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In her bracingly honest YouTube documentary, Demi Lovato shares the full story of her 2018 overdose and how almost dying ended up saving her life.

By Kristen Baldwin
March 16, 2021 at 08:40 PM EDT
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After dropping yet another astonishing personal revelation in her new YouTube documentary Dancing With the Devil, Demi Lovato sighs, tilts her head and rests it in her hand. "There's the tea," she says, gazing into the camera with weary determination. Of course she's tired — the woman nearly died! But as this bracingly honest four-part series reveals, Lovato is done hiding the truth, because that's what almost killed her.

In July 2018, Lovato overdosed on opioids laced with fentanyl. Through interviews with the singer, her family, and inner circle, Dancing presents a detailed and vivid account of the hours leading up to her OD, as well as her harrowing two-week hospitalization. (At the time, the headlines made Lovato's condition seem dire; in reality, it was even worse.)

More powerfully, though, the series explores how the singer's past addiction and eating disorder issues — and the rigid measures that were put in place to control them — ultimately fueled her destructive, and largely hidden, behaviors. Notes Lovato's friend Sirah, "If your life is set up to be focused on how you're not well, then you're not going to feel well."

The pressure to maintain a trigger-free bubble around the singer kept those in her orbit on edge: Jordan Jackson, the assistant who first found Lovato unresponsive in her Los Angeles home, called 911 in secret because she didn't want to "get in trouble."

While Framing Britney Spears portrayed a young woman driven to a breakdown by a false and unrelenting tabloid narrative, Dancing (directed by Michael D. Ratner and premiering March 23) tells a mirror-image story of a star who attempted to hide her suffering under a suffocating façade of poster-child perfection. Lovato traces her history of trauma, from her estranged father's death when she was 21, to the child beauty pageants that decimated her self-esteem, to a devastating incident of sexual assault during her Disney Channel days.

"I was part of that Disney crowd that publicly said they were 'waiting 'til marriage,'" she notes wryly. "So what, I'm supposed to come out to the public after saying I have a promise ring?"

There's an entire documentary series to be had in that statement alone, and Dancing raises a host of thorny, complex issues — too many for its brief runtime of four 22-minute episodes. Dianna and Eddie De La Garza, the singer's mother and stepdad, maintain an oddly passive presence throughout the documentary ("There's only a certain window that you have to guide your kids," says Dianna); their perspective on Lovato's formative, high-pressure teen years is largely missing. Episode 3 spends just about four minutes on the vicious, career-derailing backlash that Dani Vitale, Lovato's friend and choreographer, received from fans who wrongly assumed she was responsible for the singer's OD. (Vitale lost all her clients and received thousands of toxic messages and death threats daily.) Lovato admits her fans are "a little outta line sometimes," which is definitely one way of putting it.

And then there's the Scooter Braun of it all. Lovato signed with the mega-manager in May 2019, one month before Taylor Swift accused him of "bullying" her over her music rights, and he became Internet Enemy No. 1. The more maternal among us may worry about Lovato placing her trust in this man, who's presented here as source of friendship, guidance and support for the singer. (Braun is also an EP on the series.) But if Dancing wants us to learn anything about Lovato, it's that she didn't crawl her way back from the edge of death to let outside forces control her decisions.

"I'm not living my life for other people, or their headlines or their Twitter comments," she says. Recovery looks great on her. Grade: B

Dancing With the Devil premieres March 23 on YouTube

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Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil (TV Series)

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