Appearing on the smoke-filled stage of New Jersey’s Prudential Center on Tuesday night (Sept. 12), Demi Lovato was ready to reintroduce herself to a throng of screaming fans. Sporting a black vinyl gown and their now-signature slicked black hair, Lovato showed the MTV VMAs what it means to re-contextualize your pop stardom into rock glory.
Two weeks before their star-turn set, Lovato tells Billboard that they’re not feeling the nerves about their first performance in six years on the VMAs stage. “We just started rehearsals for it and I’m getting the creative locked in right now,” she says over a Zoom call. “I’m really excited. I think it’ll be a great performance.”
That confidence in her own skills as a performer are largely what helped Lovato make Revamped (out Friday, Sept. 15), her new album of old hits reshaped in her new rock image. The 10-track LP features some of their all-time biggest hits (“Heart Attack,” “Sorry Not Sorry”) alongside fan favorites (“La La Land,” “Tell Me You Love Me”), all refurbished with a punchy pop-punk feel to better fit Lovato’s venture back into the world of rock music.
For Lovato, change has been the constant of their career — whether that means transitioning from pop-punk into pure pop and back to rock music, or publicly opening up about their gender identity (Lovato uses both they/them and she/her pronouns). So going back and making aesthetic changes to her music wasn’t anything new. “It just feels really good,” she says. “I’m really proud of the work that we did, and I’m excited for the songs to be out there.”
Below, Billboard chats with Lovato about the origins of Revamped, which song in her discography was the hardest to translate into rock, her abortion rights anthem “Swine” and her recent split from manager Scooter Braun.
Take me back the beginning of this process — when did you start seriously thinking about going back and re-recording these old hits?
Well, I started putting together these rock versions of the songs last year when I was heading out on tour. I had to figure out the puzzle of how to make [songs] like “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Heart Attack” work with all of the new rock songs I was doing. So, the thought was, “Why don’t we edge them up a little bit and see what what they sound like?” We did that, and they just ended up sounding great. I performed them on tour, and the fans really loved them. I thought, “Why don’t I rerecord and release them?”
Were there any songs in particular on Revamped that felt much more difficult to reimagine as rock tracks than others?
Oh, definitely. I think “Tell Me You Love Me” was the one that felt really tough to translate into a new genre of music. The vocals are just so soulful on that one, and so trying to keep it soulful while also amping it up for this record was pretty difficult. Ultimately, I think we made it work — it turned out really great.
When you started creating these rock versions of your biggest hits, did you find that it changed your relationship to the original pop songs themselves?
Actually no — I think it reignited an excitement inside of me for those songs. Like, take “Give Your Heart a Break,” for example: I got really tired of performing that one live, because it had been in my catalog for so long, and it didn’t really reflect any sound that I had anymore. Even when I went more R&B-pop, it just wasn’t the kind of sound I was looking for anymore, because it was just so pop. But when we put together the rock version, I was suddenly having a really fun time on stage performing it.
It’s worth noting that it’s been 15 years since you put out your debut record Don’t Forget, and your voice has grown and changed a lot since then. Were there any moments in the re-recording process where you found yourself adjusting the songs around your evolved voice?
Yeah, I’d say my voice like expanded in a really positive way. So, if anything, with some of the songs I found myself going, ‘Oh, I can hit higher notes than I used to.’ And so I started hitting higher and higher notes when we were recording — to be honest, I think we added an extra high note on every track. I think that’s actually part of the exciting thing with this album; getting to hear the the higher notes that I’m doing in my songs and like taking it to another level. I’d even say they were easier to record, just because I’ve been singing them for so many years.
Re-recordings have become something of a trend in the business as of late — obviously you have Taylor Swift re-recording her masters, but also icons like Lucinda Williams, Moby, U2 and others going back through their catalogs for re-makes. What is it about revisiting your past work that’s so appealing to artists?
I think that anytime you’ve been like performing a song for a long time — for me, like you said, it’s been 15, 16 years, since I put out some of these records — it’s appealing to get to really reinvent them. It’s also a cool challenge, which is exciting. For me, the challenge was, “How can I go in and make this better vocally?” Because the producing was largely done by my incredible production team [Oak Felder, Alex Nice and Keith Sorrells], so I didn’t really have to challenge myself with that.
I think if you’re the type of person that’s always striving to be better, then this process is going to be naturally appealing to you. So, I guess it just depends on the artist; if the artist is totally chill with having their songs out there as they are, and they’re proud of the work that they’ve already done, then that’s great. But I’m the type of person that wants to out-do myself always.
You made headlines in recent weeks when it was announced that you were parting ways with Scooter Braun and SB Projects. Can you talk about what went into that decision?
You know, I’m really thankful for my time with SB Projects, and now I’m just looking forward to the next chapter in my career. Ultimately, it was just time for me to move on and go in a different direction. But I’m really excited for my next chapter.
Let’s talk a little bit about the other song you put out earlier this year, “Swine.” This felt like such a poignant “f–k you“ anthem about the state of abortion rights in America — what went into making that track in time for the one year anniversary of the Dobbs decision?
Well, when I went into the studio to make “Swine,” my goal was to make an anthem — I wanted to write an anthem for women and people that give birth. It was something that was really thought-out for me. Yeah, to be honest, I just wanted to do exactly what you said; make a f–k you anthem to anybody that opposes our rights. [Laughs.] And it felt really good.
I also wanted to commend you for hosting a gender-diverse cast in the “Swine” video, including trans and non-binary people in the clip. Why was that such an important part of making the video for you?
Inclusivity is just something that’s really important to me, and will always be really important to me. Any time I’m doing something that is such a statement like “Swine,” I want to make sure that we keep it inclusive. I’m not trying to limit my art to just one type of person, I think that’s unfair. There has to be representation in my work, so keeping that in mind always is at the forefront of my mind whenever I’m working.
With Revamped coming out, what can we expect to see next from Demi Lovato?
I think after the VMAs and a couple of shows, I’m going to be getting back into the studio after the month of September. We’ll be trying to, you know, figure out what the near future looks like for me.