Pop Chat: Our Critics Discuss Demi Lovato's Unbroken And The Uneasy Transition Away From Radio Disney
Demi Lovato, not pleased with her advance copy of our thoughts on her new record.
In the span of months, Disney star Demi Lovato, only 19, has gone from ugly tabloid storiesmany probably false, but stillabout cocaine, eating disorders and regrettable parties to releasing her third solo album, Unbroken, after receiving towering (ahem) acclaim for redemptive lead single "Skyscraper." This is 2011, of course, so her tours include fewer covers of goth metal and more of Lil Wayne, and her album features fewer guitars and more appearances by the likes of Dev, Jason Derulo and Iyaz. Popdust's Katherine St. Asaph and Sound of the City's Nick Murray discuss, via the miracle of GChat, Demi's new record, growing up in public, and the difficult transition from Radio Disney to Z100.
Katherine St. Asaph: The whole Demi Lovato album campaign's come seemingly out of nowhere, going from 0 to "Skyscraper" and then to Unbroken, the new album.
Nick Murray: Yeah, out of nowhere Demi Lovato starts getting critical buzz, while Joe Jonas plays a VIP-only show when Santos Party House takes over Saks Fifth Avenue for Fashion Week. How did we get to this point?
Katherine: Everybody likes redemption. Especially considering how (really, really, really) uncomfortable all the tabloid stories about Demi had gotten.
Nick: I imagine that much of the good press this record has gotten relates to how easy it is to find those stories (or the fallout from them) in the songs. But beyond the lyrical content, those tabloid stories have really determined the direction of the album and at this point, her career. Whereas most artists seem to attempt the transition out of teenpop by showing how edgy they've become (e.g. Miley Cyrus becoming a bird who can't be tamed in the video for "Can't Be Tamed," or Joe Jonas using drunk driving as a metaphor for a night in the clubor is it the other way around?in "Fast Life"), for Lovato, that wasn't really an option.
Katherine: Yeeeaaaaaah. Or take someone like JoJo, who drops lines like "I've been up for three days / Adderall and Red Bull" on covers of "Marvin's Room." That would be a bad idea for Demi.
Nick: Growing up by hitching your star to Drake, a rapper whose initial selling point was middle-school level punchlines, is certainly a strange move.
Katherine: It's worked for her, though, right? JoJo's been really, really good at making people marvel at how she's not 14. That's sort of what Demi needs to do, except with less drugs. The idea's always to get off Radio Disney and onto pop radio.
Nick: What does Lil Wayne say on "Money to Blow?" Something about how they'll be all set if they keep putting Drake on every hook. So maybe Demi can sing a hook or two on Take Care? Because if there's anything I came away with after listening to Unbroken, it's that HOLY SHIT DEMI LOVATO CAN REALLY SING. But after 15 songs, I got the point.
Katherine: I know, right? She starts off "All Night Long" at about 80% voice, and then things keep going full-throttle for song after song until you get to something like "Lightweight," which is quiet for a verse until the chorus comes in and Demi's powering through words like "I'm a lightweight / better be careful what you say / with every word I'm blown away." A lot of new artists fall into this trap, especially if they think they have something to prove.
Nick: Seriously, when I heard "Lightweight" I began questioning whether I'd be able to finish the album.
Katherine: It's like this song from Once Upon A Mattress called "I'm Shy," where the joke is that you're belting out the I'M SHYYYYYYYYYY! part on the chorus.
Nick: It actually makes "Hold Up," a track that would overpower anything on, say, Selena Gomez's When the Sun Goes Down, sound light. I think it helps that there, the producers take a little air out of her voice by looping it a little and introducing some echo.
Katherine: Ah, "Hold Up" and its metaphor. It doesn't actually mention a balaclava, though, so at least there's that? I wouldn't sayUnbroken is bad, though, by any means. It's solidly midlist, which is about what you can expect for someone like Demi who's trying to a) establish herself again, and b) get onto radio rotation. This was pretty much the only route she had -- her old pop-rock stuff like "Here We Go Again" was great for its time, but women just don't break as readily with pop-rock anymore unless they're in Paramore. Kelly Clarkson's new song sounds like Bruno Mars, Avril Lavigne's gone full Max Martin and even Fefe Dobson gets tracks that sound like "No Air."
Nick: Very true. Though even if the radio were more open to women in pop-rock, I think we'd still see her moving away from the guitar-driven sound of Don't Forget, if only because moving to pop radio tends to require a disavowal of your old Disney persona. Like Joe Jonas, she was going to need to leave Camp Rock sooner or later. (Ironic, of course, because the records are still coming out on Disney's Hollywood imprint.)
Katherine: It's probably telling that only a few tracks are produced by people like Bleu (other credits: Hanson, Selena Gomez, Jonases) and Rock Mafia (Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens, etc.) and more have names attached like Ryan Tedder or Toby Gad or Timbaland. Who sounds nothing like Timbaland, by the way, ever. The closest he gets is probably "All Night Long," and even that's obviously trying to emulate "Toxic."