Review Summary: Came for the drama, stayed for the trauma.
Most of us have witnessed it all before: pop star gets fed up
and goes ham on their own music by injecting it with heaviness, fuck yeah!
The results are typically laughable, sometimes enjoyable, and rarely actually good. What separates Demi Lovato’s Holy Fvck
from most of its insipid spiritual siblings is not only that it actually pulls off what it aims to do, but also that Demi’s roots have long been tied to rock/metal rather than the contemporary adult alternative pop
hellscape that they’ve squandered the majority of their career in after graduating from Disney’s creepy farm system. Lovato has always cited acts such as Dimmu Borgir, Job for a Cowboy, Emperor, and Abigail Williams as influences – and while that doesn’t mean that they suddenly know how to write a rock album much less a black metal one, it does tell you that the passion and intent have long been there. In other words, this isn’t some one-off gimmick, it’s actually their musical preference and we just happen to be experiencing it for the first time. In a way, that immediately makes Holy Fvck
a more honest work than some comparable pieces by Lovato’s contemporaries.
is mostly just a fun, upbeat rock album. It’s not as “heavy” as many critics will proclaim it to be, but it does possess the ability to be catchy, anthemic, and immensely enjoyable. Most of the songs here check those boxes, making for a consistent batch of gritty, punky pop-rock bangers. The title track genuinely embodies Lovato’s rock aspirations, with blazing electric riffs wrapped around a tightly-woven melody, whereas ‘Eat Me’ is more of a metallic/industrial hybrid in the vein of Poppy’s I Disagree
. ‘Substance’ is a spunky pop-punk number reminiscent of early-discog Paramore, ‘Bones’ is a mischievous and overtly sexual pounder (“So many feelings when you said my name / 'Cause I want you so bad that I need restraints”), and the late gem ‘Help Me’ is a swervy, unpredictable, and ecstatic rocker that also features Dead Sara’s Emily Armstrong. The pervading aura here oscillates between profanity-laced promiscuity and uplifting self-realization, and neither one feels at odds with the other. Between the uptick in energy and the endless wave of enormous hooks, Holy Fvck
is an album that you can immediately derive pleasure from.
Perhaps what’s more surprising (and easily more important) than the music’s boisterous tempo is the depth on display across the entire experience. Lovato’s ongoing battle with addiction and mental illness has been well-documented, and throughout their career they’ve touched on these struggles (‘Skyscraper’, ‘Anyone’) – but whereas those songs painted them in a glossy, radio-approved (see: sugarcoated) light, Holy Fvck
willingly delves into the ugly. ‘29’ immediately comes to mind, a song that calls out Wilmer Valdarrama’s penchant for dating much younger women – which includes Lovato back when Valdarrama was twenty-nine and Demi was just seventeen: “Finally twenty-nine / Seventeen would never cross my mind / Thought it was a teenage dream, a fantasy / But it was yours, it wasn't mine”, they sing after verses pointing out just how easily older men can manipulate younger women: “Petal on the vine, too young to drink wine / Just five years a bleeder, student and a teacher / Far from innocent, what the fuck's consent? / Numbers told you not to, but that didn't stop you.” While songs like ‘29’ immediately raise the stakes lyrically, even the album’s artwork – which initially seems like it’s laid on a bit thick with Demi posing in bondage atop a cross – perfectly symbolizes what they went through as a young star in the music industry. Lovato was part of the purity rings era of Disney, and they point to that culture as one of the reasons for their hesitation to speak up about the sexual assault that they endured as a teen. Much of Holy Fvck
may seem like it’s lacking in subtlety, but this album is the equivalent of a middle finger – a visceral, reactionary outburst to bottled-up anger. Honestly, it’s long overdue.
It’s understandable to approach Holy Fvck
with some skepticism. Everything on its surface makes it appear to be a glorified publicity stunt; the kind of pivot that artists make when they’re attempting to revive their own popularity – almost like a dying online publication resorting to shock-factor clickbait headlines in order to draw internet traffic. While this album similarly holds nothing back, it’s not an artifice either. It’s Demi Lovato ditching their indoctrinated pop formula in favor of the music they truly want to be making, all while going for the jugular in terms of scale. Holy Fvck
is massive and over-the-top in just about every way, yet anchored by very real pain that lends substance to each grandiose moment. On the album’s curtain-call, Demi steps out of character while revealing rare vulnerability: “When we're alone, time floats away…we stare at each other” they sing, before delving into an even more intimate moment: “I can't wait to hug and thank your mother…I can't wait to show you, you'll see / I promise his heart's safe with me." Amid Holy Fvck
’s contrasting atmosphere, the earnestness and trust in the audience feels magnified – especially by the time they launch into the track’s core confession, “So here I go speaking honestly / I think this is forever for me.” For Lovato, whose life for the past decade has been defined by various internal struggles, it feels like Demi is reaching for a place of stability and permanence. Even if they’re unsure of how they’ll arrive there, it’s a song that describes what they envision that moment feeling like
. Time will tell if Demi keeps with this newfound heavier musical direction, but if it’s capable of inspiring such insights while creating a vision of hope, then I’d advise Lovato to stay the course.