Demi Lovato’s latest single ’29’ was released on Wednesday, but before the full song was released it had already made waves online.
Lovato, who uses the pronouns she/her and they/they, first shared a snippet of the track on her TikTok account earlier this month. Soon, Lovato’s fans connected deeply with the song’s emotional lyrics, turning it into an anthem about older men “grooming” teenage girls.
Fans have speculated that the song is a dig at Lovato’s ex-boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama, the actor Lovato who dated back and forth from 2010 to 2016. They met when Lovato was 17 and Valderrama was 29, but Lovato has said they didn’t start dating until she was 18.
“Finally 29 / Funny just how you were then / Thought it was a teenage dream just a fantasy / But was it yours or was it mine? / 17 / 29,” Lovato sings in the chorus of “29.” (And yes, Lovato will actually be 29 ahead of her birthday later this week.)
The TikTok account @demisculture used the song’s audio to create a video that referenced the 12-year age difference between Lovato and Valderrama; It also highlighted some of Valderrama’s other relationships.
The video established that the That ’70s Show star dated Mandy Moore when he was 20 and she was 16, and claimed he was dating Lindsay Lohan when she was 17 and he was 24. (Lohan was 18 when they went public with their relationship.)
The same video incorrectly stated that Lovato and Valderrama started dating when they were 17.
“When I met him and I looked at him [Valderrama] For the first time I wore hair and makeup and I was like, ‘I love his man and I have to have him,'” Lovato said in her 2017 documentary Simply Complicated. “But I was only 17, so he said, ‘Get away from me.’ After I turned 18, we started dating.”
In 2015, after celebrating three years of sobriety, Lovato said Valderrama played an important role in her recovery.
“Having shared my ups, endured my downs and supported my recovery…he still never takes credit and I want the world to know how incredible his soul is,” Lovato wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. “I really wouldn’t be alive today without him…I love you, Wilmer.”
Lovato has neither publicly confirmed nor denied that 29 is about Valderrama. However, in 2020, Lovato said she was no longer in touch with her ex, who was recently engaged to model Amanda Pacheco.
“I’m really happy for him and I wish him the best,” Lovato told Harper’s Bazaar at the time, “but we don’t live in each other’s lives anymore, haven’t spoken in a long time.”
A Valderrama representative declined to comment when reached by The Times on Wednesday.
Regardless of who the song is about, people on TikTok use it to share personal stories of being nurtured by older men and escaping toxic situations.
User @takeyoutocourt pulled the audio to share her own account of being groomed as a teenager by a man 12 years her senior. She posted clips and photos of the two, emphasizing how young she was and how glad she was to leave this relationship.
“This song makes me sob. I’m so grateful that we can now stand up and speak out against grooming,” she captioned the video. “I’m on my healing journey coming to the other side. Maintained and manipulated for years. 17 would never occur to me!!! Thanks Demi for writing this song, it’s so healing.”
@bunnnbabe used the single as the soundtrack for her video about being groomed by one of her former teachers when she was 17 and he was 25. She captioned the video, “He was a teacher, I was a student.”
“Today’s trauma processing” was how @neko_sheru framed her story of being cared for by a 21-year-old man when she was only 13. Responding to a comment on the video, she said, “I’ve healed a lot and am doing great things,” adding in response to another comment, “It took me many years of therapy to even realize I could do this victim.”
@_mrsmetz presented her grooming story as text over a video of her walking.
“I met my B[f] when I was 15 and he was 21. We started dating when I was 17 and he was 23,” she wrote. “At some point in their 20s, he and his boyfriend admitted to me that they only like younger girls because it’s easier to control them and ‘make them the kind of girlfriend that a guy wants.'”
“Keep your innocence. You’re not ‘old soul’ or ‘mature for your age’, there’s a reason he doesn’t date someone his age, don’t let these men manipulate you.”
TikTok videos like this have garnered millions of views on the app, with the comment sections filled with other users sharing stories of how they too have been groomed.
The full version of the song described a relationship built on unequal power dynamics.
“Student and teacher/ anything but innocent,” sings Lovato. ‘What the hell – consent? / Numbers told you not to do it / But that didn’t stop you.”
“Yes, you’re 12 years older than her / Maybe it doesn’t matter now / But I know better.”
In a recent interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, the “Confident” singer opened up about how she went into rehab to process dormant trauma after her 2018 overdose.
“Everything I write about comes from personal experiences … I had all these unresolved traumas that I hadn’t dealt with or started to deal with in treatment,” Lovato said. “And then when I came out, I was like, ‘It’s okay to be angry and feel these things.’ When I was making the album I was very angry for the first week and I think it showed in a lot of the songs.”
When asked about “29,” Lovato mostly remained silent, but acknowledged that the lyrics were likely to catch listeners’ attention.
“And I’m very careful about the way I answer those questions because I feel like the song says it all,” they said. “I don’t have to say too much to be honest, but turning 29 was a huge eye opener for me.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very scared of releasing this song,” Lovato added. “I just said, ‘I have to do this. I have to stand by my truth.” Yes. And I still walk that line very precisely. I have learned that sometimes saying less is more.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-08-17/demi-lovato-29-song-tiktok-wilmer-valderrama Demi Lovato won’t confirm or deny ’29’ is about Valderrama