Too much isn’t always enough.
Even by the Vegas-in-training-wheels standards of the modern pop spectacle, Demi Lovato’s Saturday night show at the Target Center flaunted some broad theatrics. Not that the stage set and lighting design were especially dazzling for an arena show. Still each number had the sock-it-to-’em shamelessness of a Broadway showstopper, from Lovato’s big brassy vocals right on down to the choreography.
But while that approach worked on the stiletto-heel-in-your-groin empowerment march “Confident” and frisky gay-till-Labor-Day romp “Cool for the Summer,” it was less effective when Lovato ladled on the sincerity and lay her soul as bare as her thighs. Sober before 20, Lovato has a compelling autobiography, but what she lacks so far is material that translates her vulnerability into strong pop. Demi’s bangers bang; when she oversells her ballads, it’s like she’s pushing on a string.
Gutsily enough, Lovato opened with a ballad, and probably her best. After the first of many, many (many) inspirational video clips, she rose up through the stage, wrapped into some sort of sparkly trenchcoat/dress number that was clinched with an oversized belt and slit at the legs to accentuate her thigh-high boots. Then she chomped down on “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore,” a particularly chewy number that makes the most of her knack for oversinging, suggesting that the transcendent shamelessness of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is within shouting distance should she focus her efforts.
And then she was gone, and we watched a comic video of her on a therapist’s couch, with Demi doubling as her own therapist. And then she reappeared, still on a couch, singing “Daddy Issues” and now joined by dancers. Lovato doesn’t have great moves herself, so the dancers picked up the slack, illustrating a song’s narrative or serving as her objectified lust props. “I just want to play with you,” Lovato sang during “Cool for the Summer,” fondling her female dancers as jets of steam shot up from the stage and the shirtless dudes were left to their own homoerotic whirling. “Love who you want to love and go tell your mother!” Lovato shouted when the song ended, and her dancing girls descended into the stage with her like slaves being entombed with their Pharaoh.
“Your energy is already so on fire!” Lovato declared when she returned, and though I’m not entirely sure what that means it certainly sounds like a good quality in an audience. During an abbreviated “Give Your Heart a Break” (oh wait, that’s a pun, I just realized) she employed a very cute Kiss Cam, raising the possibility that I might have to get more intimate with Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream (seated to my right) than either of us had likely ever anticipated. That did not happen—bullet dodged and/or opportunity missed—but there was ample same-sex canoodling onscreen, which tended to draw bigger cheers than boring old boy-girl smooching.
For “Confident,” Lovato stalked pantsless with her entourage though the crowd in a pink, sparkly fighter’s robe, hood up, before returning to the stage. At this inopportune moment, some eager fan tossed a huge stuffed animal—a bear, I think—onstage. Lovato, throwing jabs in time with the beat, was too wrapped up in her performance to take note of the gift, which bouncers eventually snatched away and tossed unceremoniously under the stage. Then the show continued on as though we all hadn’t witnessed this tragic attempt at connection.
After another upbeat track (“Games”) Lovato rematerialized toward the back of the arena floor on a small circular stage that was dominated by a bed. “I hope you guys don’t mind if I slow it down a little bit,” she said, sitting on the bed and strumming an electric guitar (unaccompanied at first) for “Concentrate.” She introduced “Cry Baby” as her mom’s favorite song; a duo of dancers acted out a subpar take on the tormented-but-I-can’t-leave-you routine that shows up at least once every So You Think Can Dance season. Far across the room, alone on stage, Lovato’s guitarist shredded.
“I’m a very single 25 year old woman and I’m learning to love myself more and more each day,” Lovato announced to introduce “Lonely.” “But a part of that journey is that it can get really fucking lonely sometimes.” As she sang, the bed began spinning, and she seemed to take no solace from the bare-chested boys grinding nearby.
Next her dancers did a routine to some recent hits (“No Limit,” “Bodak Yellow,” “Finesse”) as Lovato changed into a bright blue number to perform a couple songs she’d recorded with other artists: Cheat Codes’ "No Promises" and the Luis Fonsi duet “Échame la culpa.”
Following a screened PSA for the treatment center she sponsors, Lovato reappeared at a piano and disclosed that in a few days she’d have been sober for six years. Then it was time for the slow stuff again: “Warrior” (about being strong), “Father” (about her abusive dad, who died in 2013), and “Smoke & Mirrors” (“Did you ever really love me?”). Closing your set with a trio of ballads is a plenty gutsy move too, but the material didn’t live up to the emotion behind it.
The encore was more lively, as the Twin Cities’ Gay Men’s Chorus and One Voice Mixed Chorus joined Lovato, lending extra oomph to the tart “Sorry Not Sorry” and the booming “Tell Me You Love Me.” After all, sometimes too much is exactly what you need.
Notes on the opener: “All I do is win!” DJ Khaled likes to exclaim, and Saturday night he set out to prove that catchphrase almost literally true but not doing a whole lot of anything else. Khaled doesn’t rap, doesn’t sing, doesn’t contribute much production savvy to the enormous hits that bear his name—he just brokers the collaborations and cheerleads, serving as an unlikely combination of impresario and mascot. In fact, it was kind of a disappointment that he DJed at all Saturday night—if that’s what you’d can call the few minutes of perfunctory scratching and dicking around on the crossfader he indulged in.
To start, Khaled made us watch his home movies. As video of his young son, Assad, played on the screens above, Khaled shared an inspirational message of love: “Love turns bad to good, dark to light, losing to winning. Once onstage, he offered “Big up all the mothers and fathers inside the building” and proceeded to mention “family” more times than a Fast and Furious superclip or a Republican debate. There was a Prince tribute, of course. (“We have to pay image to the icon, the legend, Minneapolis’ own,” he announced before “Purple Rain” played and the area was awash in a purple glow and phone lights were held aloft.) There was some call and response (“When I say fan/You say love,” “When I say top/ You say off”) and plenty of shouts of “We da best!” and “Another one!” No one man should have all these catch phrases.
Still, Khaled’s "set" turned out to be a decent little dance party, combining jams his name is on (“I’m the One,” “Wild Thoughts”) with records he didn’t have anything to do with, both newish (“Bodak Yellow,” “Turn Down for What”) or older (“Hypnotize,” “Up in Here”). There was even an oldies section that might have been too obvious for a mid-90s frat party: “It Takes Two,” “Poison,” “Jump Around.” Family man that he is, Khaled stuck to the censored versions—even when he repurposed a Wu-Tang hook he shouted “DJ Khaled ain’t nothin’ to mess with.” The audience that sang and rapped along was more than happy to re-insert the blanked out cuss words, however. I sure hope Assad wasn’t listening.
The crowd: Mostly female, mostly young, mostly (for whatever reason) wearing black jeans.
Overheard in the crowd:
As Khaled’s DJ spins Drake’s “Fake Love”:
Nearby teen: “STRAIGHT UP TO MY FACE!”
Khaled: “Sing it!”
Teen: “I DON’T REMEMBER THE WORDS NOW!”
Later, during “God’s Plan”:
Khaled: “I want everybody to sing every word!”
Teen: “I AM!”
You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore
Cool for the Summer
Sexy Dirty Love
Give Your Heart a Break
Échame la culpa
Smoke & Mirrors
Sorry Not Sorry
Tell Me You Love Me