Monday, July 30th, 2018

Demi Lovato – Sober

This is something we’ve had scheduled for a few weeks, though recent news has fixed it even more sharply in our minds…


Lauren Gilbert: Art is made by human beings. That’s what I keep coming back to, attempting to write a review of this track after Demi’s reported overdose. Art is made by human beings, and even though the haze of post-Disney channel pop and PR people and record execs, music is made by people.  And this is honest, in a way I hadn’t really expected — in a way I dismissed when it came out. It felt canned, sort of; I believed it more like “Tell Me You Love Me”‘s drama-in-song than a honest attempt to reach out and say “look, I fucked up.” There is (a lot) feeling behind this; even the clunkiest lines — “I wanna be a role model/but I’m only human” — reflect something real. But reality is messy, and sometimes the “best” art is not the most poignant art, or the “best” art only exists in the context of its release. And I wonder as I write this — would I give this song a [7] if Demi hadn’t overdosed? I don’t particularly like this as a track, even as I respect its candor. I feel it is important and valuable for those struggling with addiction to hear songs reflecting their experiences. There need to be more songs like this one (though preferably without the added relevance of an overdose); we need a music industry that is more honest, one that lets stars-that-aren’t-Lovato talk about mental health issues and sobriety and all of the hard stuff you can’t fully encapsulate in a three minute track.  And I both simultaneously believe Demi did something important — something, I suspect, people who have struggled with addiction saw the value in before I did — and that the track itself is kind of eh. As pieces of pop music go, this is far inferior to “Daddy Issues.” “Sober” isn’t that kind of song; it’s a marker of a moment in the life of a young woman. In some alternate timeline, “Sober” eould have been a press release or a topic discussed in a profile by Vanity Fair. She did a truly brave thing in showing the entire world that she might have scars and setbacks and still be struggling. I respect her for that, and I’ll be at her next concert tour (if she has one). I’ll cry when it’s played. But I won’t be crying because I love the song (generally, “could have been a press release” is not a compliment). I’ll cry for Demi and for all the people I know like her. And, really, for myself; for all the mistakes I’ve made and will make again, the times I’ve both disappointed my parents and myself, because I too am sorry.

Alex Clifton: “Sober” was already a difficult listen from Demi; it’s a very personal song, the kind someone writes when they’re unable to do anything other than rip out their heart wholesale. And then last week happened. Suddenly this song is even harder to listen to because I know it’s part of a far more active struggle. It’s tough to see pop stars, especially those placed so high, go through their own trials, but I’ve always appreciated how Demi has been open about her addiction and mental health struggles. She is a beautiful, imperfect human, and that’s one of the reasons why I like her. Do I think that this is the best song Demi’s released in her career? No,  but that’s because I’m not partial to ballads and I’ve always preferred  her pop music in general. But I’m proud that she wrote this and  released it; it’s a step towards healing, and I hope she heals soon.

Ramzi Awn: Seldom has there been a song so difficult to write about as “Sober.” For many reasons. Because it is so painful, and you have to actually listen to it to write about it. Because it is relatable, and you may not want to hear what it has to say. Because it was a cry for help, and Demi Lovato soon found herself in a hospital room after its release. But most of all, it is difficult to write about because it is so beautiful. Lovato has been apologizing for some time now. With the release of her album “Tell Me You Love Me,” she showed the world how to put a spin on shame, honesty and hurt. “Sober” is a devastating follow-up. In contrast to “Daddy Issues,” a song in which she celebrates the pain of the past, it does not celebrate. It admits the truth, and it isn’t perfect. But it’s unforgettable.   

Jonathan Bradley: Even when pop works to be unguarded, when its performers clothe themselves in candor, the form creates the expectation of mediation. Pop is performance, a series of artistic choices, and its truth is conditional, even when it is real. Hearing “Sober” after news of Lovato’s hospitalization following an apparent overdose is unsettling because it unmakes that inherent mediative accord; it makes voyeuristic the act of listening in on this woman’s frailty and guilt, as if we — or someone, somewhere along the way — were overstepping the bounds of decency by pressing play on a commercially released single promoted and disseminated by a multinational corporation. The frisson makes the song more gripping, but I’m not sure it actually makes it better. Lovato has scorched her art with the conflagration of personal crises at other troubled points in her life; it has made for some of the best music of her career. That I prefer “Skyscraper” to “Sober” doesn’t suggest that her misery then was more meaningful, just that the song she had at the time was more powerful.

Will Adams: Like “Everytime” and “Praying” before it, “Sober” is a difficult listen mostly because of the insurmountable obstacles pop stars face with the obligation to cope with trauma publicly but also in a way that produces a palatable pop song. And the bottom line is the same: what’s underneath the sentiment is a thousand times more raw than what a staid piano ballad offers. And perhaps that’s for the best.

Katherine St Asaph: Imagine Demi’s vocals over the first 30 seconds, rather than over the “Praying” model of piano ballad as a shorthand for pathos.

Alfred Soto: Events have transpired to give this apologia additional poignance, but even if the public had learned nothing about Demi Lovato’s ordeals, “Sober” comes from the Kesha and Christina Aguilera wing of confessional pop balladry: better sung, with Lovato’s unassailable presence. 

Danilo Bortoli: Sometimes context is everything. I don’t know how to tackle or read “Sober.” Since last week, suddenly, I don’t even know how to approach it. I also have no idea if it is opportunistic or dishonest (even hypocritical maybe) to listen to it differently now that everything has taken place so quickly and, also, because the signs now feel like they have always been present. What is clear is that “Sober” possesses a rare power, conjuring empathy which makes her saying “I’m lonely” more unbearable to hear. Maybe, again, listening without context would be better for anyone, but God knows that when Lovato admits her relapse, we admit our mea culpa. Society as a whole is obsessed with the broken and dead girl. If such a point matters, at least something tells me this is her “Family Portrait.” For better or for worse. 

Stephen Eisermann: I’m so sorry, Demi. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but it sounds like it hurts. It sounds like you don’t know what’s happening and you don’t know how to take control, but please don’t apologize. Hearing you apologize breaks my heart because I know you don’t control this and that, if you had the option, you’d choose to beat this. Above all else though, Demi, I’m sorry that you felt like you had to release this. This song sounds less like something you wanted heard and more like something you thought that your fans, friends, and family were owed. It couldn’t have been easy, as your vocal tics indicate, and hearing your voice crack and give out during certain parts is especially difficult to listen to. Get better, Demi, you’ve got a world supporting you.

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