Though there’s a long history of records about substance abuse and newfound sobriety, the past few years have seen an acceleration of the trend. We’re getting used to hearing artists tell their stories about drugs and alcohol and listening to music about searching for peace. “Dancing With the Devil… the Art of Starting Over” (Island), the new album out Friday from pop singer Demi Lovato, is certainly a recovery narrative, but the details of her story, many of which make it into these songs, are almost unbearably harrowing. And since it arrives with a companion documentary series and an all-out media blitz, it also leads to uncomfortable questions about when “raising awareness” can tip over into voyeurism and the dehumanization of celebrity culture.
Ms. Lovato, now 28, has lived the kind of life that’s difficult for those not raised in the spotlight to understand. She was performing in beauty pageants in elementary school and was acting in television by her early teens. She became a star on the Disney Channel series “Camp Rock” and her debut album, the bubble-gum rock outing “Don’t Forget,” appeared when she was 16. From the outset, the sheer force of her voice was remarkable, and it grew richer. By the time she was 18, she left a tour supporting the Jonas Brothers and entered rehab. In 2018, Ms. Lovato overdosed on opioids laced with fentanyl and nearly died, and the subsequent damage to her health was profound. And all of this horror occurred while Ms. Lovato was a famous pop star already in the tabloids, so fans and paparazzi alike scrutinized every detail of her trauma and recovery.