By Aisha Sembhi
Content warning: mentions of substance abuse, addition, ‘moderation management’, and sexual assault.
Demi Lovato has been in the public eye since the age of 10, becoming a household name after her work on several Disney titles before succeeding in the all-important graduation from child star to pop sensation. As expected within a two-decade long career in entertainment, there have certainly been highs and lows. Lovato’s lows have been of public interest since her teenage years, which saw her become a posterchild for sobriety after her public struggle with addiction, subsequent admissions to rehab, followed by what appeared to be a full recovery and re-immersion into socialite lifestyle.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the news of her near-fatal overdose in July 2018, which caused multiple strokes, a heart attack, and partial brain damage, made international news. Dancing with the Devil explores Lovato’s decade-long struggles with dependency on recreational drugs and alcohol, alongside years of disordered earing and grapples with her mental health.
This is the third documentary from Lovato which provides an insight into her personal life. The first, Stay Strong, was released in 2012. Her second, Simply Complicated, released five years later, revealed that she was, in fact, under the influence of cocaine during the former’s interview stage. It is no surprise that this third, and seemingly final, project documenting her personal life has fans and non-fans alike hooked. The (criminally short!) four-part series covers her accidental overdose in 2018, and her path to recovery via moderation management. Lovato herself states her desire to “set the record straight about what it was that happened”.
In the first episode, you hear the artists’ close friend and confidant utter the words: “She should be dead. Like, 100 per cent”. The documentary notes her use of hard drugs on tour without the knowledge of her sober companions of team, and the nerve-wracking discovery of her body following her overdose. The documentary also provides an insight into the sexual assault and mental exhaustion Lovato was subject to as a child star on the Disney Channel, featuring red carpet interviews from a sixteen-year-old Lovato who insists that, despite her young age, she has experienced her fair share or ‘heartbreak’. “My #MeToo story,” Lovato explains, “is me telling somebody that somebody did this to me, and they never got in trouble for it.”
In the final episodes, she explains her intention to approach recovery through moderation, as opposed to total sobriety. Several guests provide their opinions on moderate drug usage within the process of establishing sobriety – Elton John, who acts as a character witness for Lovato’s personality and artistry, is vocal in his disapproval of the stance, insisting that managing moderation simply does not work. Lovato, however, is candid in her approach to recreational drugs in 2021: “I’ve learned that shutting the door on things makes me want to open the door even more”.
Despite her struggles being made public for the best part of a decade, Dancing with The Devil feels like the first time Lovato has been able to wholly reclaim her narrative. The issues presented aren’t done so in a sensationalised manner; rather, they are explored through candid interviews with friends, family, colleagues and Lovato herself, simply sharing the raw hurt and subsequent readjustment they make following the near-fatal overdose. By the fourth episode, things are looking up – viewers gain an insight into Lovato’s home and personal stylistic choices, which she uses as a vehicle to embrace her queerness and celebrate her newly developed comfort in her identity.
Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil is, ultimately, the most honest declaration of sobriety and struggle against addiction our generation has seen so far. Far too often we see celebrities flail in the face of mental-health and addiction crises. With her documentary, Demi Lovato takes back her agency and outlines a new narrative in which a fluctuating path to recovery is normalised – something audiences should certainly be exposed to.
Image Credit: ‘Demi Lovato’ by Marcen27 via Flickr