Better than: Watching Camp Rock?
On the surface of things, Demi Lovato's story is predictable, something we've heard before. Former Disney Channel darling ditches the script and becomes a badass bitch or whatever, something à la Miley. But digging back to her beginnings as a songwriter, it seems she's always marketed herself as the "different" one, with lines like: "Who said I can't wear my Converse with my dress/Well, baby, that's just me!" back in 2008. No one's saying that, Demi. This is the 21st Century. There are worse things. It's OK. Go ahead.
In fact, it's because she exists in that weird space -- being "mainstream" but not mainstream -- that's allowed her to flourish throughout the years despite some pretty rough patches along the way.
See also: Demi Lovato at BB&T Center (Slideshow)
Putting her career on hiatus to go to rehab for self-harm, bulimia, and not to mention being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, to quote the girl herself, she's "been through a lot." But is it OK for her to draw from those dark times to reinforce her "edginess"? Back to that in a second.
Last night at BB&T Center, there was no time where we weren't being entertained somehow. Opener Cole Plante, a 17-year-old DJ, played songs we've never heard but assume are really popular because pretty much everybody sang along. Also, you could probably figure this one out on your own, but the arena was pretty much exclusively packed with 11- to 16-year-olds.
After Plante bopped his pink side-swept bangs around for some time, a group of young-faced girls called Fifth Harmony took the stage. They rose to fame through America's Got Talent.
The way these girls began their set was like every little girl's superstar dream. Each behind her own window, a screen with their black silhouettes facing the audience, at first, that was all we could see. They literally broke through the veil, and furthermore, struck power poses. The little girl inside of us was even envious.
They were all youthful and picture-perfect, each carrying a subtle character with them. You had the artsy, pretty one dressed in all black, the spunky bedazzled one who probably has a "big personality," the street-fab one who wore Adidas and a tilted gold snapback, the simple yet classy one with a bow in her hair, and the girl who looks club-ready, despite being underaged. They maneuvered through some easy-enough dance steps and had a generally upbeat stage presence.
We'd be lying if we said they weren't fantastic singers; they never broke a note, and their voices soared. They lived up to their name even when tackling an all-time favorite, "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child, though they're hardly women yet. When it comes down to it, they seem to be decent role models and really do deserve the fame they were granted, as their talent is undeniable.
Then, things got kind of bizarre. After playing Fifth Harmony's Clean & Clear commercial with the strong ethos of "being yourself" (a good message that was admittedly exhausted by the end of the night), another commercial played on screen, centered around a magician on X Factor named Collins Key. Next thing we knew, the tall and affable character was roaming throughout the audience, picking some hyperventilating girls to help him perform some tricks.
His show cleverly incorporated some classy product placement, such as when he transformed a girl's dollar bill into a backstage pass, only for her to find the original dollar in "Demi's Acuvue Oaysys box," the contact lenses she apparently sponsors.
Despite being generally confused by his presence at the concert, most of Collins' tricks did make us say, "No waaaaaay." Admittedly, we are easily impressed.
Next up was Demi Lovato. Just kidding! It was another opener. Also X Factor alums, Little Mix looked and performed like women. Beginning with their title track, "Salute," which happened to be about just that -- being a woman -- the four gals commanded the stage with a male dancer flanking each as they went full force into some classic synchronized dancing.
The song itself was as sexy as their moves, and maybe it's girl-group nostalgia kicking in, but they were truly dynamic and tight in their performance capabilities. We totally got into it. They were a perfect modern blend of the Spice Girls' charm and look (though the comparison is obvious since they too are Brits) but with the fierceness and booty-poppin' deliciousness of Destiny's Child. They even commemorated the girls in a pretty terrific mashup of "Bootylicious," TLC's "No Scrubs," and En Vogue's "Don't Let Go."
After the ladies said their goodbyes, Collins returned yet again for some more magic, until finally, finally it was Demi's turn.
Behind her full band, the screen showed some pretty clichéd shots of the singer swimming in slow motion with her bubblegum-pink hair floating about like a mermaid. It was the kind of video that you just know will be chopped up into artsy gifs on Tumblr.
As teens screeched about the arena, Demi finally appeared on a platform that rose from the depths of the stage's runway, clad in shiny black spandex pants with a craftily placed rip at the knee, a black shirt, and blazer with chains and pins. She made her tattoos visible; one that struck our notice was the trendy cross that people seem to be getting on their hands.
She even rocked a half-up, half-down cornrow Mohawk, which allowed her to thrash her head around with no restraint.
Her whole "image" was that of the punk-rocker of pop, though that idea didn't always translate in the songs she sang. Sure, many had an eff-you attitude, like the track "Got Dynamite," which was paired with a not-too-subtle montage of fire and explosions, as well as "Really Don't Care," which happens to sound remarkably like Icona Pop's "I Love It," made famous by its line "I don't care, I love it!"
But then there were many tender moments, like when she sat on the steps with her two backup singers and guitarist for an acoustic rendition of "Here We Go Again," which was nice but didn't fully go with what she was so obviously trying to give off.
Not to hate on the girl; she has a strong voice that stands out among the rest of the Disney copycats, but she did rely on her backup singers a lot and admitted that her throat wasn't at its best. She still shined through on the more emotionally charged songs like "Nightingale" and crowd favorite "Don't Forget."
The thing is, early on in the show, we hoped she wouldn't capitalize on the horrible things she'd gone through during her hiatus and prior. But as the night went on and clips of her in a suit of armor graced the screen, it felt as if her production team had decided that the "damaged girl overcoming hardship" was her "angle."
When she spoke to the audience about getting help for anything causing you harm, it felt real and most likely came from an honest and genuine place. But when her encore was introduced by a montage of newscaster clips announcing the news of her rehabilitation and her subsequent return and accomplishments, it seemed as if her story was driving the show more than the performance was.
Toward the end of the show, during her hit redemption song "Skyscraper," wearing a long black dress/robe/cloak thing, she rose about four feet off the stage on the same platform that brought her there, with angelic light shining over her as she belted the last notes.
Then, she was disrobed, implying that the cloak thing was her former sadness and without it she can be herself, wearing her initial getup.
When you think about that process being done every night on this tour -- the remembering of harsh times, the visualization of progress, and the celebration of health -- it seems more and more detrimental to the singer herself.
Constantly reliving personal pain in the form of a cheesy video and ugly dress simply to reinforce your "message" hardly seems like a good way to grow. It may be a good tale and moneymaker, but maybe it's the one thing holding her back.
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