As far as career-boosting re-inventions go, transforming from Disney D-lister to half-naked Katy Perry next door isn’t quite up there with the burning crosses of “Like a Prayer” and the vogueing of, you know, “Vogue.” Sadly, the only defiance of Demi Lovato’s Confident () seems to lie with its contradictory refusal to show any evidence that she actually is confident in herself as a recording artist.
Instead, it’s as if the album opts to borrow from any coming-of-age pop princess that both she and her long list of producers could think of before the studio time ran out. The commercial strategy appears to merely imitate the growing pains templates already worn out into clichés by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and any female pop star from the late ’90s who wanted to be taken seriously at the turn of the century. An unequivocal talent with considerable pipes, far too often Lovato’s reliance on pushing her vocals to their limit makes it a difficult set of songs to take on one sitting.
Initially, the album feels like a welcome revival of electronically-pulsed pop that, depending on what blogs you read at the time, was popular circa 2005. Sounding entangled between Christina Aguilera’s hair-flicking “Beautiful People” and British pop siren Rachel Stevens’ “I Said never Again (But Here We Are),” the title track matches both of these in terms of aggression, flair and intent. With its emphasis on creating a mantra, it loses steam a little, but as an album opener there could be worse. And there is.
But before all that, there is one sharp bite that truly leaves you wanting more. Flexing her on-trend sexuality (and proudly boasting she’s the right “body type” in case anyone was worried about the album cover’s shameless airbrushing), the sultry pop bounce of “Cool for the Summer” is the exception to the album’s copycat cipher rule. Unleashing feverishly brattish swagger, it’s an uncomplicated — if not entirely convincing — fit that threatens to completely dwarf the rest of the record. The euphoria is a frustrating glimpse of pop carnival that could have either set her apart from, or at least put her on par with, the current clutter of pop starlets. It’s the deeply superficial groove of the year.
However, the majority of the album is arguably spent chasing after styles identified with other artists. Resorting to simulating Sia, the fragile “Wildfire” and fiercely fragile “Old Ways” are in turns self-regarding, smouldering and appealing — with pretty enough shouting parts — but one had better duck when things get loud.
On the flat dud “Stone Cold,” it’s Patti Labelle’s unfortunate turn to be recycled — too far, Demi, too far. In an effort to see what might stick, “Mr. Hughes” recalls Duffy (now that screams confidence). Kingdom Come (featuring Iggy Azalea) features overblown lyrics of such underwhelming triviality that Azalea’s moronic verse — “you’ll never catch an Adam without an Eve” — is endearingly comedic.
In an album swamped in power ballad dramatics, “For You” could easily be written off as sounding like something you’ve heard before. Indeed, you probably have. The chorus is predictably thunderous, but if one has an aversion to such theatrics, its outro is a thing of beauty.
The solemn “Waitin For You” (featuring Sirah, who, in the song’s black and white video, looks like Leeza Gibbons doing an ill-advised skit for SNL) doesn’t even have enough time to use an apostrophe, and with regard to the inevitable screeching and moaning, “you should know that I won’t back down” inadvertently sympathizes with the plight of its listener.
The wuthering “Lionheart” aims for the lofty heights of no Katy Perry ballad in particular. Singing words loudly rather than conveying them, blustery production keeps it afloat. Once again, the one size fits all vocal approach isn’t for the faint hearted, but this one is surely only a CGI-animated Disney film away from being a sizeable hit. Lastly, where catchy melodies are invariably secondary to heavy-handed soul-baring, deluxe edition bonus track “Stars” belatedly generates slick rhythms and an enthusiastic chorus that represents plastic pop at its finest.
It is admirable that Lovato should aim to tackle her well-publicized hardships, but her humongous enacting of emotions overwhelm the opportunity to truly comprehend them, and as a result will likely put many off an otherwise solid collection. The at times awkward catharsis comes off as self-conscious role-playing, and for now the unknowable allure of the side-opener “Cool for the Summer” shall remain a glorious fluke.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!