To remember when Demi Lovato released Unbroken is to have lived through the first of several precarious times of being a Lovato fan. A year prior to the release of their third studio album, the Disney Channel star had reprised the role that made them famous in Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam.
Their series Sonny With a Chance had been renewed for a third season, and they had embarked on yet another concert tour with the Jonas Brothers in support of their Disney projects. It all came to a grinding halt in November 2010, when Lovato abruptly withdrew from the tour to seek treatment for physical and emotional issues after punching a backup dancer. Upon entering rehab, they would ultimately withdraw from their acting career, effectively ending Sonny and launching a spin-off that continued without them.
Completing inpatient treatment a mere two months later, Lovato vowed to focus on music for the foreseeable future. They had begun work on their next album the previous summer before the fateful tour began, completing the recording of the song that would ultimately become the lead single. Written by Toby Gad, Lindy Robbins, and Kerli Kõiv, “Skyscraper” was offered to Lovato by Gad personally, and they immediately felt a “huge emotional attachment” to it.
During recording, Lovato was reportedly “doubled over, just in pain”, as they had not yet confided in anyone regarding their struggles at that time, which had included bulimia, self-harm, and drug and alcohol abuse. Their voice was also allegedly damaged by purging, which led to a version of the song that Lovato has since struggled to replicate. They re-recorded “Skyscraper” after their release from rehab in the early months of 2011 but chose to keep the original version.
“There was something in that first try, that first run-through of the song that was kind of magical,” Lovato said. “It was so much emotion in it, and to this day, it’s still really special to me.” It ended up being picked as the lead single from what would become Unbroken as they believed it to be something “very inspirational” to reflect the journey they’d been on over that year but described the rest of the album as being “a lot lighter and more fun.”
Although the first half of Unbroken relies too heavily on collaborations, something no other Demi Lovato album would come to carry, the record remains some of the singer’s best work, both lyrically and vocally. This album was, after all, their first foray into more “grown-up” pop, even though they were still signed to the Disney-owned Hollywood Records. The experimentation in sound is still evident a decade later and still manages to sound refreshing as Lovato tries on different shoes for size.
Despite having written with John Mayer for their previous album, Here We Go Again, Unbroken saw the singer collaborating with Ryan Tedder, Timbaland, and Rock Mafia for a pop and R&B-focused record that would work to shed the rather immature pop-rock image foisted on them by Disney Channel. While many “Lovatics” will still gladly claim Here We Go Again as their best album and mourn the similar pop-rock they could have continued to make thereafter, Unbroken proved that there was life for Lovato beyond Disney. Even if the Jason Derulo collaboration “Together” reads like a children’s PSA for the network, and Iyaz’s guest appearance on “You’re My Only Shorty” is a colossal product of its time.
While standout tracks like “Fix a Heart” and “Give Your Heart a Break” would become mainstays on any Lovato set or playlist, most of Unbroken’s strongest and memorable offerings now remain forgotten to history. Although “Give Your Heart a Break” would ultimately be the second and final single released from the album, immense potential for future releases lay in the title track, “Lightweight”, the love letter to their fans found in “My Love Is Like a Star”, or even the pop-rap earworm “Who’s That Boy”. Legend has it that the latter was originally chosen as the second single over “Heart a Break”. But the plan was called off after collaborator Dev announced a pregnancy that would have derailed promotion.
But perhaps a collaborator’s pregnancy wasn’t the only thing that derailed promotion for Unbroken. Even though Lovato had done both a solo concert tour and an MTV documentary film Demi Lovato: Stay Strong in support of the album, which prided itself on its themes of self-empowerment and recovery, fans would learn years later that the narrative Lovato fed to the media during the Unbroken era was not entirely truthful. Indeed, within the opening lines of their 2017 digital documentary Simply Complicated, we learn that they were suffering anxiety over conducting new interviews of such length since, “The last time I did an interview this long I was on cocaine. It was called Staying Strong.”
Although the sober account that Lovato clung to during the initial promotional period for Unbroken turned out to be false, it doesn’t invalidate the poignant vulnerability on display throughout the album, which would also set the stage for Lovato’s placement as an advocate for mental health awareness. With the mistreatment they would later reveal to have endured by their management team at the time very much withstanding, the singer would remain a figure of activism, teaching legions of young fans how to transcend their struggles just by using their voice.
Even as Unbroken remains some of their best work, the singer themselves would come to outgrow the sounds they experimented with on their third album. Lovato told Billboard magazine in 2013 that they quickly got sick of playing the songs from Unbroken live, saying, “And I have to wonder, was that album really who I was? Was I just experimenting with sounds? I think I wanted to try something more R&B, but when I tried that, it wasn’t really me.” Omitting similar R&B influences from their following two albums, it would only be with the release of their sixth album and arguably magnum opus Tell Me You Love Me that the sound in question would return. That one shows Lovato fully in their element while also knowing the power of changing our creative colors whenever change elsewhere is imminent.