Celebrity documentaries quickly became a popular subgenre over the past few years. It is a way for the artists to give the public a sneak-peek into all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and humanize themselves, all while exercising control and reserving the right to formulate the ultimate message of the film. Beyonce’s iconic Homecoming and recently released Billie Eilish, and Tina Turner documentaries come to mind. Then there are investigative documentaries created about certain celebrities rather than with them. The New York Times Framing Britney Spears documentary about the pop star’s conservatorship is an illustrative example of this category.
Demi Lovato is not new to this game. In 2017, she released Simply Complicated, a documentary where she opened up about her journey as a Disney star, musician, and a recovering addict and disordered eating survivor. Three and a half years later, Lovato arrives with Dancing with the Devil, a four-part docuseries, which premiered on YouTube on March 23. The series primarily addresses the singer’s 2018 drug overdose. If Simply Complicated presented a simple narrative of a young popstar straying from the right path for a while but on her way to what seemed like a definitive recovery, Dancing with the Devil is a much more sobering depiction of Lovato’s struggle with addiction.
For the first time, Lovato opens up about her history of sexual abuse and her coping mechanisms with it, which may ring true for many survivors out there. She is not quick to make big statements about her recovery and promises of the future, which she knows she may or may not keep.
Instead, Lovato and the producers give space to her family, friends, and employees to share their experience of going through the 2018 overdose and its aftermath with the singer. They all attest to the same truth of not being able to help someone who does not want to get help.
Lovato’s story does not only demonstrate the collective trauma of having someone you know and love fight with addiction and surviving an overdose. It is also a story of how Lovato’s help in her recovery in the years leading up to the relapse has also played a key role in facilitating her downfall. The people close to the singer recall how hard it was to be around her in some moments when it felt like their mundane actions, such as eating certain foods, could trigger her. Lovato, on the other hand, shares how isolated and miserable she felt while she was so fiercely protected and guided.
With her newest docuseries, Lovato succeeds in giving us an earnest story about who she is and what she has had to struggle with throughout her life as a young pop star. As she lays it all out, whether or not we judge her for how she chooses to cope with her drug addiction and what kind of sobriety works for her is up to us. Lovato’s honesty could add momentum to a turning point in pop culture when society is forced to reckon with what it puts its female pop stars through.
Framing Britney Spears has sparked a conversation that has been long in the making about how young women in the music industry are set up to fail and crumble under the pressure of perfection and isolation. How their bodies are fetishized and the very private (and socially constructed) aspects of their lives, such as their virginity, are sensationalized for people to speculate and pass judgment upon.
Lovato went through a similar path to that of Britney Spears. They were both Disney stars when they were just children. They both pledged abstinence before marriage (just thinking about how normal it was to ask practically children who just wanna sing and dance about their sex lives is infuriating). The treatment that Spears received is very much a product of the Y2K culture.
Today, misogyny still runs rampant in the music industry. However, what has changed is the availability of many channels through which women can now tell their truth. Lovato’s consistent openness about her experience as a pop star and the trauma it has caused her could help to destigmatize the conversations we need to be having about mental health, addiction, and the music industry’s misogyny.
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