you won't love me after," and describes losing the focus of someone's attention as a pain that "hurts harder than my time in heaven." (This one, Lovato concedes, is maybe better suited to listen to "in your room in the dark.") "It's this very intimate, raw, heartbreaking song," Tranter says. "But there's this beauty to it, because of how it sounds and it feels, and Demi's vocal performance on that really destroys me."
Lovato announced the full track listing for the album on Thursday:
2. Dancing with the Devil
3. ICU (Madison's Lullabye)
The Art of Starting Over
5. The Art of Starting Over
6. Lonely People
7. The Way You Don't Look At Me
8. Melon Cake
9. Met Him Last Night (feat. Ariana Grande)
10. What Other People Say (Demi Lovato & Sam Fischer)
12. The Kind of Lover I Am
13. Easy (Demi Lovato & Noah Cyrus)
14. 15 Minutes
15. My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend (feat. Saweetie)
16. California Sober
17. Mad World
19. Good Place
- Grand Admiral Thrawn reaction at Star Wars Celebration made Lars Mikkelsen cry
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Alex Borstein on how Family Guy and Mel Brooks inspired the finale
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel producers break down the series finale: 'Every decision comes with consequences'
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan on Midge's ending: 'It leaves just enough questions'