Despite a professional singing career spanning just over a decade, a dedicated fanbase the world over and six albums under her belt, Demi Lovato has never toured the UK with a headline show.
After supporting Enrique Iglesias over four dates in 2014, and playing a small amount of one-off shows in London over the years, the star has finally brought a headline tour across the Atlantic - and the wait was definitely worth it.
It is lucky that Demi was well enough to play this Manchester show. Earlier in the week she had been hit by illness that forced her to cancel her London and Birmingham gigs, the London show just 40 minutes before doors were due to open. However, when Demi rose from beneath the stage and burst into opener 'You Don't Do It For Me Anymore', a huge, soulful ballad that would test all aspects of her vocal ability, she was stunningly pitch perfect.
Any music fan would tell you that intimate shows in tiny, underground venues are the best. Being crammed into a sweaty room, feeling every spit and breath of a band, getting compleletely immersed and up-close-and-personal is all part of the magic of live music. Yet, an arena show, especially from a pop goddess like Lovato, has an even bigger kind of magic. Without taking focus away from the music, Demi's creative team have clearly worked hard to make a show that's just as visually stimulating as audibly through humourous and emotive videos between changeovers, captivating dance routines, colourful lighting, gorgeous costumes and intriguing set designs including Demi rising up through the stage on a chaise lounge for 'Daddy Issues' and a messy white bed later in the set.
Complete with a live band that incorporated a lot more invigorating electric guitar into tracks than there is on recording, which was a wonderful nostalgic nod to the singer's rock-infused debut, she played through a variety of tracks from her most recent studio album Tell Me You Love Me. 'Concentrate' was a highlight of the whole set, which saw the singer dressed all in white surrounded by crinkled bed sheets, strumming along to her soulful, overtly sexual lyrics on a cream Stratocaster.
Longtime fans were treated to 'Heart Attack' from fourth album Demi and 'Give Your Heart a Break' from third Unbroken (which featured a Kiss Cam!). However, with the UK deprived from experiencing a proper live show for a decade, it would have been nice for her setlist to reflect this. Though she has to promote her most recent album, even one more track from one of her pop-rock debut Don't Forget or sophomore Here We Go Again wouldn't have gone amiss.
Dedicating emotional ballad 'Warrior' to anyone suffering from mental health issues (of which Lovato is a very active advocate for after checking into rehab aged just eighteen in 2010) the arena lit up with phone torches and lighters. Those around the front of the stage held up pieces of paper printed "we're stronger than we've ever been", inspired by a lyric in 'Warrior', in tribute to those who lost their lives at the Ariana Grande show in 22nd May last year at the same venue. Upon spotting the signs, the singer's eyes shimmered with tears as she ended the song and spoke to the audience about their strength after the attack.
Ariana and Demi share a very similar fanbase, both working their way up to reputable artists from teen sensations and many fans found the strength to return to the arena for this show. "Some of you told me in meet and greet earlier that this is the first concert you've been to since everything happened," she said as tears rolled down her face and a crew member crept onto stage to place a tissue box under her piano. Even on Twitter prior to this show, there had been outpourings of love from fans and many offering help and advice to anyone who felt nervous. The arena roared with applause as she continued to explain how proud she was of us, and how honoured she felt to be playing to a sold out show in spite of everything. Steering away from the usual tour setlist, she dedicated the 'next song' to anyone affected by the events of last year, pressed her fingers to her grand piano and began to play 'Skyscraper'.
As the venue lit up once more with sparkling lights swaying from side to side, emotions were running high. She left the stage again as a slight emotional wreck, but reappeared a few minutes later and sassily dived into one of her most successful bangers to date: 'Sorry Not Sorry'. She picked up the crowd again and what had been a teary audience a few moments earlier was now one full of dance, beaming smiles laughter.
There always has been something special about Demi Lovato that manages to bring people together, be it on or off stage - the rollercoaster of emotion, community and hand-hearts shown in the crowd tonight as people indulged in her music evidencing this further. It takes somebody special to evoke such raw emotion from a crowd as big as this and show it from herself at the same time, while still holding the room in the palm of her hand.
Though the wait has been long, it's been worth it. An incredible performer, hitting every note (and in her songs there's a lot of different notes to hit) and dance move perfectly, her live show is insane and it would be a crime to have to wait another ten years to see her do what she's best at in the UK again... though we're definitely due a few album playthrough shows, right?