Waiting for Demi Lovato to show up feels like waiting for your high school prom date in her parents’ living room. Only instead of a living room, it’s the tree-shrouded courtyard of an office in Los Angeles, and instead of her parents, it’s her management team all staring at you and firing off questions. “Where are you from?” they ask. “How long have you lived in New York?” “What do you do?” “What are your intentions with our Demi?” That last question might have been next, had the 23-year-old pop singer with a big voice not arrived just in time and extended a hand in greeting. As Lovato leads the way inside, away from everyone else, there are no more questions from her team, just a final comment from one of them, delivered with an unconvincing laugh: “Don’t fuck with us.”
Even if the intention were to fuck with Demi Lovato, she wouldn’t let you. First, she may be young, but she is media trained and perfectly capable of dodging uncomfortable questions. She is, after all, readying her fifth studio album in seven years, titled Confident, this one led by producers Stargate, Dr. Luke, and the ever-elusive hitmaker Max Martin. Second, there is a steely side to her, a narrowing of the eyes that happens when the uncomfortable questions arise. It’s a look that says: “Don’t fuck with us.”
The facial expression is a far cry from the smile worn by the 10-year-old who played Angela on Barney & Friends for two seasons in the early 2000s. The show was shot in Texas, where Lovato’s family moved to from Albuquerque, N.M., when she was about a year old. It was on Barney that she met and befriended fellow aspiring child actor Selena Gomez. The two eventually made it to the Disney Channel before aging out of that circuit and venturing into separate acting and music careers. They remained close for a while but have since fallen out of each other’s circles, either a natural product of childhood friends drifting, as Lovato explains it, or, as rumor would have it, a distancing hastened by the recurring role Justin Bieber played in her old friend’s life.
In place of most of the Disney friends she made as a teenager, Lovato has built up a tight-knit network of mostly noncelebrities (which includes her loyal management team), with two notable exceptions. The first is her boyfriend of five years, Wilmer Valderrama, best known for playing the lovable foreign exchange student Fez on That ’70s Show. They now live together out in Tarzana in the Valley, which is far enough away from everything that Lovato says it doesn’t feel like she’s even in L.A. The second is Iggy Azalea, who Lovato claims is one of the realest people she knows. When she says this, she lets the comment hang in the air, waiting for someone to challenge her because she knows what people think of her friend, the Australian MC who raps with a Southern accent. But Lovato has on her “don’t fuck with us” face, and because of that, not only is there no challenge—suddenly you find yourself ready to agree with whatever she says.
You don’t have a lot of celebrity friend photos on your Instagram.
I don’t really hang out with celebrities. I guess I do sometimes. I like Hailee Steinfeld. And Nick [Jonas]. But I don’t count Nick and Joe [Jonas] as celebrities. I’ve grown up with them. I’m not the type of person that’s on Instagram posting pictures of me and tons of my best friends. I have my core group, and they’re the type of people that will be there for me in the middle of the night. They’re the type of people that are like, “You’re being a bitch right now. Don’t talk to me that way,” and I’m like, “Whoa. Sorry. I didn’t realize it.” I don’t have anybody around me who kisses my ass.
You and Selena Gomez used to be close, but you’ve had some ups and downs over the years. Are you talking anymore?
Does it have anything to do with a particular relationship choice of hers?
Not really. Not anymore.
Did you sign the petition to get Justin Bieber deported?
No, I didn’t. He’s actually a nice guy. I don’t really know him that well, but he seems to have grown up. He looks like he’s maturing. But, you know, when you’re young and you get older, you change and people change. You have things in common, and then all of a sudden, you don’t. It’s just a part of life.
You’re pretty tight now with Iggy Azalea. You’re even a bridesmaid in her wedding. How did you guys meet?
We met at Jennifer Lopez’s Halloween party. I was dressed as Lucille Ball and Wilmer was Desi Arnaz. I’m kind of a little socially awkward when it comes to parties and going out because I feel like, unless you’re going to get fucked up, everybody’s awkward. Since I don’t do that anymore, and Iggy wasn’t drinking—she doesn’t do anything—I was kind of like, “Hey. I’m a big fan. I love your music.” We start talking, and it turns out that we’re neighbors and we didn’t even know.
Then I saw her at all the Jingle Ball shows. Then we got to actually hang, and we just became close. She’s so awesome. She’s very, very, very real. What you see is what you get. I think sometimes that pushes people away, but that’s what I admire about her. She’s the furthest thing from fake. In this entertainment business, that’s so hard to find with anybody. That’s why I don’t have any very famous friends. The very few that I do have are real.
Like Jennifer Lopez?
She’s really, really chill. We went to Park City for New Year’s. We’d hung out several times, but being there with her in Park City—it was so nice and awesome to watch her just blend in. But, also, not blend in because she’s still decked out in fur. But to wake up and she’s in her sweats with no makeup and still looks flawless, you’re kind of like, “What the fuck? You’re not even human.” But she’s so real and so chill. I love her to death. She’s a really great human being. And Iggy, too. She’s awesome.
Why do you think you and Iggy get along so well?
The reason why we relate a lot to each other and the people around me—my close friends who aren’t necessarily famous or even in the industry—is that we’ve all been through a lot and we’ve come out strong. Iggy has really gone through shit and she’s come out super strong and didn’t let that take her down a devastating path. There’s respect there. The fact that she’s gone through so much and I’ve gone through so much and on a Friday night we can make gingerbread houses together instead of going out and drinking our sorrows away—that’s fucking cool. I love that. It’s nice to have somebody who’s younger in the entertainment business who doesn’t do all of that stuff.
It’s very rare, so we stick together.
You’ve got a good support system.
I do. My closest friends who aren’t necessarily famous are so awesome. I’m very, very, very blessed and very lucky to have the friends that I do. I believe that friends are chosen family. They’re not friends to me, they’re family.
You and Wilmer have been together for five years, so he must be pretty much like family now.
Oh, yeah. He’s very, very family. We have been together for almost five years now, off and on. The only times that we were off was when I was not in a healthy state of mind, or he was like: “I can’t be with you until you get sober. I can’t enable what you’re doing right now.” Or with food: “You need to get your food settled before you can get into a relationship. You need to learn how to love yourself first.” So I did, and then that made our relationship so much stronger.
You really have been through a lot of shit.
Yeah, a lot of which I haven’t even talked about. The stuff that I have shared, I feel like sometimes it is so heavy, and I’m like, “Y’all think that’s heavy? I haven’t even shared the heavy part.” But I don’t feel like I’ll ever have to until I write a book or something. If you were to sit my friends and me in a group together and we all shared our life stories, you wouldn’t understand how we’re still alive because of either our addictions or the stuff that we’ve survived. I never want to be like, “Oh, I’ve been through so much,” like it’s a sob story. I’m proud of what I’ve been through and gotten over and sometimes, even to this day, when I do go through something I’m like, “OK. It’s just a part of my story.” It’ll be more to tell, and that’s fine.
You’ve got a long way to go.
I’m just 23. I never want people to feel sorry for me, and I also think that there’s always someone who has it worse. Not to invalidate what I’ve been through or what I’m feeling, but there’s somebody who has it worse, and I’ve always got to remember that.
How did Wilmer come into your life?
We shot a PSA together for the 2010 Census forms for Voto Latino. We shot them at his house, so we actually met there. Of course, I was like, “Oh my god. You’re so attractive.” And he was like, “You are not 18. Get away from me.” Then we became really good friends, and he was there for me through a number of situations and breakups and whatever. Then as I got older and we grew closer, it was like, “Hey, maybe we should try this thing out.” We did, and we’ve basically been together ever since.
You mentioned recently that if he proposed to you tomorrow, you would say yes. Did he see that story? What was his reaction?
He was like, “Umm, babe?” And I was like, “What?” And he showed me an Instagram where people had screenshotted stuff and they tagged him in it. I was like, “Uh….” He was like, “Do you want to warn me with this stuff?” I was like, “It just came out! I’m really sorry.” He was like, “Don’t apologize.”
His parents were probably texting him.
His parents are hilarious. His dad’s always like, “Make babies.” Like, “Oh god. Not yet. Not any time soon.”
So they’re already like in-laws.
Have you thought about what your ideal wedding would be?
I love shabby chic.
Would you do it in a barn or something?
I don’t know if it would be in a barn, but I think I’d definitely want an outdoor wedding, with lights hanging in the trees.
You guys are in the spotlight a lot. Is there a celebrity couple whom you look at and say, “They’re doing it right. Let’s try to make it like them?”
Well, I think with Ashton and Mila—they’re a really great example in how private they keep their lives. We’re obviously more public when it comes to social media and talking about each other in interviews, but they’re a really good example of how to keep it balanced. They do it really, really well. But we kind of just do our own thing. With some people, it works to take pictures together and walk red carpets together, and for others it doesn’t work.
Lovato is digging in her bag for her phone because she wants to show me a picture, a still from the “Cool for the Summer” video that was teased on her Instagram prior to the video’s release. In the photo, she is lying on a bed, her face obscured but her body visible and wrapped sparingly in some bright blue fabric. One of her legs is extended up, and right at the top of her thigh is a small crease that caused her a lot of concern when her day-to-day manager suggested posting the photo on social media. “See where it folds right there?” she says. There is indeed a fold, one that anyone would get with a bent leg—unless, of course, you cannot stretch that way, or are made of plastic, not skin, and are in fact a doll named Barbie.
Lovato has openly dealt with anorexia and bulimia, and though she has received treatment over the years, there is no cure-all for these disorders. She says she is now the happiest and healthiest she has ever been, and she looks it. Maintaining that state takes hard work though, especially when you are a female pop singer constantly in the public eye. The body-image scrutiny Lovato has felt explains why her immediate response to the photo was that her leg looked fat. Then she thought for a moment, realized that that’s what human legs look like, got the cosign from Valderrama that she did, indeed, look hot, and gave the photo the green light. “Lately, I’ve been coming to terms with my imperfections and not obsessing so much about trying to make myself perfect,” she says. “It’s a growing process.”
You’ve taken on a sexier role in the promotion of this album. How have you felt about it?
It’s liberating. It’s not like I have something to hide. I went to this pool party, and somebody got a picture of me in bad lighting. It was just cellulite city. I saw it, and I cringed at first. Then I read the caption underneath, and it was like, “I’m so proud of this girl. She’s real. Even though she may have cellulite, she’s not letting it stop her from rocking this bathing suit. She looks awesome. She’s worked hard.” I saw that, and I replied to it. I was like, “At first I cringed when I saw this, but this makes me so happy to see.”
You’ve really been celebrating your curves on Instagram. Do you have a curve inspiration figure?
I’ve always said the Kardashians. When they came into the spotlight, they kind of revolutionized what beauty was when it came to body shapes. For so long, it was the heroin-chic ’90s supermodel thing, and I feel like, when the Kardashians came into the picture, people started to look at it because it was different. They were like, “You know what? That’s actually really beautiful.” From then, I noticed that Beyoncé was thicker, and Nicki Minaj is thicker. When I say thick—like when I call my thighs thick—I love it. I think it’s a good thing. Watching them really helped me learn to accept my body image, too. I’m not naturally super thin. I have an athletic body. I just have to embrace that. There are days when it’s hard to, but more and more, there are days where I’m actually proud of my body.
You definitely look good in the “Cool for the Summer” video. What is that song about?
What do you think it’s about?
I think it’s about a fun, sexual experience with a lady.
A lady friend?
Music is funny because music is like art, and art is an interpretation. So, the song can be interpreted by anyone to mean anything. I’ll leave it at that.
When it came out, there were some Katy Perry fans who claimed you copied her song “I Kissed a Girl.”
Yeah. The song literally sounds nothing like “I Kissed a Girl.” Well, I used the word “cherry.” How dare I use that word. It’s definitely not a rip-off of anything.
Is the song about [Orange Is the New Black actor] Ruby Rose?
No, it’s not.
Have you met her?
Yes, I’ve met her.
Did you guys have a relationship?
I did not have a relationship with Ruby Rose.
Did you hook up?
I don’t feel like any of my past or future—when it comes to relationships that may have happened or not have happened—are of any concern to anybody. What matters to me is my relationship with Wilmer. We are in an amazing place. Rumors are rumors, and people are going to spread them. You can believe what you want, but no, I was not in a relationship with her.
By the way, love is fluid. Whether there’s been rumors with one specific person or not, that’s all that matters. Humans are humans, and when you connect with somebody on a spiritual level it doesn’t matter. I don’t want people to ever look at the past or rumors or anything and try to figure me out. There’s a lot of relationships that I’ve had where nobody has even guessed it. Not everybody knows everything about me. The only thing that matters to me is that people know who I am today. With Wilmer, I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been, so that’s all that matters to me.
Is the album speaking to any specific point in your life?
I mean, there’s a song that I wrote from an experience that was 10 years ago. There’s a song that I wrote that’s from an experience of three years ago. Then there are songs that I’m writing right now because I’m just now getting the balls to say some of the stuff that I want to. As life goes on and you learn more, you are able to come to terms with certain things, like my dad passing. I’m still processing it. At some point, I was like, “I just need to write about it and get it out because I’ve been putting it off for the whole process of the album.” I’ve finally gotten somewhere with that.
What would you say is the ballsiest song on the album?
“Cool for the Summer” was pretty ballsy. I think “Waiting for Ya” is a pretty ballsy song. I’m excited for people to hear it, too because that’s the song where I show you that a lot of people have their cute little feuds in public, but I don’t really have those because if you want to have a feud, you can just come to me in person and we’ll settle it.
You don’t seem like you’re afraid of confrontation.
No. When I heard “Bitch Better Have My Money,” I was like, “Fuck yeah!” That’s why I love Rihanna so much. And Nicki Minaj, too. And Iggy. She wouldn’t be afraid to say anything. It’s those strong, confident women in the industry that really inspire me. Also, somebody who was a random inspiration for some of the songs on this album was Ronda Rousey. She’s a confident, strong woman, and she’s actually a friend of mine.
How did you guys meet?
She knew I was a superfan. My dream video would be to fight her in the Octagon on this song.
What’s your personal favorite on the album?
“Stone Cold.” It’s this extremely soulful, almost Motown type of song, and it’s a ballad.
Your voice sounds incredible on that one.
I want the Grammy committee to hear [that song] so that one day they can see that—I know that I’m capable of getting there. I just want people to see it finally. When I say getting there, I don’t mean winning one. I just want to be nominated for one. You can’t go higher than the Grammys in the music industry. That was a huge goal for this album. I watched the Grammy nominations last year and I was like, “I want to be there so bad.” It really gave me that kick in the ass to make music that was worthy of it. This is a song that I feel like is worthy of notification.
If you did get a nomination, what does that symbolize for you?
Everything in my entire singing career—all of the guitar lessons, all of the voice lessons, all of the songs that I wrote when I was 8 years old, when I was 15, writing six songs a night, all of the touring—would be worth it. That’s what it means to me. It’s literally everything. It’s like the Olympics for an athlete.
As long as the people in that place know my name, that’s all that I care about. When they know your name there, you’ve made it.