A year has passed since Covid-19 impacted the world and changed the idea of what normal life was like. One of the very first major events effected was South By Southwest (SxSw.) Last March, SxSw had to cancel just weeks before its annual conference which attracts over 100,000 people each year who descind on Austin, Texas for the latest in innovation, film, and music.
12 months later, SxSw like many others has been forced to reimagine itself as SxSw Online. A 5-day venture into the world of an online film/music/tech festival. On Tuesday night the film portion of festival kicked off in attendee’s homes with an eye-opening roller coaster ride into the life of pop megastar Demi Lovato and her battles that almost killed her just three years ago.
Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil is a four-part YouTube Original Docuseries that will premiere March 23. The documentary is not for the weak of heart and is even preceeded with a trigger warning, and rightfully so. While the film is masterfully done as being a vessel of truth and vulnerability, don’t expect it to be an orchestrated tool by Lovato’s PR team to win her back lost fans.
Lovato’s struggles with eating disorders and addiction have been as instrumental in her fame as her music has been over the late 2010s as Lovato became a role model and voice as a survivor. Her chart topping hits and sold out Arena tours begin the documentary as footage from 2018 show a girl struggling with her recovery, demands of fame, and plotting through a life with a team of people following her every step to keep her sober and safe. As part one hit its stride we see a girl who is fooling the world into thinking everything is fine, while under the surface, a catastrophe is about to occur.
The details and the events of her 2018 overdose have been widely publicized and known. Lovato after celebrating a friend’s birthday party decided to invite over her former drug dealer and after mixing heroin with fentanyl she nearly lost her life. Hearing from her friends, parents, and sisters recall their experiences is heartbreaking, meanwhile Lovato doesn’t remember anything.
The rest of the documentary gets into her recovery, relapse from that, and other horrible traumas she has experienced which has understandably led to the decisions she makes to cope with the cards life has dealt her.
Director Michael D. Ratner crafts a documentary that is an emotional gut punch after emotional gut punch. Lovato is vulnerable and honest in everything she says. Her best friends, and former assistants are allowed to tell their accounts and it feels like a therapy session that maybe we shouldn’t be invited to. But the most unsettling thing about the documentary is Lovato’s refusal to sugar coat anything that has happened to her and unwilligness to promise a sober future.
It is clearly a tale on addiction, coping, and recovery. For Lovato’s fans this will be an incredible moment to get to know their idol in a way I am not sure anyone of her fame and notoriety has ever opened up to. And for people unfamiliar with her work, it will be a haunting glimpse into the reality of the effects of drugs, sexual assault, and depression.
The fourth part of the docuseries is the most interesting and unsettling. Lovato’s friends and fellow music superstars Christina Aguilera and Elton John weigh in on their relationship with her and the choices she continues to make. Lovato unveils that she continues to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. In the next cut, we see Elton John say moderation doesn’t work, and it’s not possibile. This is a moment my jaw dropped. I respect this series immensely for portraying what Lovato has gone through and has in front of her. Many may leave feeling hopeful, other may leave worried, but hopefully people with similar issues will leave this knowing they aren’t alone.
The docuseries premieres on YouTube on Tuesday, March 23.