The sweat is pouring off my face as I write this.
As a music journalist, it’s rare to be physically precipitous while working. Mainly because one of the too-often-true stereotypes about music journalists is their general lack of regard for physical exertion. But today, this story is pouring out of me. Right now I am so high on endorphins that I’m completing this sentence at breakneck speed. Why? Because I just lost my spinning virginity to Demi Lovato.
Bear in mind, this is a former Disney TV cutie. Now a provocative popstar, she has just led 50 odd-writers through a SoulCycle class in Hollywood, Los Angeles in celebration of her forthcoming album Confident, out Oct. 16. As we each entered the building, gifted with a T-shirt appropriately adorned with her album’s title, we were welcomed by Demi herself into a chamber where all that could be heard was her record and the instructions of our spin guide — while in near-darkness.
We pumped iron, we cycled higher and higher, we aimed to achieve our spiritual peak. All the while, we listened to Demi’s 11-track fifth record, which she said she had a dream one year ago of playing to journalists like this during a SoulCycle class. SoulCycle, she says with great honesty and earnestness, saved her from the well-documented mental health issues and self-esteem challenges she had in the build-up to writing this album. If I were to describe as a critic right now what I think of this record having just heard it this way, I’d describe it with one word: YES. I can only say YES. I feel on fire.
The hour-long class was not actually led by Demi, but by a trained SoulCycle instructor. Demi herself, however, took to the front row and rode as hard as our fearless leaders. She punched her hand in the sky, she opened up about the healing effects of exercise on her mind. She described that the next hour would have us all feel at one. “Mind, bike and music.”
And with that, my special shoes took their place in the pedals and began riding. We started the playback midway through the record with ‘Kingdom Come’ which features Iggy Azalea, setting the tone for the heavy EDM beats melded with contemporary urban pop and a message of resolution, survival, and metaphors about “bittersweet tattoos.” Think: Sia‘s “Chandelier,” except yell-ier.
Demi’s soaring vocals whether on that more upbeat number or the slower but still beat-driven ballads (“Lion Heart,” “Stone Cold,” “Yes”) are the perfect accompaniment to schvitzing like a crouton in hot fondue. Which is the only way I can describe the atmosphere inside that bike sanctuary. As the second track “Old Ways” plays out — Demi’s new single about refusing to fall back into the trappings of self-punishment — and the cardio ramps up, it becomes very clear how this type of one-hour activity can, if not have lasting positive effects on your mental health, certainly distract you from the thoughts in your head for at least 60 minutes.
The instructors select carefully from the album tracks according to the current part of the SoulCycle journey (note: the album was not played front-to-back in its proper sequence). Big beat banger “For You” chimes like Duran Duran‘s “Ordinary World,” if sung by a belting diva (sorry, Simon Le Bon). As Demi sings on the track (“Punch my hand through the ceiling/ Put my fist through a wall”) it is highly appropriate motivational assistance when you’ve spent 35 minutes on a bike and are suddenly asked to grab the surreptitiously hidden free weights from under your seat and lift them into the air.
The message of second single “Confident” comes at a much-needed time for renewed energy too as cyclists of the room holler and cheer while we enter the next realm of energy-driven sweat. When Demi sings “What’s wrong with being confident?” the lead instructor gives a necessary pep talk about how important it is to leave this room different people than how we entered. Higher, more exalted beings, in touch with ourselves, and the universe at large. It’s very convincing. I can feel myself growing clearer mentally (that could be the encroaching death, though, so I grab a sip of my Smart Water).
When a rap from newcomer Sirah kicks in on the track “Waitin’ For You,” Demi smiles and points behind her because SIRAH IS HERE TOO! Which, again, is another reason to keep breathing and keep “climbing” because we’re all in this together. “Trust your climb!” shouts the instructor, repeatedly.
There are moments of pure calm, particularly as the ride journeys towards the end and to the most intense and final song on the record, the self-explanatory “Father.” As it booms out the speakers, Demi’s voice is at its most affected, pregnant with emotion and defiance — just like our butt muscles. It feels so cathartic. I unplug one foot, but fail to yank my other one free. So I just pull my foot from the SoulCycle shoe, and hope nobody will notice.
Before we leave the room, the instructor says “Namaste” and encourages us to put our hands to our chest. Demi thanks us individually for coming. I tell her it’s my first ever SoulCycle. “Thank you for sharing that journey with me,” she says. Teeming with sweat, and quite literally the opposite of “Cool For The Summer,” I feel like I’ve shared a journey with Demi. She did make over my soul after all. Demi, and a bike. After all these years writing about pop music, this is what I train for.