By JON CARAMANICA
Published: September 18, 2011
“Good luck Demi” was trending on Twitter in New York on Saturday night as Demi Lovato — singer, actress, former Disney sparkplug, meltdown survivor — sang the morbid power ballad “Skyscraper” at the Hammerstein Ballroom: “Would it make you feel better/To watch me while I bleed?”
Ms. Lovato is a force on Twitter, a human trending topic, thanks to the Lovatics, as her legions of fans are called. She made a show of stopping a few bars into “Skyscraper,” her current single, to give them a pep talk. “A year ago I was not in a good place, and I needed help,” she said. “There are so many beautiful girls in this audience that don’t know that they’re beautiful, and they are.” She then thanked them for “being there for me every single day when I was away.”
Ms. Lovato also thanks the women of the treatment center Timberline Knolls — where she was “away” to address her bulimia and cutting, among other things — in the liner notes of her third album, “Unbroken” (Hollywood), which will be released Tuesday, less than eight months after she left rehab and one month after her 19th birthday.
“Unbroken” represents the opportunity to wipe clean several slates, something Ms. Lovato is well suited for. She’s long been the least musically predictable of her Disney class, which also includes the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. Her albums — “Don’t Forget” from 2008, and especially “Here We Go Again,” released the next year — were the savviest of the group’s, full of biting and aggressive pop-rock.
The theory goes that Colgate-bright Disney stars have to bide their time to reveal their true selves, but if anything, “Unbroken” feels more restrained than her previous albums; she’s traded her teen-pop shackles for another kind, giving herself over to the recent melding of R&B and dance music. She collaborates with Jason Derülo, Iyaz and Dev, some of the most toothless singers working that intersection, and on a couple of songs with the producer Timbaland, who long ago swapped skittering hip-hop futurism for high-gloss space-pop.
These songs do give Ms. Lovato the opportunity to present herself as an adult, not just a moppet who knows too much. But at this show the messages about maturity were muddled. Before “Hold Up” she was stroked lustily by one of her backup dancers; the crowd, full of teenage and pre-teen Lovatics, shrieked. But during “Who’s That Boy” she was separated from the male dancers by scrims that read as large-scale prophylactics. “You’re My Only Shorty” was saccharine sweet, destined for a “Glee” cover, but on “My Love Is Like a Star” she appeared to be channeling the soul-excavation of Mary J. Blige.
And those were just the new songs. There was even more confusion as she moved between those and the older ones. Even though Ms. Lovato can pull off R&B siren, she’s always seemed interested in the role of rock goddess, and here, she toggled between the two. There was a lot of hair tossing on “Remember December” and “All Night Long.” “Don’t Forget” suggested Ms. Lovato may have a future fronting an Evanescence-style band; “Got Dynamite” was loud, undistinguished, driving rock with slurry guitars; “La La Land” recalled No Doubt; and “Get Back” was a neat distillation of the military-grade pop-punk that elevated her above her Disney peers.
“Unbroken” will arrive a few weeks before the first post-Jonas Brothers solo release by Joe Jonas, Ms. Lovato’s onetime paramour, who was the squire of choice among the late-aughts teen set. It too is a stab at sexed-up pop R&B, though Ms. Lovato’s feels more assured.
Even if it weakened in places, or slipped off the melody, Ms. Lovato’s voice is strong and versatile. And she was a convincing dancer during this show, whether on her own or surrounded by her backup troupe holding up the walls of a cage.
Ms. Lovato didn’t bother with her bold breakthrough single “This Is Me,” which would have been appropriate for a starting-anew moment — too Disney, probably, too many memories. (It was originally a duet from “Camp Rock” with Mr. Jonas.) But she made one welcome curveball choice, maybe in its place: a cover of “How to Love,” the women’s-esteem-building ballad by Lil Wayne, which Ms. Lovato sung throatily, partly in the first person. Figuring out what to leave behind and what to carry forward can be tough work. Good luck, Demi.