On Friday, Aug. 19, Demi Lovato released their eighth album, HOLY FVCK. This album represents a stark departure from the pop sound in many of the artist’s previous work, such as Unbroken (2011) and Demi (2013). Featuring powerful drums and guitar, Lovato’s always-stunning vocal ability, and raw, honest lyrics, HOLY FVCK has all the makings of one of the best pop-punk albums to come out this year.
Like many others, I was first introduced to Lovato on the Disney Channel. In elementary school, I worshiped their filmography: “Sonny with a Chance,” “Camp Rock,” and “Princess Protection Program.” Lovato maintained their hold on me throughout middle school, when I would walk through the hallways blasting “Skyscraper,” put “Really Don’t Care” on repeat on my iPod touch and belt “Give Your Heart a Break” when I was alone in my room.
When “Cool For The Summer” was released and went viral in July 2015, I was obsessed. This song marked Lovato’s navigation of a queer relationship and became the summer anthem for me as a baby gay. Lovato further explores themes of queerness in HOLY FVCK, specifically surrounding their gender identity.
“Is this what you’d all prefer? Would you like me better if I was still ‘Her’? Did she make your mouths water?…I know the girl that you adored, She’s dead, it’s time to fucking mourn,” Lovato writes in their song, “EAT ME.”
Lovato identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them and she/her pronouns. They explained in an interview with British Vogue that these lyrics represent them pushing back against people who expect them to be the same as they were in their Disney Channel days, when they identified as a woman and presented as hyper-feminine during performances.
Additionally, Lovato explained that their upbringing in a Christian church frustrated them because, as a queer person, they felt like they didn’t fit in an environment they deemed to be sexually oppressive. This religious discontent has a clear influence on the album, evident firstly in the title HOLY FVCK as well as on its cover, an image of Lovato tied up in black leather straps on a cross made out of a mattress pad.
“If pleasure’s wrong, cast me out like a sinner; I found myself with my two little fingers…My right hand’s got me singing my praises; Holy water and my spirit awakens,” Lovato sings in “HEAVEN.”
In an interview with Genius, the singer explained that this lyric was based on the Bible verse Matthew 5:30, which is about the sinful nature of masturbation. However, Lovato now has their own line of sex toys, and wanted to express pride in their sexuality with this song.
“Growing up I was often shamed by my religion for exploring and I just wanted to write a song about it because I was in this place where I was angry,” Lovato said. “I had just learned a lot about myself and what caused my anger and I learned to honor my anger in treatment so I wanted to write a song that was taking my power back and my sexuality.”
The album’s most popular song by far is “29,” with over 31,000,000 streams on Spotify. Lovato’s cutting and vulnerable lyrics resonated with fans, and the song blew up on TikTok with content creators using it as the background for them to share their own stories about being in relationships with a large age gap and being groomed by older men. Currently, the TikTok sound has been featured in over 25,000 videos.
“Finally twenty-nine; Funny, just like you were at the time; Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy; But was it yours or was it mine? Seventeen, twenty-nine,” read the song’s lyrics.
Fans have speculated that this song is about Lovato’s relationship with actor Wilmer Valderrama, who is 12 years older than the singer. They started dating in 2010, when Lovato had just turned 18 and Valderrama was 30. Though Lovato has not confirmed these suspicions, they said in an interview with Genius that the inspiration for the song comes from retrospective clarity they’ve received about their past romantic experiences.
“The writing process for this song was very cathartic, very therapeutic and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Lovato said. “I’m 29 now and it’s about the wisdom that comes with age. You know, I’ve had certain experiences that I’ve looked back on and I’ve had a lot of clarity on, and I wanted to write a song about it.”
Lovato also writes candidly about their experiences in addiction recovery in HOLY FVCK. One of my favorite songs on the album is its lead single “Skin of My Teeth,” the opening line of which puts it plainly.“Demi leaves rehab again; When is this shit gonna end?” This bluntness intentionally mocks tabloid headlines about the singer’s recovery journey. Lovato has sought help through drug rehabilitation multiple times, and, in “Skin of My Teeth,” lets out their anger with people who lack understanding and compassion for those struggling with addiction.
Listening to Lovato air out their soul in HOLY FVCK gives me secondhand catharsis. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing Lovato, who has grown up in the public eye since their on-screen debut in Barney at age 10 and been examined under the world’s magnifying glass while fighting drug addiction, scream out their criticisms of society. The singer’s exploration of rock and roll fits perfectly with the themes of the album, and makes HOLY FVCK my new favorite album to belt out when I want to get out my anger, or just feel powerful.
Kat Struhar can be reached at email@example.com.