Published on April 22nd, 2017 | by Andy Sedlak
Demi Lovato – ‘Confident’ 
Summary: Underneath the gloss, Demi Lovato probably has more in common with Lana Del Rey than Ariana Grande. Her problem on this record is she struggles to portray her demons three dimensionally.
Released: Oct. 16, 2015
Peak chart position: 2
Top 40 hits: 3
Don’t count on Demi Lovato to bring the party. That’s not who she is.
Being in the entertainment business since the age of 10 is enough to cultivate cynicism. One can imagine the jagged moodiness that must set in after beginning a career on Barney & Friends. But Lovato’s skies got progressively darker once she entered her teens.
She was bullied relentlessly. She began drinking and, at only 18 years old, entered into a rehab facility. The now-24-year-old has spoken of physically hurting herself and has publicly wrestled with bipolar disorder, weight issues and substance abuse … particularly cocaine.
As a result, Lovato is more Lana Del Rey than Ariana Grande, even if it’s a spit-shined version of former. The shadows of her experiences inevitably creep into her music and permeate her biggest hits. Even her hit single “Cool for the Summer” had ulterior motives.
From “Cool for the Summer:”
Even if they judge, fuck it, I’ll do the time
It’s remarkable to note how serious her fifth album — 2015’s Confident — was. When a little light managed to get through the cracks, it’s by way of a sly grin. Lovato’s guard rarely came down.
Got my name in your mouth
Forgive me when I knock it out
Confident debuted at No. 2 — bested by Pentatonix’s self-titled record. It sold almost 100,000 copies in its first week. Unfortunately the album never found a second wind. After bursting out of the gate with 98,000 (to be exact) copies sold, it’s moved only a little more than 200,000 copies to date.
Compare that to Grande’s Dangerous Woman, released just seven months after Confident, which has sold more than 1.2 million copies.
Part of the problem is that Lovato’s demons — as real as they may be — are rarely portrayed three dimensionally. She routinely skips past color or context and rarely bothers to dissect their impact.
We never feel those demons for ourselves. Yet she’s constantly alluding to them.
Add in the brisk pace of the album — its only about 38 minutes long — and Lovato feels like she’s prevented from exhaling. Hell, the record’s longest song barely lasts four minutes. Ultimately, Confident feels like a pushy tour guide who’s in a hurry.
Determination is by far Lovato’s favorite lyrical topic. Worthwhile? Sure. Except it’s constantly obscured by an abundance of gargantuan (sometimes lumbering) beats and twitchy electronics. Her producers keep her on a straight path when you feel like she wants to divert.
Make no mistake, the record’s title track “Confident” is a brassy masterwork. Written by Max Martin (there’s a reason he was recently inducted in the songwriters hall of fame), it hits oft-bungled ideals squarely on the head.
I used to hold my freak back
Now I’m letting go
I make my own choice
Bitch, I run this show
Problems surface when all of this confidence feels forced. Take “Old Ways,” which glosses over any and all warts to arrive at its triumphant conclusion.
From “Old Ways:”
But if anybody tells me I’ll go back to my old ways
I’m gonna say no way
Generally, when artists want to air their scars and misgivings, they need to fully commit. To go halfway is a disservice to the burden you carry. But that’s exactly what Lovato and her team do. They’re content with going halfway.
She gets no help from her guests on the album. Iggy Azalea and Sirah appear on back-to-back tracks and nearly ruin the entire disc. Azaela’s spot sounds like a half-assed reworking of her hit “Black Widow.” And her cultural references are embarrassingly dated.
From “Kindom Come:”
You know family matters
What’s Carl without Harriet
Indispensable like Mary Kate
That’s bad enough … but it’s “Waitin’ for You,” featuring Sirah, that is Confident’s unequivocal low point.
From “Waitin’ for You:”
You said that you’d never hurt me
Be the Band-aid when I bleed
But I guess the Band-aid was all made of paper
‘Cause you never stuck to me
Confident has festival-sized ambitions. Songs build … but burst instead of blooming. Some, like “Yes” and the Ryan Tedder’s “Wildfire” get it right. But there’s way too much assembly-line song building at work.
“Stone Cold,” the last single released from the album, is an example. It checks the boxes of piano ballad, fleeting romance and an emotive vocal. What’s missing is the spark. You would think someone might notice, since every track on the album lists multiple writers.
No fewer than 14 producers are credited in the liner notes.
It shouldn’t shock anyone that Confident’s cast of producers all have A-list credentials. Mitch Allan (Jason Derulo, Pitbull), Jason Evigan (Madonna, David Guetta, Fifth Harmony), Stargate (Ne-yo, Beyonce) and Rami Yacoub (Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears) are just a few who shaped the record.
If you were cynical (I straddle the fence) you might conclude that these people allow just enough individuality from the artists they work with. The rest of the time they stick to the recipe.
The final song on the album is the most transparent. “Father,” about Lovato’s mentally unstable dad who has since passed away, traces the origin of her own torment.
Always wished for your best
I prayed for your peace
Even if you started this whole war in me
Lovato’s team tries to weave gospel throughout her compelling lyrics but it’s ultimately a missed opportunity. The lyrics beg for a raw, intimate backdrop. The pristine gospel playing feels like a mismatch.
“I’ve never been so sure of myself as an artist,” Lovato said before the album was released. “Not only personal things, but exactly what I want my sound to be and what I know I’m capable of.”
That may have been true, but the result was like a Ryan Homes development. Nice enough … but hardly unique.
“I’m done with the sob stories,” she told Carson Daly. “New chapter, new life, new album, new single — this is a completely new Demi.”
In reality, it wasn’t. She still has a lot on her mind and at times the shadow of her worries can be too much. Make no mistake, this was very much the same girl who sang “Heart Attack.” She’ll probably never rid herself of the “old” Demi.
As an artist, that can be your best friend. Next time, maybe kick out a few producers and explore that.
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