For the most part, Demi Lovato’s past three album have produced singles that range from solid to excellent. Beginning with “Skyscraper,” from 2011’s Unbroken, and leading up to the scorching “Cool For The Summer” and simmering “Confident” from her forthcoming Confident album, Lovato has increased her fan base over a four-year span by releasing a fairly bulletproof string of radio hits. Her fourth album, Demi, was emblematic of this knack for crossover success: a strong if unspectacular full-length, the LP became Lovato’s most successful to date thanks to the prolonged chart runs and uniquely delicious flavors of “Heart Attack,” “Neon Lights” and “Really Don’t Care” (featuring Cher Lloyd).
Those three songs (plus “Made In The U.S.A.,” which didn’t do quite as well but still includes the opening line “Our love runs deep like a Chevy,” so give it its due props) helped turn Lovato from the “Give Your Heart a Break” singer to a global star with a ton of upside in the public consciousness. However, none of those three singles represent the best track on Demi. That honor belongs to “Something That We’re Not,” an absolute triumph of a pop track that somehow never got its due time in the spotlight.
I’ve written about “Something That We’re Not” before (and tweeted about "Something That We're Not" a whole bunch), but it bears repeating: save for “Give Your Heart a Break,” this track is Lovato’s ultimate gem, a flawless exhibition of her complex talents as a vocalist and her understanding of pop song craft. No, it doesn’t have a Cher Lloyd rap verse — but it has so much more.
Ostensibly, “Something That We’re Not” chronicles Lovato’s attempt to explain to Some Lame Bro what he can’t seem to get through his thick skull: despite a few ill-advised hook-ups, their relationship is not a relationship at all. “We happened once, or, maybe it was twice,” Lovato admits in the first verse, before returning later with, “Don’t introduce me to any of your friends/Delete my number, don’t call me again/We had some fun, but now it’s gonna end.”
There’s something subversive and ultimately empowering about Lovato so bluntly telling this dweeb to buzz off after she’s had her fun. Modern pop music is riddled with instances of females pining for chance interactions to become deeper, from Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”; the implication is that everything would be perfect if the hunky object of their affections just noticed them. “Something That We’re Not” defiantly flips the script, giving Lovato a chance to do the rejecting and have the power in the more-than-friendship.
And there’s nothing wrong with Lovato’s frustration here. It’s not like she ever had actual feelings for this guy — she realizes that he’s clingy, and takes time in the chorus to declare, “I should have known, but I forgot.” Lovato describes getting choked up by a crush on “Heart Attack”; a few songs later on the Demi track list, she’s rolling her eyes because this forgettable dude keeps calling her.
That’s what’s so magical about Lovato’s performance on “Something That We’re Not” — you can hear her exasperation, and empathize with the feeling of not having her feelings understood. The way Lovato ramps up her intensity as the chorus arrives — “You wanna be more than just friends! I can’t go through this again!” — marks the sound of someone who’s been banging their head against a wall and has reached a breaking point. After sneering through the verses, Lovato’s attitude cracks into a hysterical, awe-inspiring use of force, her words running together too quickly because she has no more time for this idiot. It’s a nuanced presentation of bubblegum, and an instance in which Lovato does not have to display her massive voice in order to win.
Of course, it helps that “Something That We’re Not” features an enthralling pop-rock production that somehow eluded Kelly Clarkson. The electric guitar snarls alongside Lovato, the “Ba-da! Ba-DA-DA!” sing-along never grows stale and the big-haired chorus effectively wallops the listener. Produced by Emanuel Kiriakou and Andrew Goldstein and co-written by Savan Kotecha, “Something That We’re Not” never extends itself past its handful of production tricks — but those tricks really, really work.
So, before the fifth Demi Lovato album arrives on Friday (Oct. 16), discover (or rediscover) the unheralded beauty of the best song from her fourth album. “Something That We’re Not” was not a hit, but it sure is something, isn’t it?