Products of the Disney Channel star-manufacturing machine always seem to have a tough time transitioning into full-blown adult celebrities, much less respectable artists. Rather than shy away from this inevitable transition, the Mouse House alumnae who have paved the way, including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and most recently Miley Cyrus, have celebrated their respective journeys from girl to woman as publically as possible, whether by donning see-through bodysuits, posing nude on magazine covers or even grinding on Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Simply put, if there is one quality these women exude in brazenly declaring the end of their adolescence, it’s confidence.
There may be no better title for the newly released album of Demi Lovato, the latest in a long line of Disney girls gone grownups, than “Confident.”
Arriving Oct. 16, only a week after the most recent effort of fellow Disney graduate Selena Gomez, the album offers a sophisticated take on the increasingly tired trope of pop star empowerment.
However, this is not to say that “Confident” is an acoustically or thematically perfect album. A certain sheen permeates the record that renders Lovato a strange hybrid of Sia and Kelly Clarkson, creating an unbridled vocal performance at the price of a somewhat generic sonic aesthetic. She borrows rather unapologetically from other artists, with references to bi-curiosity and merry insubordination that mimic the persona of post-“We Can’t Stop” Miley Cyrus. Yet, the fact that these aspects of the work cannot be entirely credited to Lovato doesn’t diminish the various successes of the album. It also goes to show that if there is one major career hurdle Lovato has yet to clear, it is finding an artistic persona that is distinctly her own.
“Confident” opens with the brassy, unmistakable horns of the titular track, heralding the take-no-prisoners attitude that dominates the rest of the album. Lovato proves most adept here at tailoring a radio trend like brass horns to suit her own voice, and songs like this make a listener want to hear more of what Lovato alone (except if Christina Aguilera makes a comeback) can offer. This is also true of the album’s second track and lead single, “Cool for the Summer,” which appropriates the trademark blaring chorus of its producer, Max Martin, with an electronic dance music tinge unseen in the work of his other collaborators, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Unfortunately, these first two songs set a precedent for musical ingenuity, at least by Lovato’s standards, that the remainder of the album proves unable to maintain.
Lovato aims for the dance floor with trap-influenced midtempo tracks including the catchy but forgettable “Old Ways” and a disappointing collaboration with her friend Iggy Azalea on “Kingdom Come.”
The latter track is almost definitely awaiting single treatment, at which point either Katy Perry or Rita Ora (or both) should seek compensation for the blatant ripping off of their respective hits, “Dark Horse” and “Black Widow.” The album’s other collaboration, “Waiting for You” featuring rapper Sirah, shows initial lyrical promise but soon devolves into a sleepy attempt at rhythm and blues-infused pop. Even “Wildfire,” co-written by Ryan Tedder, fails to pick up the pace, and Lovato’s irrepressible vocals are left out of sync with the monotonous, yet admittedly more creative, synth-heavy production.
Unfaltering intensity proves Lovato’s greatest feature on “Confident,” as she refuses to commit anything less than 100 percent to each vocal performance. In some instances, like the aforementioned downtempo tracks, the production is unable to capture the same level of unrestrained ferocity.
In others, however, Lovato’s voice soars with dramatic melodic swells that make for a truly great pop song. “Lionheart,” a standout track that is unfortunately more of an exception than the rule on “Confident,” puts Lovato in a league vocally far and above the majority of her peers. Instead of surrendering to the far less groundbreaking mainstream declarations of bi-curiosity, rebellious style transformations and scandalous apparel, perhaps Lovato would better benefit from sticking to what makes her unique among the current pop lineup — her voice.
Never having been a fully cooperative member of the Disney machine due to battles with bipolar disorder, substance abuse and bulimia, Lovato’s success has been rooted in a talent for slipping the nuances of her own personality through the cracks of juvenile production. On “Confident,” the bold, grownup electro-pop undercurrents of the record render this talent unnecessary, and Lovato is able to express her own ups and downs with fame and self-worth unimpeded by the expectations of her audience.
If anything, the fan base of Lovato and her peers has matured with them, turning to their childhood idols after likewise shedding their affiliation with all things Disney. On “Confident,” Lovato proves that she is more than capable of delivering a more mature image.
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