This week Demi Lovato’s suspected overdose left her fans heartbroken. The narrative of a young star falling from grace, only to pick themselves up and entertain us once again is familiar. Louise Bruton asks, why do we continue to push our pop stars into a place that they’re not ready for?
Every day, we project our own narratives across social media. While the conversation is shifting in terms of how we portray ourselves online, there’s a quick fix in achieving the likes on a low day. Glossing over the sad days and covering up the dark bags under our eyes with a smiling, filtered selfie, it’s an instant confidence boost by in doing so, we’re altering our reality. Grasping onto our own storylines, we hope that they follow a similar story arc to the movies so that our happy endings tie everything up nicely, if not for our audience (of friends and supportive aunties) but to convince ourselves that it can happen. But as much as we project, we watch.
We follow celebrities as they reclaim the stories that the tabloids once held ownership over and that’s where the comeback an ultimatum; prematurely declared when things like depression, substance abuse and exhaustion take more than a news cycle to even out. When the news broke that Demi Lovato was submitted to a Los Angeles hospital after a suspected drug overdose on July 24th, fans who have followed her struggles with eating disorders, self-harm, drug abuse and depression over the course of her career were utterly heartbroken. Heartbroken for a young woman who has tried so hard to stay sober, using blunt honestly to highlight her personal struggles, a star who chose to leave her voice unedited on her 2010 ballad Skyscaper so people could hear the damage that bulimia caused to her vocal cords before she sought treatment. For those who barely know Lovato’s name, they just pegged her as just another car crash child star. In her 2017 YouTube documentary film Simply Complicated, she details her addictions that matched her rise to fame.
By the time she was 17 years of age, she had landed roles on The Disney Channel’s Sonny with a Chance and in the Camp Rock movies, alongside The Jonas Brothers, but at that young age, she had also started using cocaine. In Simply Complicated, she says she was an expert in manipulating adults and that when she claimed to be sober in her 2012 MTV documentary Staying Strong, she was on cocaine. She says of that time: “I wasn’t ready to get sober. I was sneaking it on planes, sneaking it in bathrooms, sneaking it throughout the night. Nobody knew.” The Lovato we saw in Simply Complicated wore a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a sport she got into to assist with her sobriety, and she was in the studio recording songs for her latest album Tell Me You Love Me. She was playing out her comeback for us as we cheered her on.
Initial reports on Lovato’s hospitalisation suggested that the 25-year-old overdosed on heroin earlier this week but recent updates inform us that this is not the case. However, Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat emergency cases of opioid overdose or suspected opioid overdose, was reportedly administered before the paramedics arrived to the scene. “Momma, I’m so sorry I’m not sober anymore. And daddy, please forgive me for the drinks spilt on the floor. To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before. I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore,” she sings on Sober, a confessional song released in June that confirms that Lovato’s six years of sobriety came to an end this summer.
The push to prove to the public that everything is fine can often push our pop stars into a place that they’re not ready for. We’ve seen it with Britney Spears, whose 2008 MTV documentary For The Record shows a lost and broken young woman who’s barely holding on after her breakdown that occupied the gossip columns for most of 2007. On January 31st, 2008, Spears was admitted to the psychiatric department in UCLA’s Medical Centre but by March of 2009, she was on a world tour with her Circus album, coming to Dublin that June. Gruelling schedules that move you to a different city every single night, jet lag and arenas filled with thousands of screaming fans aren’t your usual remedies to a mental breakdown but the need to reclaim Spears’ superstar status was possibly more important than Spears herself at the time. Thankfully, Spears appears to be happy again and while we have her on her third comeback, she’s just continuing on the only way she knows how.
July 23rd marked the seven-year anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death. An icon to Lovato, the 27-year-old was our own charismatic hero from Camden; our troubled and scrappy underdog whose soulful voice turned pain into poetry. Winehouse’s frightening deterioration played out in front of our own eyes like an episode of Eastenders but our underlying feeling was that we just wanted her to get better. Seven years later and we’ve never seen the likes of Winehouse’s talent again.
When it comes to our pop icons, our desire for their comeback sets a deadline for the old star we love so well to dust themselves off and entertain us once again. When we wish for a comeback, we want to erase the dark days but recovery can leave a person completely changed, turning the old you into a complete stranger. We can’t forget that for every sober day that’s considered a success, one day might come along and set everything back to square one. As Lovato recovers, we can’t force our comeback narrative on her because one day at a time, she’s the only one who can decide that.