Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Demi Lovato – Anyone

As debuted at the Grammys…


Jackie Powell: As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, “Anyone” reflects a very familiar set of emotions and experiences. Depression is accompanied by loneliness and shame. The phrase “I feel stupid when I sing” — I’ve been there. The heaviness that comes with feeling like you’re a fraud or a fool when you are doing what you are meant to is all too real. Lovato spoke to Zane Lowe before she embarked on her unofficial comeback tour, and she uttered something that also hit home: “There’s only so much that music can do before you have to take responsibility and you have to take the initiative to get the help that you need.” That’s a sentence I also remember with clarity. Music was a temporary band-aid for me during a rough time, and it takes that shape for many, including me and Demi. I watched the second phase of Lovato’s comeback tour last night and it was obviously incredibly different in tone and timbre from her premiere of “Anyone” at the Grammys. It was meant to be. “The Star-Spangled Banner” which is one of the hardest songs to sing ever, by the way, is meant to be clean sounding and strong. “Anyone” a week earlier was strong, potent even, but it was coarse sounding. Although Lovato enunciates each word she sings, the track isn’t conventionally beautiful and isn’t polished. For once in my life, I agree with Jon Caramanica when he notices that the track doesn’t move “totally steadily.” He realized the parallelism to the subject matter: “recovery is not a straight line.” It shocks me that Lovato needed five other songwriters to fine-tune this track. While I usually use that number as a vehicle for more criticism, here I won’t. I would have loved to have been in the room with this group of people. I think it’s inspirational and equally ironic that in lieu of the isolation discussed on “Anyone,” it is clear that by the end of the track’s completion and release, Lovato had her “someone” in the studio and in her orbit who would and could listen.

Brad Shoup: “Anyone” marks one of those times where the machine opens itself up for inspection. It’s true, there are 100 million songs walking this earth that will not get recorded, and it is a matter of great fortune that Lovato’s will, and that she is sufficiently healthy to sign off on their release. Holding the “fuck” until the second pre-chorus… that’s craft. Singing “I feel stupid when I pray”… that’s a brand-new move — in American pop anyway. The authenticity is beside the point, for me. It’s the choice to deploy: the blowout power-ballad vibrato that doesn’t quite crack but still permits the entry of rage, the clomping piano accompaniment that suggests someone auditioning to “The Climb.” It is rough but refined, gauche yet graceful, a moment to note and to wonder if there is shame in noting.

Katie Gill: It’s very hard to talk about this song. Demi Lovato’s had a VERY HARD 2019 and this song feels like a very direct, very personal response to said trauma. You listen to this song and it hits you hard with what she was going through and her mental state at the time. Which is why I feel completely awful when that chorus hit and my only thought was “oh dear, this is the wangsty version of ‘Beautiful.'” If this helps her process trauma in a healthy way then you do you, Demi Lovato, write that song, release that power ballad that’s an awkward marriage between an honest expression of grief and a big views-generating #GrammysMoment. But this feels aggressively overwrought in a way that I know would be memed to death if we didn’t have the backstory of Lovato’s addiction/hospitalization and aggressively personal in a distracting way. I can’t help but feel that this shouldn’t have been released and promoted the way it was and am honestly curious as to who the fuck on her team decided to release and promote this the way they did. Just because the world has the ability to read someone’s diary doesn’t mean that they should.

Thomas Inskeep: Lovato applies her massive lungs to a big, vulnerable single that speaks loudly; you can hear her personal pain in these lyrics — and in her performance. As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, it means plenty to me that she put these feelings to paper, and later, recorded and released them for the world to hear. That takes guts. The production here is suitably understated, the better to let Lovato’s voice, and especially those lyrics, shine through. 

Michael Hong: A little past halfway through the Grammys ceremony, the producers finally found someone to do something everyone else was trying to do. Here was a woman whose last appearance was a soul-shattering confession, whose very publicized addiction and overdose never stopped following her. Here was a woman who survived. And finally, on the Grammy stage, here was a woman whose voice was strong enough to blow everyone away and whose voice conveyed enough pain and emotion to demand the attention a line like “nobody’s listening to me” demands. It’s an incandescent performance from Demi Lovato, but as a standalone single, it falls flat. Instead of swooping and swooning across like the best of her ballads, it becomes another overwrought addition to the list of capital Demi Lovato Ballads. Similar to how the lack of restraint in Lovato’s voice on “Warrior” or “Father” lessened the emotional impact of the tracks and instead felt like a lengthy scream into the void, the rawness of her vocal makes “Anyone” a difficult, almost painful and grating, track to hear. It’s a hell of a show there on the Grammy stage, completely deserving of the standing ovation, but on its own, it’s confusingly both underwhelming and excessive.

Katherine St Asaph: I teared up at the Grammys when this was on, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that, after hours of limp, perfunctory piano ballads from artists who deserve better (Billie Eilish?!), it was jarring to hear one one with heft, albeit old-fashioned Diane Warren-y heft. (“Anyone” was actually written by Bibi Bourelly, who also wrote Rihanna’s equally raw-sounding “Higher” — a fact that suddenly contextualizes this perfectly.) Maybe it’s the songwriting, how the default answer to “nobody’s listening to me” — “but by definition I am” — is just a thought away from “aw, but I am.” Maybe it’s that I feel stupid 20 hours per day, and, the remaining 4, I’m probably just not conscious to notice; of course I’ll react hearing that mirrored in song. Whatever it was, it doesn’t carry over to the studio recording, sterile by comparison, the over-belting in the chorus seeming less like being caught in the emotional moment, and more like using the wrong vocal take.

Alfred Soto: Sincerity has resulted in good and bad art, as Demi Lovato and her five co-writers understand. Belting the buds out of your ears isn’t a bad rhetorical strategy — hell, it worked at the Grammys. Away from environs inclined to laud this approach, “Anyone” sounds wobbly but still showbiz fake. 

Tim de Reuse: There are only a handful of truly poignant lines here, and you have to read the entire Demi Lovato narrative into them for the rest of the song to have any impact; taken on their own terms, they don’t communicate much at all. The line “I feel stupid when I sing” is brilliant in isolation, yes, but what other sentiments in the song does it really build off of? Despair is referenced only in generalities, and the circumstances that created it are nearly absent. (The line “I used to crave the world’s attention” is the closest thing we get to a fuller picture.) On this half-finished foundation, the repeated full-force restatements of the central refrain sound detached and generic — it doesn’t help that she belts out every single line of the chorus with equal intensity, causing the track as a whole to feel dynamically flat.

Alex Clifton: Oof. Like “Sober” before it, “Anyone” stings more once you know the backstory of the song’s composition. Lovato has described this song as a cry for help, and it’s definitely one that makes you shake your head and say “Why was nobody helping this girl?” I’m still caught off the line by “I feel stupid when I sing,” as it’s a level of vulnerability I’ve rarely heard in music. Writers frequently disparage themselves, but I find it much harder to find examples of musicians doing the same in their songs, noting the futility of art when trying to hold on to sanity. “Anyone” isn’t as strong as “Sober” for me, and it’s a hard listen both in terms of subject matter and composition (I cannot listen to this on repeat), but it’s a brave return to form for an artist I was scared we would lose.

Andy Hutchins: Definitely a song that makes one think its singer needs to be out in the world performing rather than focusing intently on managing the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and bipolar disorder, this. I do not fault the intent: It is toweringly brave to try to live this life and the one that has been bent on killing her at the same time. But I could certainly deal with never hearing Demi belt again, were that the way to ensure her survival as a person — and to be blunt, her diminishing creative returns and continued appeal on attempted tour de force comeback singles suggest this is a path being walked with Scooter Braun at her side to steady her for commercial and not artistic reasons. If nobody were really listening, would “Anyone” exist?

Nortey Dowuona: Demi slides along the sandy piano chords, slipping below the keys into the darkness, slowly climbing upwards on her swaying, thin voice, then swinging towards a glimpse of light. She falls back, swinging harder and yet still does not let go of her trembling voice and fall away from the light. Demi restarts climbing with a greater force than before, her voice shaking and shimmering, sometimes disappearing, but Demi climbs slowly and sets her hand on the keys and pulls up, before the hand holds out a trembling pinkie and Demi climbs aboard it, relieved, and is carried away into the light.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It was more than 10 years ago that I found myself listening to Demi Lovato’s early demos (“Trash,” “Open,” “Shadow,” “Stronger”), unable to sleep because of my infatuation with them. The scrappiness of those songs and the teenaged, diaristic confessions they held were moving. Me and Lovato are the same age, and every time I listen to one of her ballads, I’m reminded of those early songs and how much of who she was has remained today. It’s easy to complain that “Anyone” is more of the same, but any such frustrations harbor the same complicated feelings of communicating with anyone in a vicious cycle of self-hatred — it’s not like Lovato isn’t privy to the familiarity of her Big Ballad press cycles. “Am I all alone again? […] I’m sick of always being the one to always break down, to always melt down in the end,” she sang on “Open.” You can feel those same cries echoed here. Lovato initially aims for a “Hallelujah”-like lilt but opts for shouted proclamations. It feels desperate, forced, performative: perfect in her own way.

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