Most people wouldn't call 2020 a banner year. But for Demi Lovato, the 12 months leading up to today's birthday, her 28th, have left her feeling cool for the summer. Confident, basically as if she were rising from the ground. You know, like a skyscraper.
Because, oh man, is the outspoken pop star standing tall these days.
A little more than two years after an accidental overdose landed her in L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai hospital fighting to simply survive, she's living her best life—"something beyond my wildest dreams," as she put it in an Instagram post reflecting on that late July day in 2018. "I'm engaged to the love of my life and i can genuinely say i feel free of my demons," she wrote after actor Max Ehrich's surprise July 22 proposal, that, if she's being honest, wasn't all that shocking, the pair knowing pretty instantaneously that this was it. "Each and every one. I never thought this feeling was possible."
And she knows just who deserves the credit.
Not Ehrich. Though The Young and the Restless alum's oceanfront surprise (and the accompanying knuckle-sized diamond) undoubtedly gives a gal a boost. But it's her relationship with herself—the former Disney star sharing at Teen Vogue's 2019 Summit in November, "I've never been more in tune with who I am than where I'm at today"—that has her feeling some type of way. "Life is not worth living unless you're living it for yourself," Lovato told the outlet. "If you're doing things for other people it's not going to work out."
So while she's certainly enjoying flashing her left hand's sparkling new accessory, it's the message tattooed underneath that she truly treasures. "Long before I had an engagement ring on my ring finger," she continued in her Instagram message, "I had the word 'me' to remind myself that no matter what, I vow to love myself. You can't fully love another without loving yourself first."
Now the two-time Grammy nominee is looking to a future with the 29-year-old she calls "such a positive lil beam of light in my life," and remembering the person who got her out of the darkness. "Over the past two years, I've done more work on myself than I have in my entire life," she shared. "Things that used to keep me down for weeks or even months, pass like tropical storms."
Not that her 28th year got off to a particularly turbulent start, right down to the birthday cake she was able to enjoy with manager Scooter Braun and pal Ariana Grande after so many years of being forced to blow out the candles on a pile of watermelon topped with fat-free whipped cream.
In 2019, a full year removed from the relapse that landed her, first, in the hospital for a week and a half and then a rehabilitation center for 90 days, she was done with calorie counting and impossible body standards. Instead, there she was last September, brimming with confidence as she conquered her "biggest fear," posting an unedited, un-retouched photo of herself in a bikini, telling her 91 million Instagram followers, "I want this new chapter in my life to be about being authentic to who I am rather than trying to meet someone else's standards."
Though she was meeting at least a few people's expectations, with The Bachelorette's Mike Johnson, a budding romantic interest at the time, commenting cheekily, "Look at me like that again."
The pair were weeks into seeing if a mutual crush could develop into something more, Johnson telling E! News at September's iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena, "I'm just getting to know Demi. I think she's absolutely fantastic and I don't want no pressure on her, no pressure on me, we're just trying to get to know each other."
Having a chance to reflect on the choices that brought her to her lowest point, she underwent a dramatic overhaul, changing everything from the crew she associated with ("If it's not conducive to your journey that you want to be on, there's no need for them to be in your life," she explained during an appearance on Apple Music's New Music Daily) to how she handled the expected highs and lows of a career that places her firmly in the spotlight.
"Something I've dealt with in the past is having these really incredible experiences like the Grammys or tour or concerts or things like that," she told host Zane Lowe. "I have to be aware of like, okay, I'm going to crash because my adrenaline is going to go all weekend, and then I'm going to have this performance. Whether it goes great or not, my adrenaline is going to come crashing down come Monday morning. So it's definitely something I've talked to my team about like, 'Hey, we should be cautious...I might crash on Monday. Let's take precautions. Maybe I do more meditating on Monday,' or whatever it is. 'Maybe I have more therapy or support.'"
Even the way she approached her workouts underwent a shift.
"Whenever I was in the gym over the past couple years, I was doing it to a very unhealthy extreme," Lovato shared at the Teen Vogue summit—a particularly dangerous situation for someone who's dealt with an eating disorder along with addiction, bipolar disorder and depression. "And I think that's what led me down a darker path. I was still engaging with these behaviors."
So she put down the weights for a full month. "I have to be OK with where [my body] is at in this moment. I don't have to lie to myself and tell myself I have this amazing body. All I have to say is I'm healthy… I'm healthy and I accept for the way that it is today in this moment without changing anything," she explained. As a result, she continued, "I love the person that I am today."
Soon she wasn't the only one.
Because mere days after she promoted her latest single, "I Love Me," raving to Ellen DeGeneres about the recent Saturday self-care night that had her declaring, "You are completely whole as you are, without anybody, without substances, without this food, whatever. You are good, girl," she found the person she's meant to share it all with.
Which, of course.
Actor Ehrich had made his infatuation known back in 2011 when he tweeted, "All I wanted for Christmas was Demi Lovato." And proving dreams can come true, the pair began quarantining together at her Los Angeles-area pad soon after meeting, quickly building upon the instant frisson they felt between them. "This time has been very special because they have been one-on-one with no distractions or stress from outside life," a source explained to E! News at the time. "They've really gotten to know each other on a different level. She is feeling great and loves being with him. He supports her sobriety and is very understanding. It's going great and they both see it moving in a serious direction."
By April Ehrich had more or less moved in, a pal telling E! News he was "infatuated," so Lovato wasn't all that surprised when he dropped to one knee on the beach in late July. "They both always knew they were each other's perfect match. Demi has been in love with Max since the second they went on their first date," one insider told E! News. Echoed another, "They had a very deep connection from the moment they met that was different and unlike anything they had ever felt before... They just click on every level."
So now Lovato has a wedding to plan, which she'll get to in between tending to her career, currently as scorching hot as it's ever been. An emotional return to the Grammys stage in January saw her singing "Anyone," a song she penned just days before her overdose. The ensuing standing ovation was nice, but it was the full circle moment of it all that brought Lovato to tears.
Because it was hardly a week after the overdose, as she was listening to herself sing lyrics such as "Anyone, please send me anyone. Lord, is there anyone? I need someone" in her hospital bed, that she first hatched the plan to perform the deeply personal track. "I just remember hearing back the songs I had just recorded and thinking, If there's ever a moment where I get to come back from this, I want to sing this song," she revealed during her January chat with Lowe. "You know, a part of me was like looking towards the future because that's what I do. When I'm struggling or when I'm going through a rough time, I look towards the future for hope and to change my perspective on things."
So to be standing in that moment, taking in all she'd accomplished...well, that could only be topped by delivering a flawless rendition of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl a week later, something she first dared to dream about when she was 17.
She also squeezed in a four-episode arc on the farewell season of Will & Grace and landed her own Quibi talk show. But most of her focus has been trained on her highly anticipated seventh studio album.
Packed with songs that are "extremely raw and emotional for her," a source told E! News, "it's going to be a big moment for her to share with the world and open herself up like this."
And though she's taking her time to make sure her story comes across precisely as intended, she can't wait to put it out into the world. "I'm really excited for the music that I'm releasing. I also have some stuff coming out with other people; that's really exciting," she shared with Lowe. "So it's just, it's going to be a big year and I feel the momentum, I feel the excitement and I'm ready for it."
And yet none of that—not the raucous applause, the rave reviews, the promise of more number one hits—are responsible for her feeling more positive than she has in a good long time.
"All of this is great and it's beautiful and I'm lucky and I'm blessed and I'm grateful. But I've learned, clearly, if all of this made you happy, I wouldn't have ended up where I did," Lovato noted to Lowe. "My success is not... [It doesn't] measure my happiness."
When she thinks about the parts of her life that bring her joy, she imagines her family, her friends, the thought of possibly having kids at some point this decade ("That would be dope") and settling into a truly meaningful relationship.
"I would love to start doing more things that make me happy and worry less about success," Lovato continued. "You know, my whole career I always was like, 'Oh, I want a Grammy so bad,' or, 'I want this', or, 'I want that,' 'and a number one here, a number one there.' All of that stuff is great and if you can accomplish that, that's awesome. But I just know personally it doesn't fill that hole inside of me that only love and appreciation and gratitude can fill."
Now that she's found that self-love and the person worthy of sharing her life, the type of work that leaves her fulfilled and a squad that would never try to pass off watermelon as a birthday treat, we have to imagine this year's cake is going to taste especially sweet.