Confident may not be the best record you’ll hear this year.
Demi Lovato has undergone a re-brand of sorts over the last year. Always vocal about her struggles with bipolar disorder, eating disorders, drug use and self-harm, she has taken her mission of awareness and activism to another level. With Confident, Lovato has transformed herself into a butterfly/cocoon metaphor with a strong, body-positive mission to inspire anyone feeling badly about themselves to be who they are regardless of the consequences that may follow. While this may not be a new concept for pop stars to embrace, there is an air of sincerity that Lovato exudes that other stars of her caliber have tried but failed to pull off. While Confident certainly has its misses, there hasn’t been a more earnest effort in recent history to actually say something in pop music despite being crammed underneath the weight of the mass-market machine.
Confident begins with a “Gonna Fly Now”-esque horn introduction to kick off the title track. Its march of a beat acts as a call to arms that asks the question, “What’s wrong with being confident?” while shrugging off anyone who scoffs at the idea. Lyrically, it’s exactly as you would expect. Pop music relies on clichés and buzzwords to sell a hook, and “Confident” is no different. But, if you do your research, or even a Google search for that matter, you’ll see that Lovato is living this song. Sure, you could say that it’s all PR and management making that happen, and, sure, that may be partially true. But Lovato does it with such—and I hate to say it—confidence, that it doesn’t feel like simple song and dance.
Next up is the summer smash hit, “Cool for the Summer.” Considering this tune is terribly fun and equally as provocative, it would be easy to say that this is the perfect follow-up to “Confident.” What’s more difficult to say is that this song feels like a label mandated smash hit whose purpose is for little else than album sales fodder. It’s sexy, it’s danceable and it hammers home the flip-side of Lovato’s re-brand: the raw, sweaty, sexual side that—you guessed it—sells records. In that context, “Cool for the Summer” is massively successful. Otherwise, not so much.
“Old Ways” falls into the trap that most contemporary pop songs do. It’s build up, build up, build up, then a quiet, hip-grooving beat with the bass so low it’s barely audible and a indiscernible lead instrument that is just a bit too greasy in its execution: a little creepy, a little catchy, but not so memorable. The song does, however, return to the “Confident” theme as Lovato sings, “Not going back to my old ways.” Don’t be fooled, this is a good track. It just lacks that explosive hook featured in the previous two songs.
“For You,” “Stone Cold,” “Kingdom Come” and “Waitin’ for You” are perfectly serviceable break-up lamentations and love songs. All of these tunes say the same things, but, truthfully enough, all feel different on a fundamental level. Chalk that up to the upside of having too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen. Each song could fit into a different genre, and whether they’re ballads or club jams, they fit. Nicely, even, despite deviating from the album’s theme. They’re not the best songs on Confident, but they entertain and show off Lovato’s vocal chops. Even the monumental annoyance of Iggy Azalea shines during her portion of “Kingdom Come.” And that’s saying something.
It should be noted that, for whatever reason, when a pop star adds their “grown-up” record to their catalog, producers feel the need to have them curse like they were in a Kevin Smith flick. Saying “shit” and “fuck” doesn’t make anyone badass. Foul language is supposed to serve a purpose, but here it feels like the only purpose was to make tweens giggle. Everyone involved should have let the vibe of the tunes speak for Lovato’s growth spurt, but instead they sprinkled disingenuous bleep-able nonsense that feels out of place and completely unnecessary.
The final third of Confident brings with it some of the album’s strongest tracks. “Lionheart” is certainly a standout with its massive, infectious nature and its relevance to Lovato’s new themes. But the real winner is “Father,” the final ballad to finish off this overall exciting and hype-inducing album. Again, Lovato approaches a song that people have heard before, but does it with more heart, more sincerity and more class than her contemporaries. “Father” is a straight heartbreaker. What starts off as an eye-rolling snore-fest transforms into a massive and powerful tearjerker. Lovato has outdone herself, her producers have outdone themselves, but, unfortunately, because of the Taylor Swifts of the world and their perceived genius, “Father” will likely be a forgotten pop masterpiece for being too genuine, too heartbreaking and too far from the mark of traditional pop ballads.
Confident may not be the best record you’ll hear this year. It’s not without its lapses in judgment, or its missteps. What it is, however, is a genuine effort by everyone involved to cut through heaps of mainstream buffoonery to show the true face of a pop star. Granted, this is modern pop we’re talking about. That statement, as such, has to be taken with a grain of salt. But Lovato doesn’t pretend to be a genius. She doesn’t pretend to be a spokesperson. She doesn’t claim to be the next iteration of pop star. What she does is champion confidence, body-positivity and trueness of self. And, amazingly, it doesn’t feel like bullshit. Yeah, Confident has issues, but when a chart-topping pop record is dripping with sincerity, it has to be called a success.