Review: Demi Lovato’s ‘Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over’


Demi Lovato in her YouTube documentary series “Dancing With the Devil.” (Courtesy OBB Media)

By Heather Graham, Assistant Copy Chief, Arts Writer


Demi Lovato has walked into 2021 and laid herself bare before the world to tell her truths. Her emotionally heavy YouTube documentary “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil” directed by Michael D. Ratner, premiered on opening night at the 2021 South By Southwest festival.

In the summer of 2018, after six years of sobriety, Lovato relapsed — on July 24, she overdosed on opioids. The film explores Lovato’s near-fatal overdose, the circumstances that led to it and the aftermath.

“Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil,” was released on Lovato’s YouTube Channel as a four-part series on March 23. Lovato followed the series with a new, corresponding album titled “Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over,” on April 2. 

Dancing with the Devil…

The YouTube Original series is an extended interview with Lovato, her friends, colleagues and family, released in four parts. Each episode — titled “losing control,” “5 minutes from death,” “reclaiming power” and “rebirthing” respectively — is book-ended, with a black screen of white text providing a trigger warning to viewers about the sensitive content within regarding drug abuse, eating disorders and other distressing topics. The end screens give important links and contact information for anyone who may be suffering. 

The docuseries takes a hard look at the struggles Lovato has faced over the course of her career, from childhood pageant contestant to squeaky-clean Disney star to mental health advocate, role model and pop singer. These roles put Lovato under immense pressure and demanded a lot from her. Behind the scenes, Lovato struggled with self-harm, substance abuse, an eating disorder and trauma. The interviews and confessionals with the people in Lovato’s circle are emotional and guilt-ridden, while also being filled with love and hope for the singer. 

Episode 2, “5 minutes from death,” was especially heavy emotionally, as it began with her family and closest companions re-telling the moment that they heard that Lovato had been rushed to the hospital. As is explained in the docuseries, Lovato’s overdose on fentanyl-laced opioids caused three strokes, a heart attack, multiple organ failure, permanent brain damage, pneumonia and lasting vision problems. 

The agonizing detail in which the docuseries reenacts Lovato’s struggles, relapse into drug addiction and her rebirth and reclamation of her own identity and power leave the viewer heavy yet hopeful. 

YouTube series verdict: 5/5

The Art of Starting Over

Recorded alongside the docuseries, Lovato released the album “Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over” on April 2. The album shares the title with the documentary series, as well as its unflinching tone. The tracks on the album are aggressively autobiographical and in several instances directly mirror moments from the docuseries without much in the way of allegory or imagery. 

This open diary set to melodies works in Lovato’s favor to tell her story and sing her truth; however, hearing those harrowing lines about her abuse and recovery lacks a little bit of the emotional punch — having just heard them in her extensive interviews in the YouTube series. 

Musically, the sound is a little all over the place — from woefully beautiful piano ballads to electric piano-heavy, ’70s-rock sounding tracks like “The Kind Of Lover I Am” and “The Art Of Starting Over.” The ’80s pop track “Melon Cake” and the haunting cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” further round out the sound from this collection of confessions and stories. The variety of sounds provides a sense of range and atmosphere for the most part, but at times it also makes it feel as if this album isn’t quite sure of what it is trying to be. 

It’s a good album, but it falls just short of being spectacular despite the skill and lyrical display of trauma and resurrection. However, three songs do stand out. 

The opening number, “Anyone,” is a heart-wrenching arrangement of Lovato’s impressive vocals backed by a single piano accompaniment. As explained in the docuseries, this song was originally written the night before Lovato’s overdose. She performed it for the first time at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, 2020. This was also her first performance after her very public and near-fatal struggle. The performance was devastatingly haunting, something that the recording captures with ease. 

“Met Him Last Night,” a duet with Ariana Grande, stands out as the only original song on the album to step back from the direct recreation of Lovato’s journey. Both singers are vocally skilled and their voices work together really well. 

Finally, the title track, “Dancing with the Devil,” feels like a song that knows what it is and what it is doing. It has strong melodies, poignant lyrics and Lovato’s signature vocal strength and power. The track is an almost voyeuristic re-telling — detail for detail —of Lovato’s descent into hard drugs and the night of her overdose. It resonates with promise at its conclusion, reflecting the sentiments of the singer and her hope to overcome this horrific part of her life. 

The music video for the track, released on April 1 as a teaser leading to the album drop, reenacts the night of her overdose — complete with the same green jacket she had worn that evening, and the tubes and machines that kept Lovato alive in the hospital. Shot for shot and verse for verse, this song and video give you an intimate look into this moment in Lovato’s life. 

Album verdict: 3/5


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