Pop shows are fundamentally a visual spectacle. If you go to an arena show for the flashing lights and zealous flare, you likely won't leave disappointed. Categorizing it as anything but fun is difficult. Look too long at some, however, and the natural conclusion you will come to is a one-word refrain: empty.
Demi Lovato, at face value, wowed and entertained with fog machines and catchy hooks at American Airlines Center last night. For the most part, people were drunk and excited and singing along. Performances were well executed and went off without a hitch. At one point, in between sets, and unknown female voice screeched “I’m so happy!” The people who were there to relax and enjoy a night had their needs met without a doubt, but as soon as Lovato rose from the sparsely decorated stage, opening with “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore,” something felt amiss. It wasn’t her voice, which was in top form, and even the lack of a live band feels like a nitpick. What felt so off was the heavy-handed skits that peppered the performance.
The visual art was hollow and uninspired. It often feigned self-awareness but ultimately was reduced to nothing but hollow platitudes. The videos served as a distraction from the set changes on stage, as props were ushered on and off and backup dancers assumed positions. They depicted Lovato in a number of occupations, most notably as a therapist, a model and a boxer. The most flagrant example was a skit nestled between her first song and another titled “Daddy Issues” that had Lovato cast as both therapist and patient. In an effort to appear introspective, they talk of a new boy who has entered her life, discussing the fact that she is enamored with him, but ultimately they had been on one date and he would no longer return her calls. It felt almost like a tired trope in the realm of pop music that has since moved on to newer and better things. Much like the song it was inspired by, it amounted to nothing more than a handful of buzzwords and a cursory and fruitless examination of self.
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That lack of self-awareness extended into another significant performance of the evening. In this case, four songs in, Lovato performed a frenetic and sensual performance of her song “Sexy Dirty Love” which was, to her credit, entertaining. Where the show falters is when it once again wades into the territory of “making a statement.” The performance had both Lovato and many dancers signaling same-sex and heterosexual coupling, which without a doubt is refreshing and necessary representation for many LGBTQ+ youths. But toward the climax, the song attempted to take aim at reactionary parents, with Lovato crying, “Love who you love, and go tell your mother!” At face value, this is a sentiment that most people find agreeable and it is hardly a bad thing that she is openly taking this position. It’s just not as revolutionary as she or her PR team would have you believe. It’s not 2012 anymore. The LGBTQ+ community is far more nuanced than just “gay” or “lesbian,” or just the acceptable amount of erotic bisexuality. There are trans men and women suffering every day, and non-binary individuals struggling to find their place in a polar gender landscape. To engage with anything less feels disingenuous, but perhaps it is the step forward we need to eventually reach that point in the public conversation. Perhaps is it is too much to ask right now.
Admittedly, after the first act, the rest of the show went off without much of a hitch, with performances featuring a few interesting covers of songs such as “No Promises” by Cheat Codes and “Echame La Culpa” by Luis Fonsi. There was the expected encore in which fans finally heard the hit single “Sorry Not Sorry” and like clockwork, the attendees ate it up. Overall, what matters is the people in attendance got what they wanted out of it, and engaged with it in they way they saw fit. Maybe that’s all we should be asking for anyway.