Demi Lovato is many things to many people. A pop star, an advocate, a role model. And for years she tried to fulfill those roles—at the cost of her own happiness. But after her overdose in 2018 and spending the last two years figuring out what she really wants, the 28-year-old singer is more centered—and more herself—than ever. To put it simply, she’s home.
On the second floor of Demi Lovato’s new Los Angeles house is a space she lovingly calls the cloud room. A large puffy lamp stretches across the ceiling, flickering with neon light. A plush couch, vibrantly color-blocked, is paired with an electric-purple beanbag-like chair in the corner. The carpet is striped and rainbow. It’s a fiercely unique oasis, one the 28-year-old singer proudly shows off in her new YouTube documentary, Dancing With the Devil. “I wanted something so out-there that no one has in their house,” she says.
Had her life gone another way—the way she thought her life needed to go—the cloud room wouldn’t exist. “I almost designed this house for a straight couple,” Lovato tells me, referring to her highly publicized relationship last year. “I’m not straight, but it was a hetero situation. This could have been a very normal-looking house.”
In a way, Lovato’s home represents her last three years. As Dancing With the Devil—out March 23—shows, the singer has mindfully deconstructed the systems in her life that weren’t working and rebuilt them. “I am now making choices—for the day, and then the future—about what it is I want and what’s going to make me the happiest,” she explains over Zoom, dressed down in a T-shirt, her bright pink hair hidden underneath an even brighter yellow cap.
Reaching this place of total independence took time. The work started in 2018, after Lovato suffered an overdose, was hospitalized, and reentered treatment for her well-documented substance-abuse and eating-disorder issues. She’d been sober for six years, first seeking treatment in 2010, when most knew her from Disney Channel’s Camp Rock and Sonny With a Chance. As the years went on, Lovato found herself growing increasingly unhappy, which led to a relapse, then an overdose. She almost died.
Dancing With the Devil covers this period in detail, with testimonies from Lovato, her loved ones, her doctors. No question goes unanswered. She talks about the medical side effects of her overdose for the first time, which include blind spots. Lovato tells me about a time when she went to pour a glass of sweet tea and missed the glass. On our Zoom, she says she can’t see my nose or mouth while looking at my eyes. She can no longer drive.
Lovato also has tinnitus, often associated with hearing loss, because of the overdose but says her music hasn’t been affected—a new album is coming this year. If anything, she thinks the music’s gotten better. Sitting in the backseat with headphones has given her more time to focus.
“I’m the type of person that when you take something out of my life, something else just becomes more beautiful,” she says. “I think that when the universe shuts one door, it opens another or there’s a window to open. It just depends on your perspective and how you choose to look at it.”
What caused Lovato’s overdose is nuanced, but ignoring her intuition in an industry that holds impossible standards for women clearly played a role. Lovato was good at playing the game, until she wasn’t. Her 2015 album, Confident, gave fans the sexed-up, glam icon they wanted. By 2017 she’d fully transformed into “beast mode,” putting in hours at the gym and embracing society’s ideal of a perfect, sober pop star. A “skinny legend,” as toxic fans effused online.
“I was trying on different identities that felt authentic to me but weren’t me,” she says. “The super-feminine pop star was an identity that sounded like it fit and looked like it fit, so I put it on like it fit.”
It didn’t. As Lovato preached recovery in her first YouTube documentary, Simply Complicated (2017), and achieved massive commercial success—“Sorry Not Sorry” was everywhere—her private life was different.
“I was excited that I was in a comfortable place in my body to show more skin, but what I was doing to myself was so unhealthy,” she says. “It was from a place of, ‘I’ve worked really fucking hard on starving and following this diet, and I’m going to show off my body in this photo shoot because I deserve it.’” Her Confident era is now ironic in retrospect: “I wasn’t confident at all. I had a false confidence because I was conforming to everybody else’s ideals.”
Lovato’s life at that time was all about conforming, which exacerbated her eating disorder. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show last year, she shared how her hotel phone would be removed so she couldn’t order room service. On her birthday she had watermelon with fat-free whipped cream instead of cake.
“To a large extent, she had nobody to turn to,” says Glenn Nordlinger, Lovato’s longtime business manager, who lived across the country. “She turned to food. She turned to drugs. When she was suffering, when she was having issues, if you don’t have that network in place, you find your escape hatch.”
Lovato tells me the night before Simply Complicated dropped, her anxiety prompted a trip to Taco Bell to binge and purge. (She drove herself—Postmates would have left a paper trail for her team.) When photographers caught her, one of her first thoughts was, My team knows I’m at Taco Bell. And then, The whole world’s going to see me at Taco Bell. She was flooded with “fast-food shame.”
There was public shaming in other areas of her life too. As Lovato’s inner circle policed her eating, the outside world policed virtually everything else. “My fans react when I color my hair,” she explains. “If they didn’t like it, I saw it.” She recalls one instance in 2014 when she dyed her hair pink, then shaved half her head; the overwhelming negative response crushed her. “It reignited that fear inside of me of being who I really am.”
All this pressure took a toll. In spring 2018 she relapsed and started using the substances that led to her overdose a few months later. “When I ignore and deny myself of my truth, I get angry and I overflow, and I make choices that are really bad for me,” she says. “If I look in the mirror and present the mirror with something I’m not, it will shatter.”
So Lovato has spent the last two years picking up the pieces. She bought a new place, which her best friend, Matthew Scott Montgomery, says has been instrumental in her healing.
“Getting out of her old house was a good thing for her,” he says. “There are a lot of dark memories there, and I think it was starting to feel like a prison because of all the intense monitoring that was happening. The last night she spent there was when she OD’ed, and I think leaving the energy of that place was helpful.”
Lovato also signed with new management and started meditating, which she believes can help her vision and hearing. She regularly consults with spiritual advisers. Dancing With the Devil outlines the specific precautions—mental, physical, and emotional—she has in place to make sure what happened three years ago doesn’t repeat.
“Now if anything happens in her life that’s hard to deal with, she has this incredible network of people around her who can provide support for her,” Nordlinger says.
Balance is a word that comes up frequently as she explains her philosophy toward life and recovery now. “It’s really interesting—finding that balance,” she says. “Once I really did find it, my whole life fell into place the way it was supposed to.”
For her eating disorder, balance comes in the form of “legalizing” food. The concept is similar to intuitive eating: She has what she wants, when she wants—without shame. Lovato’s now listening to her body and making decisions that support her well-being. That means ordering Taco Bell when she’s in the mood. “I love it,” she says, smiling.
And on her birthday, that means having real cake—last year she had three. Montgomery recalls from that weekend, “I watched in real time as she realized that eating isn’t just something you have to do to survive. It can be a communal celebration.”
The concept of balance has also informed the way she thinks about substances. Lovato says she is done with the stuff that caused her overdose, but telling herself she can never have a drink or smoke a little weed again is only setting herself up for failure.
She admits to me that taking such a dogmatic view—an “all-or-nothing world,” as she calls it—about sobriety confused her. She was making progress on the eating-disorder front by giving herself permission to eat without shame and felt she could be capable of doing the same with substances.
Lovato turned to her recovery case manager, Charles Cook, for advice. “I called him and was like, ‘Something’s not right. I’m living one side of my life completely legalizing and this other side following a program that’s telling me if I slip up, I’m going to die.’”
Cook asked Lovato what she wanted to do, to which she said, “I think I want to try this balance thing in the substance side of my life too.” Her team was worried, she says. “But they were like, ‘She deserves this opportunity to make that choice for herself.’ So I did.”
That last sentence is paramount: Lovato makes clear both in her documentary, and to me, this is a plan for herself—no one else. She doesn’t want people in recovery to hear her approach and think they should also drink in moderation or smoke a joint. “A one-size-fits-all solution does not work for everybody,” she says.
Cook echoes this sentiment in the doc: “Any path that is right for someone else does not mean that it is an effective, meaningful, safe path for you.”
“What I’m encouraging people to do is just make choices for themselves,” Lovato reiterates during our conversation. “Autonomy, for me, is what changed my life.”
That’s autonomy in all areas, including her sexuality. Lovato is queer—“really queer,” she says—and enjoying fully exploring that side of herself. “I know who I am and what I am, but I’m just waiting until a specific timeline to come out to the world as what I am,” Lovato tells me. “I’m following my healers’ timeline, and I’m using this time to really study and educate myself on my journey and what I’m preparing to do.”
Last fall Lovato cut her hair into a pixie, a symbolic shedding of the heteronormative box she was confined in for years. Her end goal is to completely shave her head.
“When I started getting older, I started realizing how queer I really am,” Lovato says, beaming. “This past year I was engaged to a man, and when it didn’t work, I was like, This is a huge sign. I thought I was going to spend my life with someone. Now that I wasn’t going to, I felt this sense of relief that I could live my truth.”
Like many single 20-somethings, she’s exploring this terrain through casual dating. And in this moment, Lovato says, she feels “too queer” to be with a cis man.
“I hooked up with a girl and was like, ‘I like this a lot more.’ It felt better. It felt right,” she says. “Some of the guys I was hanging out with—when it would come time to be sexual or intimate, I would have this kind of visceral reaction. Like, ‘I just don’t want to put my mouth there.’ It wasn’t even based on the person it was with. I just found myself really appreciating the friendships of those people more than the romance, and I didn’t want the romance from anybody of the opposite sex.”
Frankly, it’s taken Lovato a minute to want romance in general. The new documentary tracks that aforementioned 2020 relationship from engagement to breakup; when things ended, Lovato found herself questioning if she’d ever be able to open up to someone else again.
“Because I denied my intuition of all the red flags that had popped up, I had no one else to blame but myself,” she says. “So I was like, ‘How am I ever going to trust again?’ But really, I was like, ‘Bitch, you should have trusted yourself. If you had trusted yourself, you wouldn’t have ended up in this position.’”
Once Lovato stopped seeing herself as the victim of that situation, she was able to move forward. “My heart is pretty open,” she says. “I’m very much listening to my intuition, and that’s not to say my boundaries or my guard is up. It’s just saying my ears are perked a little higher and my eyes are open a little wider.”
As our 70-minute Zoom call ends, Lovato’s song “I Love Me” instantly pops into my head. “I wonder when ‘I love me’ is enough?” she asks herself over and over in the chorus, determined to find an answer. And it seems she’s found one—but it encompasses more than just loving herself. She’s now checking in with herself. Showing up for herself. Blocking out the noise and following her instincts.
Whether it’s building her dream cloud room or reframing her approach to sobriety, Demi Lovato’s path is finally, completely her own. “Nothing people say or do is going to really change the way I live,” she says. For the first time ever, she’s home.