Demi Lovato’s “29” Sparks Discussions of Inappropriate Age-Gap Relationships and Grooming.
By Sarah Bores
Photo by Andrew Burke-Stevenson
Demi Lovato’s “29” from her new album, HOLY FVCK, incorporates beautiful lyricism and powerful vocals to share her experience in a relationship with a 29 year old man at just 17. In doing so, Lovato raises awareness of inappropriate age-gaps in relationships, and how often it is normalized in society.
From her experience dating Wilmer Valderrama, she breaks her silence on the topic of grooming— predatory tactic used by abusers to isolate vulnerable people, often children, for abuse. In her release of the song, she has raised conversations on the normalization of large age-gap relationships, as well as the damaging impacts the experience can have.
She opens the song with the line “Petal on the vine, too young to drink wine/Far from innocent, what the fuck's consent?” emphasizing how young she was both physically and mentally in the relationship, and how this inequity in power made her unable to consent. She follows with the line, “Numbers told you not to, but that didn't stop you” to express how Valderrama was well aware of how young she was, the imbalance in power, and the implications of the relationship yet.
With Lovato recently turning 29, she sees the entire situation from a new perspective, understanding just how inappropriate and vulnerable she was at 17.
In the song she declares, “Finally twenty-nine / Seventeen would never cross my mind / Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy / But was it yours or was it mine?” She clearly articulates the situation, emotionally conveying how innocent and easily manipulated she was at the time, fooled into thinking it was a teenage dream.
In an interview with Apple Music, Lovato explained that it was illuminating to finally be the same age that he was, as she would never look at a teenager at 29. The musician also explained that this song served as a medium for her to release and express her pent up emotions over the situation.
Lovato also reflects further on Valderrama, singing, “I see you’re quite the collector / Yeah you’re twelve years her elder / Maybe now it doesn’t matter / But I know fucking better,” pointing out how he is in yet another 12 year age-gap relationship with Amanda Pacheco demonstrating a clear pattern in his dating history. With strength and power, she states how she is now older and knows better than to be manipulated by him.
Lovato has also sparked conversations over inappropriate relationships, as the song went viral on Tiktok, resonating with thousands of users who have used it to reflect on their own teenage relationships. Lovato explains how normalized—and even romanticized—being in relationships with older men can be, and how damaging this idea is to vulnerable teenagers.
Lovato says, “If you’re a young girl and you think that it’s sexy or fun to date older men, it’s not,” and that she felt the need to speak the truth of these relationships, releasing “29” as a single, because the message was so important to her.
In releasing the song, she has encouraged thousands to come forward, serving as a source of comfort to other victims. Videos using the sound are flooded with comments from others who have been in a similar situation, either expressing their feelings of validation, or revealing their own stories.
The song has turned into an anthem of solidarity, and inspired women to open up about their relationships with older men, raising awareness to the grooming and manipulation that is often overlooked. Jessi Gold, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Washington University, explains that this sense of solidarity online can make people feel like they are not alone when talking about their traumatic experiences, creating a sense of community that helps others learn how to process trauma.
Lovato engaged with Tiktoks expressing her support for all who relate, letting them know they are not alone, and thanking them for the love on the song.