YouTube Hit Count: 24,166,387 at time of publication
Over the past year, Demi Lovato has slowly moved into the often-thankless role of the gimmick-free vocal-centric pop star, a significantly less crowded market than it was, say, 10 years ago. (Its reigning queen is now Taylor Swift, against whom public opinion has been shifting at the same time Lovato has been quietly stepping up her game.) I still stand by “Give Your Heart a Break” as a solid piece of songwriting, precisely because it feels old-fashioned next to the more sexed-up kind of dance jams that Rihanna and Nicki Minaj have been cranking out. (I love the sexed-up dance jams, too, but you gotta keep it fresh.) “Heart Attack” continues Lovato’s track record of irony-free, emotionally sharp pop songs that stick in your head for weeks at a time. It’s her best single to date.
When I wrote about Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” a couple months ago, I talked about its usefulness to tween girls who want to sing melodramatically into their hairbrushes as they mourn their first heartbreaks, and how it ultimately seemed like a strangely soulless conduit for that purpose. I consider that a very important factor for this kind of pop song, and “Heart Attack” is a worthy successor to No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know,” and, um, JoJo’s “Leave (Get Out.)” It hits all the right beats, from the sassy verses to the longing pre-chorus (the most melodically feminine part of the song, conveniently paired with the lyric “you make me wanna act like a girl”) to the big, bleeding-heart chorus. Lovato uses words like “glow,” “burn,” and “paralyzed” to describe her feelings for the object of her affection, and nearly sings herself hoarse while doing it.
The only unmistakably current-day feature of “Heart Attack” is the intro, where we get a filtered taste of the chorus before it’s pitch-modulated in a kind of obligatory nod to a more on-trend kind of production. The distortion is a little much, but I really do like sticking that bit of the chorus at the beginning so that it feels familiar by the time it comes around in earnest.
Ever since “Skyscraper,” Lovato’s signature, production-wise, has been the tactile presence of her breath. I’m sure that portions of this song have been Auto-Tuned, but the fact that we can hear the release of air after a note makes her seem all the more like a real, relatable person. Like with “Give Your Heart a Break,” there is a notable string presence here, both in the staccato notes in the chorus and in the acoustic guitar anchoring the verses, all contrasted with dubsteppy downbeats and a sputtering drum machine sample for the main refrain that gives the song a PG, yet still effective, edge.
“Heart Attack” feels crazy verbose when sandwiched between repeat playings of “Scream and Shout” and “Don’t Stop the Party” on the radio, like dropping “We Didn’t Start the Fire” into an Enya playlist. The volume of words Lovato gets out, combined with the emotionally charged melody, give the song a kind of urgency that makes her borderline over-the-top expressive delivery in the music video seem completely justified.
But let’s be honest, this song kills for a very specific reason: the second line of the chorus. A basic song would just repeat the same melody for “You make me glooooow” for the rejoinder, “Won’t let it shooooow,” but when it swaps it for a modified, more angsty response, you realize that this song is NOT BASIC. And while you’re still reeling at that little surprise, Lovato is already coming at you with another volley of words: “Putting my defenses up, ’cause I don’t wanna fall in love,” whose sharp declarative syllables are the exact opposite of defensive.
No, never mind, the real reason this song kills is this stanza:
When I don’t care
I can play ‘em like a Ken doll
Won’t wash my hair
Then make ’em bounce like a basketball
It’s important that Demi’s metaphors are still kid-friendly, since that’s still such a huge part of her audience, but if she’s going to compare relationships to toys, at least she makes sure they’re toys that several generations are familiar with. Also, sports metaphors. In another universe, Demi writes for Grantland and we are best friends.
Final verdict: Hoops for Hearts