On Sunday night (Nov. 19), Demi Lovato made a powerful statement while performing her biggest single to date at the 2017 American Music Awards in Los Angeles. “Sorry Not Sorry” celebrates the act of rising above pervasive negativity, and Lovato made its anti-bullying message explicit at the 2017 American Music Awards.
“We were thinking, ‘What’s a way to give a message to the song and performance, so that it’s not just another time where I go onstage and sing a song?’” Lovato told Billboard hours before taking the AMAs stage on Sunday. “What’s something that could give it some depth and meaning? … The song is about bullying, the bullying of when I was in school and my experiences there, and we thought, let’s bring that to life on stage.”
The performance began with hateful social media messages scrawled across the screen and Lovato rising up from the audience to combat them with her smash hit. “We have to rise above, and never say sorry for who you are,” she declared before launching into “Sorry Not Sorry.”
Some of the social media messages made fun of Lovato’s weight, appearance and talent. Lovato didn’t mind that they were being seen by millions of AMAs viewers. “The thing about the internet is that it’s not difficult to search for those things,” Lovato said prior to the performance. “If anybody was to search for [hate speech] online, they’d be able to find it about other artists or themselves. To me it didn’t really make a difference if it was in front of the world or online. We put them in the beginning of the performance to show people what type of hate I deal with on a daily basis and send a message of not caring and being yourself and being unapologetic for it.”
Lovato’s AMAs performance comes three months after Logic’s moving VMAs set, in which his anti-suicide anthem “1-800-273-8255” ended with an affecting speech about self-acceptance. For Lovato, major award shows embracing social issues makes sense, given the size of the audience and political climate.
“It’s definitely an opportunity to raise awareness, and I feel like that’s exactly why we’re taking it on in this performance,” she explained. “A lot of people watch award shows, and artists get to perform all the time, but they don’t get to perform on these platforms more than a couple times a year. I wanted to take advantage of that.”
Along with her emotional AMAs performance, Lovato also brought Danica Roem — the first openly transgender state legislator, following her election victory in Virginia earlier this month — as her guest to the ceremony. When Lovato heard Roem’s story, and of her defeat of hard-line conservative Bob Marshall in Virginia, she reached out to the “courageous” delegate-elect.
“I imagined how much bullying she has probably gone through, just by Bob Marshall alone,” Lovato said. “So to be able to bring her along for this performance and sit next to her, it’s inspiring to be with her and all that she’s been through. I look up to her, I admire her, and it’s an honor to have her with me. [Her win] was a huge win for the LGBTQ community, and I couldn’t be happier for her.”
With a No. 6 peak on the Hot 100 chart, “Sorry Not Sorry” highlights a huge year for Lovato, whose Tell Me You Love Me album was met with critical acclaim upon its September release. Although Lovato isn’t happy with how this year has turned out politically, she is glad that she could make a statement on the last major music awards show of the year.
“This year has been very difficult for people,” she admitted. “I’m very blessed and I’ve had a great year, but my heart is with everyone who struggled through this difficult time. I think our country’s gonna rise above it, and come out stronger than ever before.”