DJ Khaled and Demi Lovato lit up the American Airlines Arena last night in a concert stacked with surprise guest appearances from stars of the hip-hop and reggaeton worlds.
"This is just my intro," Khaled repeated a handful of times before bringing out his first guest, Bryson Tiller, to collaborate on their monster hit, "Wild Thoughts," a song that, were it not for "Despacito," would have been the official summer anthem of 2017.
Khaled's first few minutes onstage were a mess of SnapChat-ready humble boasts and surface-level motivational speeches. But everyone skipped the beer run, because it's well established that though he's not compelling enough to headline a set on his own, Khaled always brings support. During his almost hourlong set, Khaled introduced Kent Jones to perform his multilingual hit "Don't Mind"; Fat Joe for "Lean Back" and "What's Luv?"; Kehlani for her song "Crzy"; and J. Balvin for his smash "Mi Gente."
The superstar procession culminated in a cameo from Khaled's one-year-old son Asahd, who scanned the crowd of thousands as his father gave a Lion King speech about the boy carrying on the elder Khaled's legacy.
Khaled and Lovato got equal billing on the tour's promotional poster, but there was never any doubt that Khaled was the warm-up act for an arena filled with teen and young-adult Lovatics.
Lovato emerged from beneath the stage to open the show with "You Don't Do It for Me Anymore," the heartbreaker confessional off her latest album, Tell Me You Love Me. It was a surprising way to open a pop concert, foregoing the usual pomp for an understated entrance that drew attention to her vocals.
Lovato's undeniable vocal talent sets her apart from most of the ever-expanding field of women who have led mainstream music over the past decade. That's not to say that she doesn't play the teasing-vixen role onstage or that she sticks to schmaltzy balladry over slick earworm radio hits. She does all of this just as well as the rest of them. But if you strip back the flashing strobe lights, gyrating backup dancers, and sequined leotards, Lovato outperforms most of her contemporaries.
It's been difficult for any pop star to elicit shock from audiences since Madonna put self-love on display on her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour, but damn it, Lovato tried. She even brought a rotating bed, where she strummed along to "Lonely" on an acoustic guitar before crawling on the sheets and being joined by two muscular backup dancers.
You could almost hear the Good Friday prayers from the parents in the audience waiting for an end to their three long minutes of torture during Lovato's racy ode to bi-curiosity, 2015's "Cool for the Summer." One of the women in her dance troupe spent a fair amount of time thrashing her hair around in circles as she mimed performing sex acts on the singer while other backup dancers paired up in the background, representing every kind of sexual relationship. "Go tell your mother!" Lovato screamed, changing the song's lyrics to encourage her young LGBTQ fans to come out to their parents.
She's adept at putting together a pop spectacle, and perhaps that shouldn't be too surprising. At just 25 years old, Lovato has been in the entertainment industry for a decade and a half. She's been candid about the struggles that came with her young fame: an eating disorder, self-harm, and cocaine addiction. Indeed, the most compelling part of her show is when she sits at her piano to sing "Father," which she wrote after the death of her dad, from whom she was estranged throughout her life as he struggled with schizophrenia and addiction. Her voice soared on "Warrior," in which she detailed the ways in which her frayed paternal relationship and childhood trauma produced her personal demons. "There's a part of me I can't get back/A little girl grew up too fast," she sang. Lovato has never detailed the specific circumstances that inspired the song, but the mike caught the pained, guttural sigh she exhaled after belting out the cathartic ballad.
Though she's at her best on her own behind the piano, Lovato did not let Khaled outpace her on the element of surprise. Toward the end of the concert, Luis Fonsi leaped out from below the stage. Though he got no introduction, the Miami crowd screamed for a good minute before the pair launched into their reggaeton duet "Échame la Culpa," and, of course, Fonsi could not leave the stage without performing "Despacito."
Lovato ended the show by foregoing pop-concert conventions. She skipped the traditional encore fake-out and brought out the Miami Gay Men's Choir for "Tell Me You Love Me." "Everything I need/Is standing right in front of me/I know that we will be all right," she sang, and if anyone can sing that affirmation convincingly, it's Demi Lovato.
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