“‘Unbroken’ wasn’t my favorite album, and this one is my favorite one so far,” the 20-year-old pop star tells Billboard.
Last Tuesday (May 7), Demi Lovato asked her 13 million Twitter followers, “What’s your favorite song off #DEMI??” Her fourth studio album, “Demi,” was to be released on May 14 through Hollywood Records, but the 20-year-old pop singer posted the full album online eight days earlier, and wanted to get some instant feedback. The question was retweeted 18,000 times, with responses ranging from the sassy synth flare-up “Fire Starter” to the yearning ballad “Nightingale” to “Heart Attack,” the album’s lead single, which currently sits at No. 12 on the Hot 100 chart.
“I actually wanted to see what everyone’s favorite was,” Lovato tells Billboard, “but there wasn’t one song that stood out as everyone’s favorite. A lot of the time the fans were like, ‘Oh, there’s too many good ones to name!’ And that was really cool… but I actually wanted to know what their favorite was.”
It’s a good problem for Lovato to have — two and a half years after withdrawing from a world tour to enter a treatment facility and confront “physical and emotional issues,” the singer has become one of the most in-demand young artists in pop music, thanks in part to a comeback album, 2011’s “Unbroken,” that spawned the radio smash “Give Your Heart a Break” and netted her a spot on the judges panel of the U.S. version of “The X Factor” last year. “Demi” is a more diverse album than “Unbroken” (read the Billboard track-by-track review here), expanding Lovato’s repertoire while keeping her powerful pipes front and center; it’s an album that carries a wealth of Top 40 offerings, and could very well continue the singer’s upward trajectory towards ubiquity.
Before “Demi’s” release, Lovato chatted with Billboard about idolizing vocal powerhouses, re-upping with “The X Factor” and why “Demi” captures who she is in a way that “Unbroken” did not.
Billboard: “Demi” is out this Tuesday. Are you the type of person that keeps a close eye on first-week album sales?
Lovato: I’m definitely the type of person that’s gonna be watching it and wanting it to do well, but I have to tell myself that music isn’t just coming out for a week — it’s about the long run. I’m putting this music out there to be around for a long time, so if it does well this next week, great, and if it doesn’t, whatever, because I’ll hopefully be around in this industry for a long time.
Your last album, “Unbroken,” became your best-selling album and had the biggest hit of your career. Did you go into “Demi” with more pressure or less pressure on yourself?
I think with every album there’s more pressure, because you always want to do better than the last album. I want a career that’s going to last me a long time, so in order to do that, you have to keep making great music. For me, “Unbroken” wasn’t my favorite album, and this one is my favorite one so far. I put a lot of work into it, and I think it’s going to be my most successful album to date.
What about “Unbroken” made it resonate with you less?
I don’t know! I got sick of the songs. When I would play them onstage, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t play these anymore.’ And I have to wonder, was that album really who I was? Was I just experimenting with sounds? I think I wanted to try something more R&B, but when I tried that, it wasn’t really me. And so with this album, I’m so excited to play new music rather than getting tired of the songs.
What message did you want these new songs to convey?
I always want to make positive music. Obviously I’m gonna have my songs about heartbreak and break-ups, but with this album… I get sick of listening to the radio and hearing only music that’s talking about partying and drinking and getting high. That’s not what I do. It’s not what I stand for. Maybe a couple years ago I would have loved it, but I’m not the same person I was a few years ago. Now when I listen to the radio, I can’t relate to a lot of it.
With my album this time, I wanted to go into it keeping in mind that I want to listen to stuff on the radio that I can relate to. I think the reason why artists like Adele and Taylor Swift are so relatable is because they talk about their experiences and pour it out in their songs. There’s a lot more to their music than just partying and going out.
It could have been easy for you to bring in a bunch of guest vocalists for the album, but there’s only one feature — Cher Lloyd on “Really Don’t Care.”
I think I needed to make an album where I established my artistry before I collaborated with a ton of people. On the last album, I collaborated with a lot of people, and at the end of the day, I felt like, ‘Is it my album, or a bunch of people’s album?’ If I’m coming out with something that represents who I am today, as an independent woman, I want it to be very obvious that my album is about me and my life, and not about a bunch of people coming together and making music. That’s great, and it’s fun to collaborate with people, but I have an opportunity to express who I am, and I didn’t want a bunch of people on the album trying to help me do that.
The most personal song on the album is the final track, “Warrior,” which references everything you went through before “Unbroken.” How hard is it to write a song like that?
That song was probably the hardest and easiest song to write on the album. I was writing about personal experiences, and it’s the type of song where you can’t fit all of it into one song — you can’t put all of the emotions into one song. It was the hardest song to write because it was the most vulnerable for me, and you can’t sum up that experience in three or four minutes. But it was the easiest song at the same time because it’s something that I wanted to say. Like I said in the first line [of the song], ‘This is a story that I’ve never told/I gotta get this off my chest to let it go.’ I wanted to let it go.
What was your reaction the first time you heard the finished song?
I… was really pleased with it. It’s still one of those songs that I don’t like to listen to in front of other people, because I feel really vulnerable and almost naked when other people hear it.
When you were at the Billboard Film & TV Music Conference last fall, you talked about never having to go the “sexy route” with your music, because that never felt true to your personality. Who were some of your female musical idols growing up?
My [recent] inspirations are people like Kelly Clarkson, and the people that I listened to when I was growing up were more known for their vocals rather than their sex appeal. I had a lot of respect for Whitney Houston, and Christina Aguilera, on some songs where she was really amazing and wasn’t trying to be sexy or anything like that. I just found that I had more respect for artists that didn’t talk about that stuff, and those were the ones that were more successful.
I feel like, if you have talent, you don’t have to go down that route. If you don’t have to sing about drinking and partying and sex, then don’t. I have a little sister that’s listening to this music — the last thing I want to do is release music that is gonna influence her in a way that will take her down the wrong path. My dad and my family hear this music! I don’t want to feel too uncomfortable when they’re listening to it.
Are there any up-and-coming pop artists who have impressed you with their vocal ability?
Ariana Grande. She has vocals that are just unbelievable, and I have so much respect for her because she is a true singer. She’s someone that I feel like is going to have a long career because of her voice, and I think she’s going to be a huge name. She’s gonna be great.
“Demi” is being released a few months before “The X Factor” comes back in the fall — no one would have blamed you for taking a break from the show, or leaving it altogether, to promote your new album, but you decided to come back for the third season. Why?
There are multiple reasons. When you have the opportunity to be in front of America every single week several times a week, that’s a very incredible opportunity, not only because your fans get to know you better, but… I was on the Disney Channel forever, and was waiting for that right job that would help me cross over to the mainstream world. I was not only in front of my fans every week, but I was also in front of adults. I never used to get recognized by adults, and now when I’m at the airport or the grocery store, the guy behind the register will be like, “I love you on ‘X Factor’!” It’s really awesome to have expanded my fan base.
And there’s also how much [‘X Factor’] did for me last year. I learned so much, and I just want to do it again. I don’t like it when you attach yourself to a judge, and then the judges switch up and you’re like, ‘Oh no!’ I didn’t want any of my fans to think that was me — I didn’t want them to get excited for me to come back, and then I don’t come back, you know? I’m so excited to learn even more next season.