The psychiatrist Demi Lovato asked the just-plain-old-Demi-Lovato a serious/rhetorical question.
“Have you been obsessing much?” the former posed to the latter, peering through black-rim glasses as her other self lay reclined on a leather therapist’s couch.
“Have you been breathing much?” she may as well have asked in a scene that took place during a video interlude in which the 25-year-old pop star portrayed both mental health professional and patient.
Seconds later, there the couch was on stage at the MGM Grand Garden arena, Lovato still sprawled upon it, this time in thigh-high black boots.
Just in case you didn’t know what you were in store for as Lovato’s “Tell Me You Love Me World Tour” stopped in Vegas on Saturday, Lovato brought visual cues as she spelled out her intentions in all caps: The therapy session didn’t end when the aforementioned clip did, it just moved from office to arena, swapping doppelganger shrinks for a few crotch-grabbing dancer dudes.
“Yeah, I get a little obsessive,” Lovato purred during “Daddy Issues” over oscillating synth and a playful bass line, flaunting her emotional baggage like Louis Vuitton luggage early on in her performance.
This was a night of full-throated pop pathos.
“I know what it’s like to cry. A lot,” Lovato acknowledged at one point. “It sucks.”
A former Disney TV star who once opened for The Jonas Brothers on tour, Lovato has wrangled with addiction and arm-wrestled adulthood, besting the former — she’s been sober for six years this month, she announced from the stage — still tussling with the latter.
As such, Lovato is an endearingly flawed presence, and a unique one in pop music, a singer whose big voice frequently details what it’s like to feel small. Her show follows suit: On Saturday, Lovato generally bucked the traditional pacing of an adrenalized arena concert.
It began with Lovato alone on stage, belting out torch song “You Don’t Do It For Me,” a moody kiss-off that eschewed the expected high-energy start (“Why would she open with that?” a crowd member in the stands asked her friend, ready for revelry, getting the opposite).
In the run-up to her encore, when most performers choose to leave the stage with a bang, Lovato performed a three-song suite of ballads while seated at a black piano.
One of those songs, “Father,” served as an antecedent for “Daddy Issues,” where she documented a turbulent relationship with her dad, who died in 2013.
“I told myself I would never sing it live,” she said of the tune’s highly candid nature.
But she did so anyway, and that’s one of the reasons Lovato can fill large halls: She’s unabashed in her emotional bloodletting, and in this way, her music parts the veil on her celebrity to an extent, her insecurities as prominent as the tattoos on her forearms.
None of this is to suggest that Saturday’s show was all pop star scab-picking: Lovato donned a shiny pink boxer’s robe and sang from the crowd for a time during “Confident,” performed a peppy cover of Luis Fonsi’s “Échame la Culpa,” bumped and grinded with a near-pneumatic pelvis on “Sexy Dirty Love,” and sang backed by a kiss cam during “Give Your Heart a Break” (The best shot was of a bro lovingly smooching his beer can).
As the show worked toward its conclusion with an exultant “Sorry Not Sorry,” a self-help sermon delivered with gospel-like fervor, Lovato paused long enough for one final bit of life-coaching before ending with the title track to her latest album, “Tell Me You Love Me.”
“Love yourself,” she instructed. “Not that I’m someone who should be giving advice,” she added as plenty in the crowd chuckled along, knowingly.
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.