Demi Lovato is no stranger to the rock and roll scene.
Her first album Don’t Forget, released while still in her Disney Days, was a cute yet earnest take on rock music. More recently than that, she’s guested on popular rock and pop-punk tracks including “Irresistible” by Fall Out Boy and “Monsters” by All Time Low. Anyone who saw her 2017 YouTube documentary Simply Complicated also saw that she started her career by learning guitar and singing rock songs she wrote herself in local bars, just like a lot of other musicians.
Fourteen years after Don’t Forget, does Demi’s newest release and first foray since she was a teen measure up to her grown-up audience?
Starting off lukewarm is “FREAK”, a track that promises Demi is officially embracing the way the public thinks about her. After years of mixed press for her struggles with addiction, starting fights with a yogurt shop and whirlwind romances, this album opens with the assertion that she is just a “piece of meat” for the general public to enjoy. The opening bass is sexy and fun as she invites the audience to see the show they’re all waiting for: she has gone crazy and she likes it that way. The YUNGBLUD feature adds some needed edge as Demi fits herself back into a rock persona that was seemingly long forgotten.
A big theme of the album focuses on her struggles with drug abuse and addiction, which is no surprise given the lead single was “SKIN OF MY TEETH”. Unfortunately, it is one of the weakest songs on the album. While potentially anthemic to survivors of addiction, it’s about as paint-by-numbers as it gets when it comes to songs about drugs. It hits all the talking points: addiction is a disease, be gentle on those struggling, and even the title is a platitude about survival. Similarly, “FEED” is a song that puts music to the platitude about feeding the wolf you want to survive, or keeping the habits you want and ditching the ones you don’t. It’s a boring song that drags but ultimately gets its point across. Another poignant yet annoying one is “HELP ME”, a song meant to mock people who say they want to help her but are ultimately doing so under selfish motivations. Not only that, but she’s been told the same thing so many times she sarcastically thanks some people for their “useless information”. It’s well done, being both sonically satisfying and able to drive the point of the song home because of the more annoying parts instead of in spite of them.
The stronger song that discusses this struggle is “HAPPY ENDING”, which actually acknowledges the struggle in a more honest and realistic way. While overall happy that she’s sober, she is now struggling to fill the void that she attempted to placate with drugs and questioning whether she’s stuck living with the desire for vices as well as the trauma that led her down that road in the first place. A more sober take is the aptly titled “DEAD FRIENDS”. She points out that the habits she used to share with friends ultimately destroyed them and somehow left her standing. The guitars are prominent and upbeat, but the song is ultimately a lament about survivors’ guilt and missing old friends and habits.
One of the strongest songs on the album, “EAT ME” featuring Royal & the Serpent. Pulling a Taylor Swift move, yet leagues angrier, she brashly informs us that the polished image she’s put out for years is dead and “its time to fucking mourn”. She even pulls off a decent growl/scream after the second chorus, which drives home the fact she is sick and tired of playing a part that pretends everything is pretty and perfect. Royal & the Serpent backs her up perfectly, establishing a fed up BFF dynamic that sounds ready to wreak havoc on the society that held them back. Honestly, this should have been the leading single: it’s angry and demanding of acceptance like a rock rebirth should be instead of being whiny and pleading for it.
It has to be said: “SUBSTANCE” should have been scrapped from the record. Completely tone deaf to the world around her, Demi wonders out loud if she is the only one looking for something “real” in her fake world. There is an attempt at relating to the masses with “I know we’re all fucking exhausted”, but is then immediately made all about her with the main lyric “am I the only one looking for substance?” It’s the most surface level observation of society that one can imagine. After years of being an advocate for anti-bullying, sobriety, and social awareness, it comes off as disingenuous and holier-than-thou on an album that actively makes fun of religious sentiments. She only really hits the mark when she sings “I can’t relate at all”. While it could be an unintentional double entendre (substance abuse being another term for drug addiction), the song isn’t worth the effort to look that deep into such a shallow pond.
“29” is an interesting track that, as Demi put in an Instagram post, is all about “the wisdom that comes with age”. While not naming anyone specifically, it is not hard to glean that the song is about the six-year whirlwind romance she had with Wilmer Valderamma. Damning lyrics such as “you’re 12 years her elder” and “finally 29/17 would never cross my mind” both address the very real age gaps and the ages that they met, illustrating that the romance may not have been the fantasy that she thought it was. Either that, or it was very much a fantasy that she now regrets or finds repulsive. Whatever the situation, it has taken over the internet as an anthem for young girls who have experienced an age-gap relationship that they maybe shouldn’t have been in.
The record also tends to focus on her sexual liberation, informing the audience exactly what she wants and how impressive her sexual prowess is. The title track “HOLY FVCK” takes a leaf out of Ariana Grande’s book, implying that having sex with her is akin to a spiritual awakening. Speaking of which, she scores her first experience with masturbation on the track “HEAVEN”, accompanied by drums that sound close enough like Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” it makes you wonder if he got a songwriting credit. “BONES” is a track about seeing a person that is so attractive you can’t help but want to stop everything just to drag them into the closest secluded corner. Blunt and horny, there isn’t much mystery to what this song is about as Demi repeats “Let me jump your bones”. The most fun song with this theme is “CITY OF ANGELS”. Here, she pokes fun at things like her own gender identity (“you call me ‘they’/but I’m still Daddy’s girl”) and her status as a Disney Alum (“Splash Mountain in your hands/at Disneyland/you know I skip the lines”) while shamelessly expressing all the ways she wants to get fucked before leaving Los Angeles.
The record also has some interesting takes on love songs, such as with “WASTED”. A dreamy song, it’s about a relationship that makes Demi so happy that it makes her wonder how she feels better with this person than she did on drugs. “COME TOGETHER” is all about wanting to take things slow with a sexual partner so they can both climax at the same time. “4 Ever 4 Me” takes an interesting turn as the most emotional song on the record. It doesn’t try to be heavy and actually sounds more like the beginning of her pop era, circa “Skyscrapers”. It’s a beautiful song about opening up emotionally and falling in love with a person so wonderful she wants to commit for the rest of her life, even commenting about meeting the parents and assuring “his heart is safe with me”. Easily the sincerest song in the mix, Demi actually sounds like she wants to be singing it. However, it would fit better as a first-dance wedding song instead of closing out an angry rock record.
HOLY FVCK defied expectations by being slightly better than the trainwrecks that were the two lead singles. The overall tone is muddled, going between being honest and socially aware to being obnoxiously preachy. Obviously being influenced by artists like Hole and Marilyn Manson isn’t a bad thing, but the record would have been stronger without the obvious rip-offs.
While not very groundbreaking overall, there are some great jams and overall, it can be technically called “rock music”. The subject matter may have grown with her audience, but apart from the few genuinely good songs HOLY FVCK is a pretty forgettable record.
Demi Lovato is currently on tour with the U.S. leg beginning on September 22nd, 2022. Get tickets at demilovato.com or wherever tickets are sold.
HOLY FVCK is out everywhere now.