Demi Lovato is a true pop music rarity, a superstar who wears her risk-taking heart on her sleeve.
Sure, in our social-media-soaked society there are plenty of examples of seemingly unguarded moments from today's stars, but Lovato puts it out there in ways that more circumspect stars like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé would never dream of.
On "Confident" (Hollywood/Island), Lovato's swaggering search for self is remarkably revealing, as she tackles everything from sexual experimentation to mental health issues to her relationship with her estranged father. And she does it unflinchingly, taking the styles of her contemporaries and twisting them to suit her own messages.
The title cut has the feel of a Britney Spears track musically -- perhaps producer Max Martin has something to do with that -- but its feminist lyrics take the song to the next level. ("What's wrong with being confident?" Lovato demands repeatedly.)
On the first single "Cool for the Summer," Martin builds a sleek, shiny backdrop, similar to Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," for Lovato, who uses it to advocate for sexual experimentation in the name of a good time.
Lovato goes for Sia-like drama on "Kingdom Come," using her wide range to carry the song between synth ballad and trap banger until Iggy Azalea interrupts with a predictable verse. "Stone Cold" is filled with surprises, as Lovato starts with Lana Del Rey cool, then lets loose with a bit of gospel belting.
Lovato is at her best, though, with the esteem-building ballad "Lionheart," which fits nicely with her artistic breakthrough "Skyscraper," showing off both her vocal and emotional range as she pays tribute to her fervent fans, the Lovatics, and the inspiration they bring her.
Sometimes, Lovato's emotions get the best of her, as they do in the wrenchingly personal "Father." But her mastery of pop styles should give her every reason to be confident.
THE GRADE B+