Demi Lovato’s latest headlining tour is named after her latest Top 40 hit, the EDM-biting synth spectacle “Neon Lights” that reached a new peak at No. 38 on this week’s Hot 100 chart. “Neon Lights” is an underwritten outlier on Lovato’s guitar-driven fourth LP, “Demi,” that may prove to be the album’s biggest hit when all is said and done. After witnessing how the 21-year-old delivered the song to her thousands of screaming supporters on Saturday night (Mar. 1) at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ, the growing success of the track is much more understandable.
“It’s Time To Tap That App!” read a graphic on the venue’s big screens as the “Neon Lights” beat began to bubble from the stage to close Lovato’s set. Earlier in the evening, the audience was urged to download the Demi app on their smartphones to take part in a special moment during the show. When “Neon Lights” began, the app-holders held up their phones, with flashing shades of pink, blue and green filling the screens and switching in time with the rhythm section. As Lovato approached the chorus — “Baby, when they look up at the sky/We’ll be shooting stars just passing by” — the smartphones’ twinkling flashlights started blinking with each passing beat, making the crowd look like a planetarium as Lovato sold the visual exhibition with a vociferous performance of the dance track. Sure, it was a gimmick… but it was a darn cool gimmick, and easily the most memorable moment of a highly enjoyable evening.
Lovato does not yet possess the catalogue of her obvious female pop-rock forebearers, Kelly Clarkson and P!nk, but now has enough rock-solid singles and crowd-pleasing album tracks to compose a lean, covers-free set list. From deliciously bombastic opener “Heart Attack” onward, the pink-haired Lovato prowled the front of the Susquehanna Bank Center stage, clenching her hand and dropping her arm with great drama for the heavy moments, like the performance pro that she is. Curiously, recent single “Made In The USA” did not make it to Camden, and sadly, “Demi’s” best song, “Something That We’re Not,” was not bestowed to the amphitheater crowd. However, throwbacks like “Don’t Forget” and “Remember December” garnered huge reactions from the crowd — most of which was comprised of teen girls, some with faces painted, others with custom t-shirts, and all of whom knew every lyric to the evening’s encore of the towering ballad “Skyscraper” and the sparkling pop hit “Give Your Heart a Break.”
The most interesting aspect of Lovato’s stage show is the presentation of her well-documented past struggles: her withdrawing from a world tour to enter a treatment facility due to “physical and emotional issues” now occurred over two albums and three years ago, and no one would blame the singer for not addressing her 2010 problems during a 2014 performance. As much as Lovato has evolved as a performer since that scary period in her life, however, she has admirably made that past the visible bedrock of her artistry.
Lovato introduced “Skyscraper” with video footage of various media personalities announcing the news that she had scrapped her tour to enter rehab — a candid, surprisingly affecting montage. Earlier in the evening, she spoke obliquely about her show offering a momentary “escape” to the various problems of her audience members, making the subtext that music has always been her salvation crystal-clear. And when she performed “Warrior,” the “Demi” track that hints most recognizably at her past, dozens of crowd member held up print-outs that read “We Are Warriors” — a reminder that, for so many, Lovato’s appeal does not germinate from a number of hit singles or a display of vocal power, but from an ideal of surviving and thriving in the face of real difficulties.
The Neon Lights tour also included (and for some, introduced) two other winning female pop acts, both born from various incarnations of “The X Factor.” Fifth Harmony has yet to release its debut album, but the quintet played tracks from its “Better Together” EP, and a cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Miss Independent Part I,” to a loving audience. Little Mix had the benefit of two albums’ worth of material and a quartet of backup dancers, who helped the U.K. with their sexy shimmying during “Move,” “Salute” and “Wings.” Little Mix has carved out an arrestingly rhythmic sound over a short time period, but its main appeal resides in the cohesion of its four vocalists, summoned on a giddy a cappella version of “How Ya Doin’?” Also of note: the Neon Lights tour features a magician, Collins Key, performing wacky tricks during the downtime between sets.
Lovato’s headlining run continues in North America through Mar. 30.