[9 September 2009]
Disney starlet Demi Lovato desperately wants to be Kelly Clarkson. From the fingerless glove-wearing fashion to the “Since U Been Gone”-stylized music video of the title track from her sophomore effort, and she’s even got a song called “Remember December”, harkening back to the imagery of Clarkson’s third studio album My December. Lovato even has the two factors that make Clarson such a powerhouse talent (albeit, to a much lesser degree): a set of charismatic pipes and the ability to impose herself into a line and sell a hook.
There’s nothing revolutionary about lines like “I’m so movin’ on / Yeah yeah”, but when the inaugural Idol sang them, it was like inhaling oxygen for the first time. Lovato can’t work miracles with mediocre pop songs like Clarkson, but the young singer-actress has a bigger range than any of her contemporaries, and a better sense of on-record charisma.
Whereas nearly all of Lovato’s debut album Don’t Forget sounded like a Disney experiment (“What would the Jonas Brother sound like if Miley Cyrus lead the pack?”), her sophomore effort Here We Go Again does make small steps in attempting to market and position Lovato as a teen singer, as opposed to strictly “tween”. And if sales are any indication, it’s working. Here We Go Again has already topped the Billboard Charts. However, if actual tracks are to be taken into account, there’s still plenty of missteps.
Lovato’s biggest problem remains the people she surrounds herself with. The Jonas Brothers and John Mayer aren’t exactly pop geniuses. The Mayer co-written track “World of Chances” is just as clichéd, cheesy, and heavy handed as Mayer’s own “Your Body Is a Wonderland”, while “Stop the World” bares both Nick Jonas’s name and his inability to understand what makes a good pop song good.
Though Lovato does her best to bring some spunk to songs like “Solo” and “Quiet”, there’s nothing that really separates the tracks from each other. Most of the album’s up-tempo numbers just blend together. When a real hook pops up, as on “Remember December”, Lovato really bites into it, belting and howling with enough melodrama and bravado to actually make one believe lines like “I remember us together / We promised that forever”.
When Lovato strays away from the formulaic pop/rock template, the results are hit or miss. “Every Time You Lie” aims for the retro-soul of Duffy, but sounds more like a flat version of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning”, and “Gift of a Friend” is as terrible as its name implies, but “Got Dynamite” is easily the album’s selling point. Lovato takes her time to build up momentum before exploding into a chorus of backing vocals, ricocheting synthesizers, and a scattering pop-punk riff that exceeds anything on the Jonas Brothers’ last two albums.
Here We Go Again isn’t perfect by any means, and when compared to someone like Clarkson or Pink, it’s obvious the young singer has lots of work ahead of her if she wants to truly cement herself as a serious, viable pop/rock artist outside of the Disney mold. But given the context, Here We Go Again is certainly enjoyable to some scale. Lovato has a better set of pipes than Taylor Swift, a better sense of presence than Miley Cyrus, and more rawness than the Jonas Brothers. Demi is certainly leading the pack of Disney actors turned singers, but the question remains: Will she break free and do her own thing, or become yet another name lost in the mix? Disney has made one thing clear: being a Teen Queen ain’t easy.