Documentary Review: “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil”

Lifestyle Editor, Colleen Conradi, reflects on the inspiring vulnerability of Demi Lovato’s third documentary and how it applies to her own life as she prepares to enter post-college life. 

Content Warning: Mention of substance-abuse, addiction, self-harm, and suicidal ideation

On March 23, 2021, Demi Lovato released the first two episodes of a four-part documentary on Youtube called “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” as well as her latest album, “Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over.” In the series, Lovato spoke on her mental and physical health over the last few years, primarily focusing the narrative around her heroin overdose in the summer of 2018 and how her life has changed since. In addition to her history with drug and alcohol addiction, Lovato also discussed her experiences with eating disorders, suicidal ideation, history of sexual abuse, and making peace with the death of her alcoholic father. Although recounting the past three years is full of pain and adversity, like the title of one of her newest songs, Lovato says that upon the release of the documentary and album she is in a “good place.” 

“Dancing With the Devil” is not Lovato’s first documentary; in fact, this series is the third time she has put out a sort of tell-all via documentary for fans and the rest of the world. Her first time opening up to the world like this was in 2012, months after leaving a treatment center for “physical and emotional issues.” In the MTV television special titled “Demi Lovato: Stay Strong,” Lovato opened up about her eating disorder, long history of self-harm, and a general struggle with mental health. I remember being glued to the television when that special was released, hanging onto every word she spoke. Eight years later, the only thing that has changed is that my eyes are glued to a computer screen instead this time around. As I watched the four episodes of “Dancing With the Devil,” I was struck by not only how much Lovato has personally grown in the last eight years, but also how much my own life seemed to parallel hers. 

I was in the seventh grade when “Stay Strong” was released, and by that time, I was already a massive fan of Lovato and her music. As I sat and listened to her speak so openly and honestly about mental health, I was shocked at how understood I felt  — which, at 12-years-old, was not something that I felt very often. At the time, I was still extremely new to the topic of mental health and most of my understanding came from harmful Tumblr content, which often promoted unhealthy coping mechanisms. I never thought to tell anyone if I was feeling down or anxious. For me, much of Lovato’s vulnerable words and lyrics were my own form of therapy. 

In 2017, Demi Lovato came out with her second special: a documentary on Youtube called “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated.” Upon its release, Lovato’s words shocked many as she stated that in “Stay Strong,” while she was telling the world of her success in recovery, she was simultaneously using drugs and drinking heavily. Although this disappointed some and saddened others, I was amazed by her vulnerability. At this time in 2017, I was a freshman at UC San Diego. Between starting college and the release of “Stay Strong,” I had experienced the loss of my father to cancer, the loss of my family’s beloved home, and I was in a program for those living with an alcoholic. Like Lovato’s life, a lot had happened in that span of time for me, but in addition to all of those hardships, I had also been in therapy and had been on medication for depression and anxiety for years. I had begun to open up about things that 12-year-old me would have never have dreamed I’d have the courage to do. As I sat in my dorm room among the Fleets of Revelle, I was in awe of the personal strength I saw in Lovato. Although I still had a long way to go in therapy, I felt relieved and inspired after seeing Lovato continue to be living proof that mental health is worth talking about. 

I am currently a senior in my final quarter at UC San Diego. The last three years were not without difficulty; I’ve gone part-time twice, become a regular in the ERC advising office, registered with the Office of Students With Disabilities, and even completed an eight-week intensive outpatient program for dialectical behavioral therapy in the spring of my second year. Even though I did not experience a heroin overdose like Lovato, I absolutely have felt as though I have gone through the wringer and still survived. 

Hearing Lovato tell the world for the third time that she is a human who feels a lot and makes mistakes has come at the perfect time for me. As I watched all four episodes, I found myself crying at several parts, but what struck me the most was seeing Lovato cry at how grateful she is to be alive, to be in a good place, and to feel at peace with herself and the world. Not only was I crying out of happiness for her, but I realized later that I’m envious of that. I know that I am not there yet. However, as Lovato enters a new chapter in her life, I’m also entering a new one in my life as I graduate and enter the world as a “real” adult. In a bonus clip featured on Lovato’s YouTube channel, she says to the camera, “I want [fans] to know that I’m gonna continue to fight for you. I’m gonna continue to fight my struggles to show other people that you can make it through.” As a huge fan of hers, I have always believed Lovato when she said that life is worth living, but this time around it feels so much more powerful given what she’s been through and given my own experiences. There are still things I have yet to conquer in therapy and my own mental health journey, but it is people like Lovato, who are survivors and storytellers that assure me that it is worth working toward being in a “good place,” like the one she is in now. Though her past documentaries have left me awestruck before, it is “Dancing With the Devil” that has made me feel like I’ve grown alongside her. Lovato’s honesty and vulnerability have inspired me to embrace my own experiences and feel genuinely excited for what is in store for me in the next chapter of my life. 

I would recommend any of the specials, but “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” should be watched by any and all people who are looking to feel inspired and grateful to be given the opportunity to start over every day. 

Director: Michael D. Ratner
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Rated: TV-14
Grade: A

Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

**If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that there is hope and help available for you:


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
UCSD Counseling and Psychological Services Hotline: 858-534-3755

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