‘My life has changed a lot’: Demi Lovato on VMAs, activism, self-love and ‘evolving’ new album

Two weeks ago, Demi Lovato celebrated her 28th birthday.

She commemorated the occasion by launching a Propeller campaign in honor of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was fatally shot by police in March. Lovato’s page includes donation and petition links demanding justice for Taylor, who would have turned 27 in June.

“She’ll never have the opportunity to experience her 28th birthday,” Lovato tells USA TODAY. “I knew how important it was to give back on my birthday, I knew that I wanted to help, and I just really connected with her because as a young female, I can’t imagine being in her position. She was asleep in her bed, and I’m going to do everything I can to fight for justice for her.”.

Lovato’s ongoing support for the Black Lives Matter movement is just one part of her decade’s worth of activism, speaking out about her struggles with mental health, sobriety and an eating disorder. In 2012, she won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video with a Message for “Skyscraper,” a searingly vulnerable ballad about overcoming adversity.

And at this year’s awards, which aired Aug. 30, Lovato was nominated for self-love anthem “I Love Me” in the same category (changed to Video for Good last year). Rising R&B star H.E.R. Ultimately took the prize for “I Can’t Breathe,” a Black Lives Matter protest song released this summer.

Lovato talks to USA TODAY about the making of “I Love Me,” body acceptance, new music and her recent engagement to “The Young and the Restless” actor Max Ehrich.

Question: The first time you were nominated in the “message” category in 2012, you won for “Skyscraper.” Looking back, what does that song mean to you now?

Demi Lovato: The song is obviously incredibly important. It marked a chapter of my life where I grew a lot. I had to go through stuff, but I came out the other side stronger than ever before. And so I’ll always remember that with that song. This year, there’s a lot of really important issues that are talked about in this category. There’s always been a bigger purpose to music and these songs help you get through these tough times.

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Q: What inspired “I Love Me,” the song and video?

Lovato: I wanted to make an anthem that is all about self-love, erasing that negative self-talk and trying to re-frame your thinking about yourself. Hannah Lux Davis, who’s the director of the video, came to me with an awesome idea and I really let her take the reins of the video. We put in little Easter eggs that my fans will recognize. It was really cool and it’s really personal to me.

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Q: The video features many references to your past. Did you anticipate how emotional it’d be to see your life reflected back at you?

Lovato: There was a moment on set when I just realized the person in the stretcher was me. I wasn’t prepared for how emotional that might be. It threw me off guard a little bit, but then I realized I’m proud of the art that I’m creating. It’s really important for me that I share my story and keep it as authentic as I can. So it was a shock, but it was also cathartic and therapeutic.

Q: The message of “I Love Me” is so important right now, especially as many people spend more time alone than usual in lockdown. How has your own relationship with self-love evolved these past five months?

Lovato: My relationship with self-love has grown so much, just because I realize that we all go through periods of time where things are difficult. It ebbs and flows and it’s not always going to be perfect. But when we work on ourselves, you can really learn how to strengthen that muscle of self-love. When you do things daily like meditating, journaling or doing yoga, it’s little things like that that will help strengthen that muscle. So I’ve been working on that basically this whole quarantine.

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Q: I really appreciated what you told Ashley Graham on her podcast about body acceptance vs. Body positivity. How you can practice being grateful for your health and accepting where you’re at, even when you don’t always love everything about yourself. Why is that an important distinction?

Lovato: It’s an important distinction to make because when you’re talking about self-love, you have to be realistic. The common misconception is that even when you start working on yourself a little bit, you’re fixed and it’s better. But that’s not necessarily true. It’s a work in progress and you have to keep working at it. Body positivity kind of puts a label on it that makes you think it’s always going to be happy-go-lucky, and it’s not.

Q: For all the positive strides that have been made against bullying, you still see artists like Adele, Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey make headlines for their weight. How can the media do better?

Lovato: What would be amazing is if people stopped writing about people’s weight. It’s not important. If you’re a journalist and you have the temptation to write about Adele’s weight loss, ask yourself, “Does this have a meaning behind it that’s going to positively impact people?” A lot of people have gained weight during quarantine and sometimes it can have a triggering response when there’s a headline of somebody losing weight. I just don’t think it’s necessary having headlines about women’s weight. Why can’t we have headlines about their accomplishments?

Q: I’d be remiss not to ask, what’s the status of DL7? Have you been working on the album in lockdown?

Lovato: I’m in the process of working on it. I’m still going into the studio to write on it today. It took a different direction. Obviously my life has changed a lot. It was a story about everything that had happened, and now it’s kind of evolving into where my life is at today. It’s beautiful to have your story to tell and I’m excited to incorporate that into my next project. I don’t have a timeline but I’m working on it.

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Q: Congratulations on your engagement. How have the two of you been spending your time together in quarantine?

Lovato: This morning, we literally walked outside, sat on this rock and meditated. We just started our day in the most grounded and beautiful way possible, and that’s how we try to live our days together. It’s just, how can we maximize the amount of positive energy in our lives when we’re together?

Q: Have you started any wedding planning?

Lovato: Yes and no. I mean, there’s not much you can do in a pandemic, so it’s kind of like waiting until that is over. But yeah, obviously discussions have been made, but there’s not much we can do right now.

Q: You collaborated with Jojo on the remix of her song “Lonely Hearts,” out Friday. How did that come about?

Lovato: She’s a friend of mine and she sent me the song via text. We’ve been wanting to collaborate together for so long. I actually opened up for her at a festival in Texas when I was 12, and that’s when I met her. So literally years and years later, here we are and we’re releasing a song together. It’s really exciting and I love the song.

Q: As two young artists and women who grew up in the industry, did you feel you could connect on that level?

Lovato: It honestly didn’t get that deep, but yes, absolutely, when you look at it in a wider perspective, we do really because we’ve been in the industry since such a young age. It’s really great knowing that I have friends in the industry that I can relate to. So if I ever did go through something and needed someone to talk to, I know she would be there for me and I’d be there for her.

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