Saturday, September 17
Better than: The majority of the Disney lineup.
Demi Lovato might have packed the Hammerstein Ballroom with cameraphone-waving teen and tween girls on Saturday night, but her stage seemed ready for Madison Square Garden. During her hour-long, costume-change-filled set, a six-piece band, four dancers who act out scripted interludes and a series of catwalks and stairways filled the stage, and one would think that the sheer amount of stuff flanking her would at least have a little more breathing room across the street.
Lovato already has arena experience; she opened for the Jonas Brothers after playing opposite them in the Disney-produced Camp Rock films. At its core the music she performs might not be much different than that of her contemporary Selena Gomez, but the vibe Lovato, who does play guitar and piano from time to time, gives off is that of a pop star-slash-self-help guru, wrapping her messages of girl power in a relatable persona. Her lyrics can be almost Taylor Swiftlike in their plain-spokenness—”I’m not a supermodel/ I still eat McDonald’s”—but that candor gives her audience something to hang on to; on Saturday the ripped-from-the-diary veracity of her lyrics stood in stark contrast to the dialogue put forth by her dancers, who awkwardly used terms like “411” while acting out marketing-exec-scripted minidramas between songs.
Lovato’s third album, Unbroken, comes out Tuesday, and Saturday’s show served as an introduction to that record. Unbroken has cameos from the likes of Missy Eliott and Timberland (who produced three tracks) and balances itself out between upbeat pop (“Who’s That Boy,” “You’re My Only Shorty”) and ballads (“Lightweight,” the top-10 empowerment anthem “Skyscraper”). Lovato asked the crowd how they’d react if she covered a rap song, and after the cheers she put forth surprisingly better than the original take on Lil Wayne’s “How To Love.” Who knew Wayne should really be writing tracks for the Disney set?
Last fall, Lovato had a public breakdown that resulted in her seeking treatment for bulimia and self-injury issues. One verse into “Skyscraper,” Lovato stopped the music and cut right to the song’s emotional core, urging the audience to “just tell someone and get help” if any one of them were struggling the way she was last year. The girls in the crowd cheered, some wiping their eyes as she finished the song. That break took could be a schlocky moment in someone else’s hands and transformed it, giving it an emotional oomph. All credit due to Lovato there—she really does seem to be just the same as every girl in the room, albeit one with a grand piano and a burgeoning post-teenpop career.
Critical bias: I’ve been extremely partial to the Disney queen since the Video Music Awards; her appearance there resulted in catty sniping about her looks, to which she replied, “I’ve gained weight. Get over it. That’s what happens when you get out of treatment for an eating disorder.”
Overheard: “This is, like, her D’Angelo moment,” when Lovato joined her backup singers for a soulful R&B number.
Random notebook dump: Lovato wears the kind of dresses I would have thought were the height of fashion in high school—short in the front, long in the back, with bell sleeves. They reminded me of what I once wore to perform a self-penned Ophelia monologue at a school talent show.