It’s no secret I have a very large bias for Demi. She’s been my favorite singer since 2008, and I’ve followed her career even longer. Each album has been met with eager anticipation and Tell Me You Love Me was no exception. In fact, I think this was my most-anticipated album she’s ever released. Her early promotional singles “Tell Me You Love Me,” “Sexy Dirty Love,” and “You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore” (and to a certain extent, “Sorry Not Sorry”) really proved that she was upping the ante this go-around. And yet, I still think I was expecting Confident 2.0. But this album blew it (along with all her previous albums, including her former best Here We Go Again) out of the water. Don’t misunderstand— I still love all her older works. It’s just that she promised R&B pop on Unbroken and Confident and both of those albums leaned heavier on the pop than R&B. I’d assumed, naturally, that Tell Me You Love Me would follow in a similar vein. Not so. The R&B influence is far clearer on this album, allowing for Demi’s best vocal performances to date. Gone are the days of Demi belting every song to prove she can sing (not that I ever had a problem with that). Sure, the belts are there, but they’re far less prominent. Demi really explores the different sides of her voice, proving she has the chops no matter the song. Lyrically, musically, and vocally, this is Demi’s best album. Her attitude and presence are stronger and more apparent than ever before. Demi Lovato has truly found her stride with Tell Me You Love Me.
Usually when I review albums I denote which songs are my favorites. Well, I love this album so much and consider so many favorites it would get pretty repetitive. So instead, I’ll just say that my least favorite is “Sexy Dirty Love.” I still like it, but not as much as the rest of the album. Also, “Instruction” and “No Promises (Acoustic)” don’t count. And now, here’s a track-by-track review of Tell Me You Love Me:
- Sorry Not Sorry: The first single off the album, this song is one of the poppiest. Backed by a choir, Demi declares that she’s not sorry for who she is and how well she’s doing. It’s a fresh take for a song dedicated to haters; it’s not about them, it’s about her. Despite all her bullies and detractors have said and done, she’s still “the best [she’s] ever been.” It’s a celebration that really embodies the old adage, “success is the best revenge.” Although, I’ll admit, it was a grower for me.
- Tell Me You Love Me: This is a song about needing love for your own well-being. While on first listen it sounds like Demi is getting lost in a relationship (which she admittedly has), the song also alludes to self-love. Although she declares “You ain’t nobody till you go somebody,” there is no reason why that “somebody” can’t be her. Demi’s vocals shine over horns and drums, a rich sound filled with emotion. Despite its grandiosity, it’s one of the most vulnerable on the album.
- Sexy Dirty Love: On this track, Demi recounts sexting with a prospective partner. But she wants to take it a step farther. This song has a noticeable touch of disco and funk. This adds flair to a track that, in less capable hands, could’ve wound up very bland.
- You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore: This track is Demi’s break-up song to her old self. One of the only true ballads on the album, Demi gets deeply personal. In the second verse she sings, “Money won’t pay for your problems./ You’ve gotta fix them yourself./ Vices and pity won’t solve ‘em./ Stop feeling bad for yourself.” These criticisms are denouncing Demi’s former drug use, drinking, and self-harm. These things simply, well, don’t do it for her anymore. In this way, “You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore” is the vastly superior version of Confident’s “Old Ways.” Honestly, this song would’ve been right at home on a Whitney Houston album. This is also the only track on the album where Demi really utilizes her belting skills. It’s an empowering track, even if you can’t relate to it directly.
- Daddy Issues: This track is the only genuine pop song on the album. Video game sounds permeate the track and strangely fit— perhaps because both video games and the experience Demi describes in the song are versions of augmented reality. While Demi appears to be singing about a relationship with an unavailable man, it soon becomes evident that this song is really self-deprecation. With lines like “Lucky for you, I’ve got all these daddy issues” and “Forget all the therapy I’ve been through,” it’s clear Demi is poking fun at herself and her tendency to fall for the wrong guys. Demi herself admits that the sentiment is true, but she’s in a good enough place where it doesn’t need to be reflected upon a la “For the Love of a Daughter.” I will say though that singing along to this song feels a little uncomfortable, knowing I’ve got a great dad.
- Ruin the Friendship: And now we’ve come to it: the first of the Nick Jonas songs. Sultry and smooth, this song is in and of itself a form of seduction (and if it didn’t work on Nick, nothing will because WOW). Horns swoon sexily, adding to the obvious heat. Interestingly, this song is also one of the most vocally experimental, each chorus sung in a different way. There’s something so genuine about the song, you find yourself rooting for those two crazy kids.
- Only Forever: According to Demi, this song is the counterpart to “Ruin the Friendship.” This one, however, is focused more on feelings than sex. It’s a different kind of ballad for Demi, forgoing piano in favor of synths and guitars. The audio is even made to sound like an old, scratched record. This is fitting with the theme, as Demi is willing to wait for this person (Nick) forever. I will say, however, that I prefer the verses and bridge to the chorus.
- Lonely (feat. Lil Wayne): I’ll admit, I was very apprehensive about this song. Lil Wayne and DJ Mustard as collaborators? Not a combination I thought would make for a good song. But, boy, was I wrong. This track is a bitter, growling wail of a song. Demi is fed. Up. The person she loves neglects and ignores her, leaving her feeling alone. Instead of sadness, however, there is a sense that this is the last straw for Demi. She says she’s, “Cut up and bleeding for no goddamn reason,” showing that she knows there is no hope for this relationship and really no point to it. Lil Wayne delivers one of his best guest verses to date(I’m not familiar enough with his own work to judge that). Thematically, it fits perfectly with the song. Lil Wayne is tired and wrung-out. He even delivers my favorite lines of the song: “I never see the forest from the tree/ The water from the sea./ And I was starting to believe/ But it’s a forest full of dreams.” Demi and Lil Wayne mesh well together, but perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised given Demi’s infamous cover of his song “How to Love.” Clearly, they’ve both felt the same kind of pain. DJ Mustard even provided quality production. I have to say, I was very glad to be proven wrong by this song and team. I could see this song doing well as a single.
- Cry Baby: Although steeped in R&B pop, this song has a very bluesy rock vibe. Demi’s delivery and emotive skills on this song are phenomenal. The song chronicles a dysfunctional relationship, one that leaves Demi in tears despite being “no cry baby.” It’s monumental and cinematic. There’s also an excellent guitar solo during the bridge. Despite what I said in the introduction, I have to admit that this is my favorite song on the album.
- Games: This track takes a page straight out of Kehlani’s book (not surprising, as Demi frequently cites her as a major influence on this album). It’s savage, promising this player that he’s about to get what he gives. He only hits her up when he wants sex, so she retaliates by leaving his “text on read/ And it ain’t no accident.” But, although Demi can play games, she doesn’t want to. On the bridge she says (amid the some of the craziest runs I’ve ever heard), “If you’re ready to quit it/ Maybe I can be yours.” So, despite the bitter, fighting tone, she is still optimistic. Just don’t fuck with her.
- Concentrate: This track has an almost country feel to it, in both the acoustic guitar and delivery. Demi’s vocals house the two halves of her childhood: R&B and country. The song itself is about sex, but it focuses more on making love than fucking. It’s somehow both sexy and vulnerable, a combination that Demi embodies herself. The ending of the song is the climax, Demi’s soaring vocals mimicking an orgasm. Demi took this song in a very unique direction and it works well.
- Hitchhiker: The standard album closer, this track is a soft, warm love song, the likes of which she hasn’t released since Here We Go Again’s “Catch Me.” The song has similar themes, Demi choosing to fall in love and not worry about the risks. The metaphor is a little trite, but Demi’s delivery more than makes up for it. Like “Concentrate,” it’s got a touch of country. It also feels kind of bluesey. Or perhaps jazzy is the better word. Either way, this acoustic track shows off everything Demi is good at and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
- Instruction (feat. Jax Jones & Stefflon Don): The first of the deluxe edition bonus tracks, this is a dance anthem. Much like “Sorry Not Sorry,” it focuses on being a boss ass bitch. It’s not Demi’s best collaboration by any means, but it gave us the line, “If you’re the supreme, I’m Diana Ross,” so it gets a pass.
- Sorry Not Sorry (Acoustic): Once again joined by a choir, Demi rerecorded her smash hit on piano. It’s retains the snappy, confident air, but focuses more on vocal performance than anything else. Even the choir is more prominent. It was definitely a good addition to an already quality album.
- No Promises (Acoustic) [feat. Cheat Codes]: This acoustic track I’m less fond of. The final track on the deluxe edition, it takes the vocals from the original track and places acoustic guitar behind them instead. The result is… mixed. Sometimes the vocals fit, but sometimes they sound too processed. I wish they had rerecorded it like Demi did for “Sorry Not Sorry.” Still, it offers you a nice wind-down period after the overwhelming experience of listening to Demi’s best album.
- Smoke & Mirrors: The first of the Target bonus tracks, this one is another traditional ballad. It’s a heartbreaking song of pain and doubt after her breakup with long-time boyfriend Wilmer Valderamma. She asks things like “Did you ever really love me?” and “Was I ever really happy?” all while sobbing. It’s Demi’s most emotional track since “Skyscraper” and lyrically one of the best she’s ever released. It deserved to be on the standard album.
- Ready for Ya: The final song on the Target edition, this song mixes pop and R&B as skillfully as “Sorry Not Sorry” does. The song chronicles more difficult times in her relationship with Wilmer, when she was in a dark place. Not only does she explicitly refer to her drug and alcohol abuse, but says Wilmer “Called [her] out, [he was] honest.” Despite feeling like he saved her, she still had the notion that “anything good was too good for [her].” It’s a very vulnerable track where Demi never once utilizes her big voice. It’s honestly tied with “Cry Baby” as my favorite and should’ve been on the standard version.
Demi has been through so much in her young life, and for the first time it’s fully reflected in her music. There is no more hiding behind generic pop sounds or being vague to make the song more relatable. She’s singing solely about her experiences. As a long-time fan, I can say this is the album we’ve wanted her to make for a long time. She’s finally found her sound and bared her soul in a way she hasn’t before. This era is truly going to be a game-changing one and I can’t wait to see where she takes us.