Demi Lovato Returns to Their Roots: ‘This Is My Story, and I’m Going to Tell It’
“Demi leaves rehab again,” Demi Lovato begins new single “Skin of My Teeth.” “When is this s—t gonna end?”
The couplet, and the razor-wire guitar riff around it, serve as an abrupt introduction into Lovato’s new era. In January, the superstar held a “funeral” for their pop music, officially starting a fresh professional chapter following last year’s sprawling, A-list collaborations-heavy album Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over. Post-funeral, then, “Skin of My Teeth” is Lovato’s riotous wake. It’s her chance to not only participate in the mainstream’s recent pop-punk revival, but to harken back to the guitar-heavy vibrancy of her first two albums, 2008’s Don’t Forget and 2009’s Here We Go Again, released before 2011’s more R&B-influenced Unbroken delivered Lovato as a radio-friendly pop star.
And while Dancing with the Devil – Lovato’s first album since their harrowing 2018 overdose – addressed their journey towards recovery, “Skin of My Teeth” represents an even more unflinching look at addiction and the searing frustration that it can cause, from both a general and personal perspective. The song’s bridge finds Lovato admitting above drum wallops, “I’m just trying to keep my head above water,” followed immediately by the declaration, “I’m your son and I’m your daughter, I’m your mother, I’m your father – I’m just a product of the problem.”
The sonic and lyrical urgency of the single tees up Holy Fvck, Lovato’s eighth studio album, due out Aug. 19 – one day before Lovato’s 30th birthday – on Island Records. After Lovato worked with producer Warren “Oak” Felder to nail the sound of “Skin of My Teeth,” expect a lot more guitars in the mix on the forthcoming album, as well as a more head-banging vibe when Lovato takes the project on the road in North America and South America this fall.
Prior to the single’s release, Lovato chatted with Billboard about its conception, landing upon that opening lyric, launching Holy Fvck during Pride Month and receiving positive signs from the universe. [Ed. note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
When did “Skin of My Teeth” come together?
I wrote it in the second or third week of January, and was just super-excited about it. I had a week in the studio where we knocked out, like, five songs that ended up making the album — just a week working on it in L.A. that was really productive.
Did you have the sound of the song in mind when you were writing it?
Yes, definitely. I went into this album with the intention of separating myself from the music that I’ve been doing, and embarking on a new journey that was grounded in the roots of where my music started. If you go back into my older catalog — listen to my first album, my second album — [there’s] definitely the pop-rock influence.
I just wanted to take it a little step further this time around, and make an album that felt really fun to perform onstage. And I had fun performing the other stuff onstage, but I also just felt like it didn’t feel authentic to me — like, the wigs and the outfit changes and all of that. And so I just wanted to go back to what my roots were.
It’s true that a lot of listeners will hear “Skin of My Teeth” as a departure, but it really is a return to where you started.
Totally. And that always feels really great, when people are like, “Oh, this sounds like your old stuff,” and I’m like, “Yeah!” It just shows me that I have supporters that have been fans for quite a long time.
Lyrically, I’m struck by the mix of personal vulnerability and this sense of universal determination to survive and thrive. How difficult was this song to write?
It wasn’t difficult at all for me — I’m so used to being open with my fans, and being vulnerable with my music. What happened was, you know, I did go back to treatment, and when I came out, I saw all of these headlines that were like, “Demi leaves treatment again!” And I’m like, “F–k you, I’m going to write a song about that, and I’m putting that headline in the first line.” So it just was owning my narrative — owning the fact that this is my story, and I’m going to tell it, and I don’t need anyone else to tell it. And in doing so, I think it made an anthem for people who struggle with addiction.
How indicative of the rest of the album is the sound of “Skin of My Teeth”?
It’s kind of a hard question to answer, because you’ll have to listen to the album to really get the feel. Some songs are definitely pop-punk and has more of a vibe [of the sound] which is coming back into music, but there are also songs in there where I go pretty f–king hard — and I’m really excited for people to hear those songs too, because it just keeps showing a different side of [myself].
If I were to describe this album to someone, I would say it’s rock, and then that it branches into different categories of rock. One song on there feels almost a little Southern rock, but I have songs that feel more hardcore than what people may be expecting of me.
Were you listening to anything specific that inspired those different shades of rock?
There was one album that really was transformative in my process this time around — Dead Sara had released an album called Ain’t It Tragic last year. And I was trying to figure out what music was making me happy, and that album was the only thing that stuck for me. I could just always put it on, and no matter what, there was always a song for me. I was like, “That’s the making of a great album. That’s what I want to make.”
I also saw a few of their shows, watched them perform, and it was like, “F–k, I missed performing like that,” you know? Dead Sara was a huge influence on this album, because it shifted my perspective. You don’t have to be doing what everyone’s doing on TikTok or in the music industry just because that’s what people want you to do. Be true to what makes you happy, what really fires you up. And I took that into the studio.
If this new album sounds like a Dead Sara album, consider me even more excited to hear it.
I don’t know if I can even say this, but stay tuned — because you never know, there may be a collaboration!
It’s interesting that you mention doing something that bucks the TikTok trend, because a few months ago, “Cool For the Summer” had this TikTok renaissance. What was that like for you?
That was pretty crazy, and I feel like it was literally just the universe working. Like, I’ve been newly sober and trying to come out of treatment, navigating my life today and what that looks like. And it’s been hard at times, but I’ve definitely put in the work, and I’ve been working towards a life in recovery again.
I felt like [“Cool For the Summer”] was the universe’s way of saying, you have no control of this, so it’s not on you, but we’re going give you a sign that you’re on the right path, and here you are blowing up on TikTok with “Cool For the Summer.” Because there’s no reason that song should have come back seven years later! That’s just some universe, “You’re on the right path” s–t, and I was so grateful. Like, it’s always nice to have a hit, but then to have a hit come back and be a hit again is even more rare.
You’ve talked and posted about the importance of Pride Month to you. How significant is it to be launching this new single and era in June?
It’s very important to me to celebrate Pride. The way that all of this happened wasn’t intentional, that “Skin of My Teeth” is releasing during Pride — originally the single was supposed to come out several weeks ago, but we had to push because of the video, we had to push because of this and that, and now it’s in June. But it’s also just another way the universe is like, “Hey, look at all this that’s lining up for you!”
It’s really cool that it’s coming out during Pride. What Pride means to me is just being yourself in the most authentic way that you can. So celebrating that, and getting to celebrate my single at the same time, is really exciting.