Content warning: This article includes references to substance abuse and self-harm.
If Demi Lovato has proven one thing over their decade-and-a-half-long music career, it’s that no genre can hold them. After starting in pop-punk, they forayed into mainstream pop with their 2013 self-titled album, then experimented with electronic and R&B sounds on Confident (2015) and Tell Me You Love Me (2017)—all while showcasing musical range and unparalleled vocal power.
But this past January, Lovato deleted everything from their Instagram feed, posted a picture flipping off the camera while surrounded by their management team, and captioned it, “A funeral for my pop music.”
As promised, Lovato’s newest album Holy Fvck (2022) goes beyond the Disney-sanctioned pop-punk into gritty, grunge rock music. Distorted vocals, heavy drumming, and sludgy guitars define the album, coupled with metal imagery (the album cover features Lovato in bondage laying on a cross). Tracks from this album and a handful of throwbacks make up the Holy Fvck tour setlist, her first since a near-fatal drug overdose in 2018. In a triumphant return to the stage, Lovato’s Holy Fvck tour is one of healing, catharsis, and rebirth, all delivered through her natural stage presence and breathtaking vocals.
On her last two tours, which centered the Confident and Tell Me You Love Me albums respectively, Lovato took the stage in bedazzled leotards and trendy glam makeup. Elaborate dance routines and costume changes contributed to a maximalist aesthetic. This tour was cut short after Lovato’s overdose and hospitalization, and they have since revealed that immense pressure from management while touring was one of the contributing factors to their relapse after six years of sobriety.
This time, there was no sold-out arena or elaborate stage setup; only Demi, the general admission crowd at The Anthem, and the all-girl band Lovato told the audience had “always been a dream” of hers to have. Between the opener, Royal & the Serpent, and Lovato’s set, the stage crew hoisted up a white tarp emblazoned with a black blood-spattered cross, in line with the demonic imagery of the Holy Fvck era. Lovato’s silhouette was cast onto the cross as she played the opening chords of “Holy Fvck.” When the tarp dropped from the ceiling to reveal Lovato and her band, the crowd roared, ecstatic to see Lovato back on stage.
It was clear from the start that not only was the music new, but so was Demi. She strutted freely from one side of the stage to the other, creating the intimate artist-crowd connection that one might not expect to feel at a global superstar’s concert. Lovato leaned into her new rock ’n’ roll persona, headbanging and air-guitar strumming.
The emphasis on instrumentation in Lovato’s new music allowed the band to take center stage with them. Guitarist Nita Strauss and bass player Leanne Bowes worked the crowd, coming to the edge of the stage to perform solos or dancing alongside Lovato. Instruments in hand and flipping their hair to the music, they seemed like they’d performed as a band all their lives, coursing with blood-pumping energy and chemistry that could only be felt live.
Of course, Lovato’s comfort on stage comes from years of practice, and she had no trouble wailing into the mic in between dance breaks. During “SUBSTANCE,” the second single off of Holy Fvck, Lovato’s clarity while speak-singing on the verses beautifully contrasted with their jagged chorus belting. Bringing out the lead singer of Royal & the Serpent to perform “EAT ME,” they angrily screamed the lyrics, “I know the girl that you adored / She’s dead, it’s time to fucking mourn.”
Despite saying goodbye to her past self, Lovato still paid tribute to her old music. Jumping into a series of throwbacks, she teased, “I think you guys might know this one” as the drums to “Confident” kicked in. Then, breezing past other pop hits of the 2010s, she went all the way back to her Disney pop-punk days with “Here We Go Again.” If the crowd was excited for “Confident,” it was nothing compared to hearing this banger. This performance was a matured version of the song Lovato recorded at 16, with added runs and wails; she even changed the lyric “stuff” to “shit,” rejecting years of censorship. She also performed “Remember December,” “La La Land,” and “Don’t Forget” from her first two studio albums, during the last of which she hit her stride.
While their lively rock music is a fun change of pace, Lovato still shines in their vulnerable moments, which were imbued with an intimacy only possible with a general admission audience. They performed the titular track off their 2021 pop album, “The Art of Starting Over,” then moved into a tribute to their boyfriend: a song from Holy Fvck entitled “4 EVER 4 ME” mashed up with the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” Later they sang “Skyscraper,” their return to music in 2011 after their first treatment for drug abuse and self-harm. In these emotional moments, the audience could not only feel love and healing, but also growth. On new songs “29” and “HAPPY ENDING,” the visceral imagery of her trauma and search for peace offered a rawness unmatched by any of her previous work.
These slower moments made the upbeat songs that followed even more enjoyable. Lovato transformed pop hits “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Heart Attack” into headbangers, and finished off her set with “Cool for the Summer.” Injecting these crowd-pleasers with rock sounds from Holy Fvck gave them new life. Lovato knew which songs her audience wanted to hear but refused to revert back to her pop ways, ushering them into her current era.
Their old music may be dead, but the new Demi is still honest, vulnerable, and incredibly talented. With a healthy mix of old and new, Lovato’s Holy Fvck tour satisfied longtime fans and newcomers alike, giving both an unforgettable evening of screaming till their lungs gave out.