Demi Lovato just released her new album Tell Me You Love Me—and once again she uses her platform to educate her fans and the general public about mental illness. In songs like “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” and “Sorry Not Sorry,” she liberates herself from a past damaged by addiction and bullying.
The 25-year-old former child actress on Barney & Friends spoke with NPR’s Ailsa Chang on All Things Considered Friday about the new album, her R&B influences, and encouraging others to open up about their mental health struggles (transcript and audio clip via NPR):
Listen to interview by clicking above
Ailsa Chang: You grew up in a family that was used to being on stage. Was there ever any question about what you would end up doing with your life?
Demi Lovato: I don’t think there was any question that I would end up as a musician or an actress. The first time I stepped on stage was in kindergarten—it was at my school’s talent show. I fell in love with being on stage and with singing at a very young age. I loved the emotion that I could pour out on stage; I mean, I wasn’t really pouring out emotion when I was 4! But when I started performing, I loved using my body to express the words in the songs that I was singing.
Ailsa Chang: But the constant spotlight wasn’t always kind to you. You’ve talked about being bullied about your weight at an early age. You struggled with eating disorders, even suicidal thoughts—and eventually, you turned to drugs.
Demi Lovato: Yeah, I’ve dealt with a lot, and I struggled a lot. But I’m in a really great place today. I’ve opened up and shared my story many times, and I opened up about the things that I coped with. It was a really rough time. But I feel like I have a really good handle on my life. I’m five and a half years sober now, and I’m in recovery for my eating disorder as well.
Ailsa Chang: I want to talk about a song on your album, “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore.” In the verse, you sing: “I see the future without you / the hell was I doing in the past? / Now that I’ve learned all about you / A love just like ours wouldn’t last” — Who is that you’re letting go of?
Demi Lovato: I actually was singing this song about my alcohol and drug addiction. When you first hear it you think, “Wow, that’s pretty harsh for an ex-boyfriend!” But for me, it was about my old self and—
Ailsa Chang: You were breaking up with your old self.
Demi Lovato: Yeah, I was breaking up with my old self. Definitely.
Ailsa Chang: What was the rock bottom for you?
Demi Lovato: Rock bottom hit me in a moment when I was drinking vodka out of a Sprite bottle at nine in the morning on my way to the airport. I actually threw up in the back of the car service, and I had a moment where I thought to myself, “Wow, this is no longer glamorous. This is no longer a young person having fun with drinking and alcohol and experimentation. This is actually pathetic and sad.” And I felt like there needed to be a change in my life, because I had gotten to a place where I was no longer proud of myself and the person I had become.
Ailsa Chang: When you were in rehab, you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you talk very candidly about your mental illness. You also advocate for others to be open about their mental illnesses. Why is it important to you to talk about mental health in such a public way?
Demi Lovato: There are many, many mental illnesses that people struggle with on a day-to-day basis, and nobody feels comfortable enough to talk about it and to get the help that they need. We could prevent … so many lives [being] destroyed by mental illness if we just talk about it and we take the stigma away from it.
Ailsa Chang: Do you get tired of talking about your mental illness? Do you worry that it becomes a story that you’re known for — that it’s this narrative that drives your new music and it’s this thing that you have to keep talking about in interviews?
Demi Lovato: Well, fortunately my new music isn’t all about my struggles. It has a lot to do with my journey and my life and where I’m at today as a single 25-year-old woman who is living on her own for the first time [and] who has gone through a breakup that was really impactful, who is dating; you know, a bunch of stuff that you can relate to. There are times when I’m doing interviews and I feel like I sound repetitive. It’s not that I feel obligated or pressured to talk about it or that I get tired about talking about it; I just fear that sometimes people get tired of hearing my story.
Ailsa Chang: You know, your commitment to being really open and honest about yourself, it’s a commitment that is all over another song on your new album, “Sorry Not Sorry.” It sounds like you’re totally done with apologizing. What does that feel like?
Demi Lovato: It feels liberating. And the song actually was written — for me, again, it wasn’t written for an ex-boyfriend or anything like that. I was thinking about the bullies that bullied me in school, and how well I’m doing in my life today, and how I don’t give a flying f*** about it. I’ve spent so many years apologizing for my behavior and for the person that I used to be, so now I no longer am apologizing for who I was.
Ailsa Chang: Can you tell me how you got there? I know that’s a huge question, but you are 25; I know you have gone through so much in life. I’m 41 and I wish I could say, “Yeah, I’m done apologizing for myself. I’m done explaining myself and looking for justification.”
Demi Lovato: I think I’ve lived a lot of life. What people typically go through at an older age—I accelerated my life at a younger age with the struggles that I’ve had. And, I feel like I’ve had incredible people around me who have helped me get here; I can’t take all the credit myself. It’s a daily thing where I think about it, you know—some days are easier than others. But staying sober and staying in recovery is extremely important and I have people around me that hold me accountable for it. So it’s easy and sometimes difficult; but for the most part, I’ve just lived a lot of life.
Ailsa Chang: There are parts of this album that come from a pretty vulnerable place, but this is also a really, really fun album. It’s playful, it’s sexy. You talk about being single and dating. There’s one song called “Sexy Dirty Love”—who are you writing this song for?
Demi Lovato: I was writing this song for somebody that I was really interested in—somebody that I had been talking to, that I had a crush on. And, you know, when you go into the studio, you feel very inspired by the things that are happening in your daily life and this was where I was at. I was feeling confident, feeling sexy and I wanted to write a song about it.
Ailsa Chang: Your new album also has this really strong R&B feel to it. Is that something new you brought in through your vocals?
Demi Lovato: It’s something I wanted to explore when I started making this album because recently [during] the Grammys performance, I was able to showcase my vocals more than my pop music was doing. People…had known my songs, but they didn’t know I could sing the way that I can. I knew with this album it was a goal of mine to show the world the voice that I have. And I wanted to go more soulful with it, because that’s the type of music that I have fun singing.
Read the blog post “Demi Lovato’s Story” from 2016 here.