A cartoon humanoid with blue skin and blonde hair might not sound like the easiest character to relate to, but pop star Demi Lovato reckons she has a pretty good idea of what it feels like to be Smurfette.
This is because, like the character in the popular 1980s animated series, the 24-year-old Lovato used to be the only girl in her village too – when it came to her early music career.
She was struck by the similarities when she agreed to voice the character for the film Smurfs: The Lost Village.
“In my work environment, I used to surround myself only with men – I had only guys in my band, I toured with guys, my tour manager was a guy and so on,” says the star, whose hits include Don’t Forget and Confident.
“So I related to Smurfette because I was the only female and I had to make changes in my life to surround myself with people that I could relate to. And I’m really grateful that I did.”
At a roundtable interview in New York, the star says she made a conscious decision to begin surrounding herself with strong women in both her professional and personal lives.
“It’s really made a difference in my life – I can go to them with questions and they can give me advice.
“I made a very specific change because there was a time I used to say I didn’t get along with girls. Then I re-evaluated why I didn’t – I think it’s just because I didn’t really have any in my life whom I really trusted. And now I have women in my life that I trust and I feel like I’m a girl’s girl.”
As she promotes the film, Lovato is eager to address girls who may feel similarly out of place.
“At some point in everyone’s life, you feel like you don’t belong. But it’s OK – you’ll find your purpose, there’s no rush, just keep believing in yourself and find your passion or passions. It’ll help you figure out who you are. And don’t stop believing in yourself or your dreams.”
Her own journey to find herself revolved around music.
“I found myself at a very young age learning how to sing and, through music, I learnt a lot about myself with writing, recording and performing,” says Lovato, who became a teen idol after co-starring with the Jonas Brothers in Camp Rock, a 2008 hit Disney Channel movie.
“Following your passion and dreams is something that can help you figure out who you are as a person and whatever else you want to be.”
The Smurfette-centric new movie is timely, given the current spotlight on women’s rights, adds Lovato, who spoke up for the cause at the Los Angeles Women’s March earlier this year.
“It’s really exciting that the attention is on Smurfette in this film. We’re entering a world where gender equality is very important and I think it’s really cool that I get to be a part of this film. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this,” says the star, who is dating Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter Guilherme Vasconcelos, 30.
Lovato has also used promotional appearances for the Smurfs movie to talk about mental health, a subject close to her heart.
She has spoken openly about having struggled with bipolar depression, drug abuse, eating disorders and self-harm – subjects she knows are difficult to broach, especially for the young.
“It is very stigmatised, but you know what? Those are the conversations that you have to have with younger people to change that exact way of thinking – you have to bring up mental health with the younger generations so that by the time they are adults, it’s no longer taboo to talk about.”
She has also executive-produced a new documentary about three people with mental illness, Beyond Silence, which was released earlier this year. And she feels like she is getting through to some.
“People reach out to me on social media and that’s why I love social media so much. I really get to see the results of my advocacy work first-hand by people commenting on my Instagram or Twitter and saying I’ve made a difference in their lives.
“It’s really powerful to me, really emotional and I’m very humbled, very grateful for it.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Alison De Souza