“Five, four, three, two, one!“
Pop star Demi Lovato is doing her best impression of Nasa’s mission control as she records an insert for a forthcoming TV show.
Standing in an alcove of BBC Broadcasting House, as staff mill around with laptops and coffee cups, she’s really giving it some welly – which is impressive considering she has literally no idea what she is counting down from, or to.
“Yeah, I don’t know what that was for,” laughs Lovato as she sidles into a seat to chat about her new album, Tell Me You Love Me.
It’s the 25-year-old’s sixth record since she began her career as a child actress on the TV show Barney and Friends. Since then, she’s starred in Camp Rock alongside the Jonas Brothers, appeared as a judge on The X Factor USA, and become a fierce advocate for anti-bullying and mental health campaigns.
That’s partly because she’s had to face her own problems – including cocaine use, bulimia, self-harm, and bipolar disorder – culminating, in 2012, with a year-long stay in a sober living facility.
She addresses some of those issues for the first time on her new record, in particular on You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore, which describes giving up drugs in the form of a break-up ballad.
The album also dwells on the end of her six-year relationship with actor Wilmer Valderrama (Lonely); and the lasting effects of her birth father’s absence (Daddy Issues).
But there’s also space for a few of her trademark party anthems and, on the title track, the vocal performance of her career.
With the countdown out of the way, Demi spills the beans on the stories behind the songs – and the time she almost killed a Beatle.
I know it’s a cliche, but this feels like your most personal album yet. Was that the goal?
It just came out in the writing. I would go into the studio with an idea based off of a personal experience… Like one of the songs, Games, I went on a bad date and I wrote a song about it.
Oh! I’d rather not say. But just being disrespected. This guy just treated me really poorly, and was playing games the whole time.
Is it harder to date when you’re in the public eye?
It’s easy and it’s difficult, too.
But it’s kind of nice because if you find somebody attractive, you can just hit them up or, like, slide into their DMs [direct messages] and be like, “Hey, what’s going on?”
One of the songs on the album, Ruin The Friendship, is about making a move on a close friend. It’s almost a comedy of errors…
A lot of people read the title and think it’s about animosity – but it’s a very sexy song.
Have you ever been tempted to hook up with a friend?
Yes! That’s what I wrote the song about! A certain friendship that I have with someone – and I want to ruin that with them.
How long have you kept it secret?
I think it’s been a long time coming.
I actually ended up sending this song to the person. And it turned out they had a song they wrote about me! So we, like, exchanged songs, which was funny.
So did that lead to something romantic, or did you just laugh about it together?
Ummm… Let’s move on!
OK… On Concentrate, you sing about listening to Coldplay while you’re in bed with someone. I can’t imagine a less sexy band…
Oh really? I think his voice is sexy! But also – I didn’t write the song.
So what would be your baby-making music?
Probably The Weeknd.
I once asked Usher if he knew of any babies that been conceived to his music, and he said “yes, my son“.
Oh. Wow. That’s creepy. I can’t say I listen to my own music while I’m… I’m doing it!
You employ a huge range of vocal colours and tones across the album. What’s your favourite?
My favourite is to sing very soulfully. I think Tell Me You Love Me is my ideal, because I really get to sing in it.
I didn’t write that one – but when I recorded it I was going through a break-up, and it said exactly what I was wanting to tell that person. I wanted to hear them tell me that they loved me. So I really related to that song when I recorded it.
Does Lonely refer to the same relationship?
Yeah. I didn’t write on that one either, but I definitely related to it.
Daddy Issues has one of the most cutting lyrics I’ve heard this year: “You’re the man of my dreams because you know how to leave.”
That was a lyric that I came up with. When you grow up with an absent father, you have relationship issues – and sometimes you go for the type of person who feels familiar. So that lyric was about something that felt familiar.
It’s about anticipating disappointment and almost thriving off it.
Yes, feeling comfortable with it. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to feel pain when that’s all you’ve known in certain situations.
You’ve just been named a mental health ambassador by Global Citizen. What does that involve?
I partnered with Save The Children and Global Citizen, for the HEART programme [Healing and Education through the Arts], which is going to help displaced children and refugees in Iraq.
It started when I went over there last year, just see how I could help – and I talked to a bunch of Isis victims. I asked one girl, “What is it that you want?” and she said, “I want to be happy again.”
I realised there was so much PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] that they deal with – so we’re starting a pilot programme to try to help, using art therapy.
You’ve spoken quite candidly about your own mental health issues in the past. How do you keep on top of that when you’re in the middle of promoting and touring a record?
I maintain a very healthy lifestyle, so I eat very clean, I get a lot of sleep and I set aside some time to myself every day.
What do you do in that time? Meditation?
I make sure that I work out. And that’s like an hour-and-a-half of me devoting to myself.
An hour-and-a-half a day? That’s tough. I manage to run about half an hour a week.
Oh I don’t like to run.
What do you do?
Mixed Martial Arts. [She has a blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu]
So don’t get on the wrong side of Demi Lovato.
Yes – don’t mess with me!
Speaking of which, is it true you once nearly ran over Paul McCartney?
Yes, but it’s not as dramatic as I made it sound! He was standing in a parking space I was trying to get into and I honked the horn because someone was in my way. Then he turned around and it was Paul McCartney!
Did he give you the thumbs-up?
He turned around and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and I was like, “Don’t worry about it! You’re a Beatle!”
You realise no-one’s honked their horn at Paul McCartney in years…
You know, I don’t remember if I honked the horn, or if I just kept inching up so he would move…
Oh God, you could have crushed a Beatle!
Yes, it would have been a very bad headline! And the headline’s bad enough already.
Demi Lovato’s album, Tell Me You Love Me, is out now on Polydor records.