Before achieving back-to-back radio hits with “Give Your Heart a Break” and “Heart Attack,” Demi Lovato wondered why she had yet to find her breakthrough on the radio.
She knew she had a big voice, and had found success as a Disney Channel star, but something was off.
“I had a moment where I was just like, ‘What am I doing wrong? I know I can sing. I know I’m talented. How is it that other artists who don’t have my vocals ... [are] on the radio? What’s taking so long?’” she said in a recent interview. “And I realised, ‘Oh, it’s hit songs. You need hit songs.’”
So, Lovato went into the studio and recorded songs crafted perfectly for Top 40 radio. “Demi,” her fourth album, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week. It features upbeat, radio-friendly dance numbers and pop ballads about love and relationships.
“We didn’t want to put a song on there that was an album filler, so we don’t have any songs on there that couldn’t be potential singles,” the 20-year-old Lovato said of “Demi,” which features producers and songwriters like Ryan Tedder (Adele, Beyonce), Priscilla Renea (Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Madonna), and Carl Falk, Rami Yacoub and Savan Kotecha, the trio behind hits for One Direction. (Falk and Yacoub co-produced Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” and Kotecha co-wrote Maroon 5’s “One More Night” and Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and a Beat.”)
Lovato got her first real hint of radio love when “Give Your Heart a Break” became a hit last year as she was appearing as a judge on the Fox network’s “The X Factor.” The song was from her 2011 album, “Unbroken,” released months after she left rehab for an eating disorder, self-mutilation and other issues. Though she had a Top 10 hit with “Skyscraper,” the first single, “Give Your Heart a Break,” became her breakthrough, selling 1.9 million tracks.
“It was kind of like her coming-out party as a singer,” said Sharon Dastur, programme director for New York City’s pop radio station Z100.
Lovato quickly went into the studio to record her new album, releasing the in-your-face pop jam “Heart Attack,” which is platinum and has so far peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of radio singles, a lot of hits,” said Dastur, naming songs like “Without the Love,” ‘’Neon Lights” and “Really Don’t Care” as potential smashes. “And I almost think [the ballad] ‘Warrior’ could be like a Grammy-nominated song. It’s that powerful.”
Lovato, who co-wrote most of the songs, said she looked to Kelly Clarkson as inspiration when creating the album.
“A lot of the power vocalists ... they get the respect, but they don’t get the recognition with hit songs that they deserve to have, and a lot of pop artists are very talented, but they don’t have the vocal capability to really carry on those power ballads,” she said. “[Kelly] has that ability to wow you and also get the sound stuck in your head.”
Lovato, who starred in the Disney Channel movie “Camp Rock” and the TV series “Sonny With a Chance,” said becoming a radio artist has been a top goal.
“All I’ve ever wanted was my music to be heard and for people to enjoy it,” she said.
Her 2008 studio album debut, “Don’t Forget,” achieved gold status. Her albums that followed - 2009’s “Here We Go Again” and 2011’s “Unbroken” - have sold 487,000 and 459,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Lovato said releasing “Unbroken” was a learning process because the album didn’t represent her true self.
“I just had come out of rehab ... and I was trying to figure out who I was,” she said. “Sometimes I can confuse what I like listening to with what I am, and I think that’s what I did on that album. I was listening to a lot of R&B stuff that was on the radio and instead of creating my own style, I kind of subconsciously fell into creating someone else’s album, and therefore when you hear it, it didn’t make a lot of sense.”
Dastur said being on “The X Factor” has helped Lovato step out of the Disney persona that has trapped others. Lovato, too, is thankful for what the show has done for her career.
“It doesn’t hurt when you’re releasing music and you’re in millions of people’s homes every week - twice a week,” said Lovato, who will be joined by Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio when the singing competition series returns in the fall. “’X Factor’ has helped me make that transition from being the Disney pop singer ... to the mainstream world.”