Demi Lovato covers a lot of ground in her new documentary, Simply Complicated, which was released Tuesday (Oct. 17) on YouTube.
From her early childhood to her big break in Disney’s Camp Rock, to fighting life- and career-threatening battles with a variety of disorders to the making of her newest album, Tell Me You Love Me, the singer tells Billboard the film provided an opportunity to “control the narrative” around her life and marked an important milestone as she turned 25 this summer and last month released arguably her best album to date. In that spirit, throughout Simply Complicated, Lovato delves into deeply personal subject matter, including an abusive relationship with her biological father, her struggles with addiction, bi-polar disorder and anorexia, bulimia and cutting.
As much as Simply Complicated tells the story of Lovato’s past, it retains a foot firmly set in the present. The doc chronicles Lovato’s recording of Tell Me You Love Me, along with more personal fare such as the purchase of her first house, her breakup with Wilmer Valderrama last year and her reentry into the single world via the Raya dating app.
Lovato spoke with Billboard ahead of Simply Complicated‘s release to discuss the documentary’s relationship with her latest album, why she felt she needed to share such personal subject matter, and how her imperfections are what make her a perfect role model.
Simply Complicated really explores a lot of the subjects you address on your new album, Tell Me You Love Me — did you see the album as a blueprint for the doc, or how did they influence each other?
I feel like what’s incredible about this opportunity to make this documentary was you got to see the making of the album and you got to see a glimpse into what it’s like to create a body of work that I’m so passionate about. So it definitely correlates with one another — I don’t know if one’s necessarily a blueprint to the other, but it’s something that I get to share with my fans and that’s what is exciting to me. And I touch on a lot of topics in the documentary and they kind of explain some of the songs, which is great.
Why was the doc something you felt like you needed to make?
I wanted to share this experience with my fans. I turned 25 this year, It’s a quarter of a century, it’s an important year to me. The making of this album was very important, and I’ve gone through a lot of changes. I’ve gone through a couple breakups and I went through a lot in my past, so being able to talk about those things and explain them to my fans is fulfilling — and it’s kind of relieving.
So then was there an aspect of wanting to control the narrative?
Yes, it’s nice to be able to control the narrative because a lot of times you get asked questions in interviews and sometimes, some magazines or reporters are kind of like fighting for bits. I get to lay everything out on the line myself [in the doc], which feels good.
There’s a lot of intense, personal subjects you go into. Was there anything that you needed to trim back when you were going through edits?
There actually wasn’t anything that I took out of the documentary because it was too personal. Everything that’s in there I’m very, very honest about. There are things in my life that I choose to keep to myself, but there wasn’t anything like that in the documentary.
With so much personal material covered, what was difficult for you about creating this project?
I think what was difficult about the process was being honest about where I am in my life today. Telling the world that I’m not the poster child for recovery. Sometimes it is a struggle, and sometimes I still deal with issues that I have suffered from in the past. It’s a challenge to maintain recovery, and I talk about that in the film. So, for me, it’s like kind of admitting that I’m not… Obviously I’m not perfect, but admitting that on camera. I want to be the best role model that I can be for my fans, so by admitting that I’m not perfect, it’s kind of weird for me.
And it’s very honest in that way, which is maybe better than “perfect” because people might be able to relate to it more.
Yeah, I think that’s what makes me a role model for people is that I’m not perfect. It’s that I’m honest about where I am, but I think for so long I’ve been such a strong advocate for the things I believe in, and certain things I still struggle with. I think explaining that on-camera was difficult for me, but it’s needed. People need to hear that it’s not a perfect journey and every day is easy; some days are challenging.
You talk about some of your relationships past and present in the documentary, why did you feel it was necessary to dive into those — specifically your sexuality?
I’ve never talked about those things before. I’ve had sexy, mature lyrics in my songs, but other than that I’ve never talked about it. And I thought that’s a great way to have control over the narrative, being able to talk about my sexuality, rather than feeding it to a magazine and them running just a soundbite of it — which I know will happen with this documentary but at least I’m able to be in control of what’s put out there.
As far as being a role model to your fans, you’ve been in the industry for the majority of your life now. Are you able to offer other artists guidance in their careers, maybe help direct them in this way?
There’s been times that people have come to me for kind of mentorship, but more so I go to other people and ask for advice and things like that. I love learning and I love hearing opinions, so having people that I look up to or that I really respect as a musician or an artist, having them help with the rollout of the album or certain song choices and things like that, having people to go to is really awesome. There’s so much to learn that I feel like I am more of a mentee than a mentor right now.
Since Harvey Weinstein was outed over alleged serial sexual misconduct, having been in the entertainment industry so long, have you experienced anything similar through your career?
Personally, I’ve never experienced that in this industry and I’m very fortunate. Growing up, I always had my [step] dad by my side, being young in the industry, and when I turned 18 I got older and started branching off being more independent. It’s nothing that I’ve ever dealt with in the industry, thankfully, but I definitely commend the women who are coming out and talking about this because it’s often something that people often are afraid of talking about and their voices are silenced and it’s important that people hear them.