The cover for Demi Lovato’s latest studio album, “HOLY FVCK,” conveys a strong message that stands in marked contrast to her previous work — Demi has gone rock ‘n’ roll. Featuring Lovato tied up on a tattered cross-shaped mattress, the artwork reflects the dichotomy of the record’s title and a newfound edge that Lovato has embraced.
After returning to drug rehabilitation in 2021, Lovato reassessed the direction of their career and decided it was time for a change. The change that she needed? Letting go of all the rules. Lovato lets it all out on “HOLY FVCK” as they detail their self-reckoning post-overdose. She reflects on romantic endeavors with an older partner and finds new love that’s never felt so right. But before Lovato broaches these topics, they must release all the pent-up aggression they’ve been harboring from their past.
While still a pop record at its core, “HOLY FVCK” leaves behind the pop-R&B blend that’s brought Lovato success in the last half-decade and returns to the pop-rock they began their career with, this time with a mature spin. The public has gotten to know Lovato quite well through her openness about her struggles with addiction, but this honesty has not found its way into much of her music up until this point. The shift is not only noticeable, but refreshing.
The record’s first single, “SKIN OF MY TEETH,” opens with a punch as Lovato narrates their own life in tabloid fashion: “Demi leaves rehab again / When is this s— gonna end?” When Lovato reaches the song’s bridge, she takes the perspective of addiction itself: “I’m your mother, I’m your father / I’m just a product of the problem.” It’s a daring stance to take after seeking treatment for their addiction several times throughout the years. Her confidence and unabashed attitude carry on throughout the full LP, which is exhilarating for longtime fans.
Lovato’s knack for witty wordplay takes the spotlight on the second single, “SUBSTANCE.” As she asks the listener, “Am I the only one looking for substance,” Lovato questions if anyone around her is pursuing greatness in life while also acknowledging her own mistakes. When they question who else is looking for “substance,” they consciously reference two different meanings of the word. It’s a move that comes across as playful and is the sort of joke that only Lovato can make. “SUBSTANCE” is a wake-up call to listeners, urging them to consider their actions and the future.
Not only is “HOLY FVCK” an honest reflection of where Lovato is at in life, but it also finds her reaching impeccable vocal heights. Often overlooked for her sheer talent, Lovato repeatedly proves her vocal strength with ease. Their technique never comes off as over the top but instead shows their versatility as an artist that can pull off different genres without breaking a sweat. Lovato may have been to hell and back, but their voice is heaven-sent.
“HOLY FVCK” reaches its first headbanger with a Royal & The Serpent collaboration, “EAT ME.” Lovato gives critics “the finger” as she cautions that the girl the world once knew is no longer. She spells out the double standards she’s faced from the public: “Be more predictable / Be less political / Not too original / Keep to tradition, but stay individual.” At the end of the first verse, she concludes, “All that I’m hearing is you wanna / Make the impossible possible.” Lovato and Royal & The Serpent trade lines back and forth before chanting in unison, “I can’t spoon-feed you anymore / You’ll have to eat me as I am.” This collaboration exhibits “HOLY FVCK” at its most rock ‘n’ roll, letting go of all rules and restraints while also searching for freedom from what people have to say.
The biggest standout on “HOLY FVCK” is the sixth track, “29.” The song finds Lovato realizing a past relationship with an age gap was not as appropriate as it felt at the time. “29” doesn’t identify the perpetrator, but it is obviously about Lovato’s six-year relationship with Wilmer Valderrama, who met Lovato when she was 17 while he was 29. Lovato reflects, “Finally 29 / 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?”
The song carries the wisdom that comes with age, shedding light on a power imbalance that impacts many young people. Many have shared their appreciation for the song online, and some listeners have come to realize the similarities to their own situations. “29” finds a middle ground on the album — between anger and the pursuit of freedom — in an incredible act of taking back her control.
In another deeply confessional song, “HAPPY ENDING” offers up Lovato at their most vulnerable. Lovato leaves behind their certainty and confidence for this song, as they ask the powers that be, “Am I gonna die trying to find my happy ending?” It’s a question that shakes the listener on first play, as the track highlights the obstacles on Lovato’s journey to find happiness. She confesses, “And I tried to be your hero / I lent you my voice / I was your poster child, it was working for a while / But it didn’t fill the void.”
“HAPPY ENDING” doesn’t just detail the struggles of childhood fame, but also provides insight into Lovato’s thoughts about her near-fatal overdose, struggle with sobriety and failed attempts at love. As Lovato breezes effortlessly through the rest of the album, they touch on survivor’s guilt (“DEAD FRIENDS”), their complicated relationship with religion (“HEAVEN”) and their exhaustion with the city that gave them fame (“CITY OF ANGELS”).
Lovato lands at the final track, “4 EVER 4 ME,” standing proudly on their own two feet as they welcome a new love into their life. The closing track offers up a ballad of sorts, but still fits the sonic landscape of the preceding 15 songs. After all of the personal, mental and physical turmoil Lovato has been through, she finds her walls falling down for a romance that’s never felt so right.
Lovato keeps the person’s identity a secret, but envisions a future with them as she sings, “Time floats away, we stare at each other / Take me home / I can’t wait to hug and thank your mother.” She continues, proclaiming “I can’t hold back, I’m falling in love / It’s been right on the tip of my tongue / So here I go speaking honestly / I think this is forever for me.” “4 EVER 4 ME” is a beautiful closing to an album that makes peace with the past — but not without some fun along the way.
It’s no secret that Lovato spent years fighting her inner demons, and that they almost won. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s Lovato. “HOLY FVCK” not only shows off their vocal and songwriting chops but demonstrates their ability to turn the deepest pain into a loud, shameless and fully honest record. Because of Lovato’s newfound sense of authenticity on the album, “HOLY FVCK” is easily one of — if not the best — record she’s ever released. That, and it’s a sensational high-octane work of pop-rock. Take whatever image you have of Lovato and wipe it from your mind, because she’s taking the brush and painting her story herself.