All images courtesy of blackcoff.ee
It is an extra warm autumn morning in Los Angeles: the mercury’s hit 86 Fahrenheit and while a group of music enthusiasts are perched on bikes in a well conditioned room, we’re about to get our collective sweat on—which will make it feel 100 degrees at least—as we prepare spin for our lives in the company of pop star Demi Lovato. The singer has chosen SoulCycle in Hollywood as the location for an exclusive playback of her fifth studio album, Confident, which finally drops this Friday. If you’ve never been to an album playback, let me explain: they’re often incredibly awkward affairs. Usually you sit in a room with the star in question present and smiling sweetly. The new album is played and everyone sits there also smiling sweetly and head nodding and saying things like “This track is great!” even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard. If you’re lucky this experience is accompanied by lukewarm wine and maybe an h'orderves or two. Ever the skeptic, I did wonder if Lovato had arranged a spin class as the venue for her playback so everyone would be too distracted to notice if the music sucked—assuming that the primary focus beyond peddling frantically was to remember to actually breath. But the truth is, the music plays such a major part of the class it’s impossible to ignore.
“Thank you guys so much for being here,” says Lovato as she welcomes the 50-or-so in the class to her playback. We’re poised, feet locked in, and she takes her position among us on a bike. “It was a year ago that I was in my record label and we were talking about doing this for my album release. A lot of times artists will throw out ideas and it doesn’t happen, but we made this happen,” she adds. This 23-year-old Disney Channel alum seems to know how to get what she wants. Well, she has been raised in this game since first finding fame way back as a teenager in 2008. But while Lovato’s new album is titled Confident, she’s far from arrogant. She could have popped on her bike and peddled away, without taking time to talk to anyone, she could’ve opted out of the sweat session altogether, but instead she introduces herself and takes a moment to help any self-conscious riders feel at ease.
“This isn’t the time to feel embarrassed—the lights are going to be off and you can go at your own pace,” she assures us, which is just as well. One third of the way through the class I notice Lovato is peddling twice as fast as anyone else and barely breaking a sweat, putting the rest of us music journos to shame. Promising the playback will be a “spiritual” experience that will connect us all “between you and your bike and the music” we’re off. The pulsing sound of “Kingdom Come” blasts out over the studio. A power pop tune featuring the sharp end of Iggy Azalea’s tongue, it isn’t long before our heart rates are racing and perspiration is starting to drip. Class instructor Angela Davis spurs us on to peddle hard, but in truth the banging beats act as the prime motivator. As we change gears and rise up for a climb, title track “Confident” begins to play and it soon becomes apparent that this record was made to encourage the best from people. As the wheels spin and the rousing chorus plays, I’m suddenly wondering, “Hey, what’s wrong with being confident?” The tune is a rousing clarion call: take control, be unashamedly sassy, and grab your dreams by the balls.
My thighs begin to burn by the time we’re five tracks in. “Wildfire”—written by hitmakers Ryan Tedder and Stargate—slows down the pace which works surprising well as everyone is focused to “climb a hill’ as the romantic ballad bursts through speakers. There’s a collective scream of relief when we “reach the top” and “Cool For The Summer” kicks in. As we’re told to peddle down the other side of the imaginary hill the class changes to part-spin class, part-dance class and no one can resist bouncing around in their seat, clapping along as the certified pop anthem plays out.
Elsewhere “Mr Hughes” sees Lovato’s vocals take a husky turn sounding almost Amy Winehouse-esque as she sings about a past lover who left her floored. She’s unafraid to bare it all with a fragility and stark honesty revealed in cool-down track “Father”—a heartfelt love letter to the singer’s father who died of cancer in 2013 when the two were not on the best terms; Lovato’s pining for a second chance.
“It brought tears to my eyes to be able to do this with people I love the most and people who have been the most supportive of me,” Lovato tells her exhausted disciples as we dismount, legs threatening to buckle beneath us. She adds: “I know it is not the easiest thing in the world but I am so grateful. So thank you guys.” As participants file out of the studio, I notice a SoulCycle sign with five words written in giant, bold lettering and each seem to sum up the singer in some way.
As anyone who follows the singer on Instagram will know, she has a body that could compete with any Olympian and after seeing her peddle for an hour straight I can safely be said she has the focus of a true pro.
Still only a few baby steps into her 20s, Lovato has 15 hot 100 singles under her belt, 87 awards to her name (including a VMA, five People’s Choice, and 13 Teen Choice) and over 31 million Twitter followers. It may feel her best is still yet to come, but it’s tough argue that even at this tender age, her place in the pop annals is already inked.
Lovato has had more than her fair share of personal struggles. Her battle with drug abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, and depression have been well documented, but she’s through the other side and her candor in discussing these issues has been extremely refreshing. She even scored Michelle Obama’s seal of approval just this week when her track was selected by The First Lady for a girl empowering playlist on Spotify—handpicked by Mrs. O to inspire girls around the world to aim higher and achieve more.
As if that were not enough, Demi also recently shed her clothes and make-up, shunning photoshop for a "spontaneous" Vanity Fair shoot to let everyone know how secure in her own skin she feels.
She could have easily been written off as a Disney child star with no future when she first started making music after working for the House of Mouse, but she’s proved any detractors wrong by becoming an accomplished songwriter and, not to bring up the seemingly clichéd child-star-goes-wild past that her troubles would suggest, she’s turned her back on the path many would assume she would take to become a multi-platinum selling pop machine.
Have you seen Demi Lovato? She is badass. And she makes good music. While she might be “pop,” this girl definitely rocks. It’s a somewhat cheesy comparison to draw, but damn it if it isn’t true.
As we all huddle together at the end of the class for a group photograph (everyone wants proof they managed to keep up with Demi in the spin class after all), the singer laughs and looks effortlessly composed as the photographer snaps away. I feel particularly sticky and gross standing near her, my own confidence dropping slightly as I take in her beauty. Perhaps the ultimate lesson about doing a spin class with a pop star is not to stand near them afterwards.
It remains to be seen whether Seamus Duff will be hopping on a SoulCycle any time soon, but you can ask him via Twitter.