by Brianna Allison
Trigger Warning: This article discusses grooming, trauma, emotional manipulation and abuse which could be triggering to some people.
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Brianna Allison. Find her on Instagram at @ballison7. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can’t scroll on TikTok right now without hearing Demi Lovato’s new single, “29.” The heartbreaking and angry lyrics explain how Lovato, who has added she/her to her pronouns, was in an unhealthy relationship with a 29-year-old while she was only 17. Lovato, who turned 30 on August 20, is now coming to terms with this predatory “relationship” and reflecting on its toxicity.
People all over the world are relating to the story that Lovato has shared through her song. Many are now even inspired to share their own stories and want to finally be heard about what they’ve gone through. Some victims of these “relationships” are creating videos about their significantly older partners and highlighting their trauma from it. Although Lovato isn’t the first to come forward about grooming, she has helped others find their voice by owning hers.
Demi Lovato 29: the song that gives individuals a platform to share stories about their predatory relationships and the toll inappropriate age gaps take on young people.
Grooming: the power of manipulation
Lovato’s lyrics have not only spoken to so many people since “29” was released on August 17, but she has sparked important conversations about grooming. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), “Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.”
This type of relationship may be romantic, authoritative, a mentorship, etc. and can happen online or in person. The groomer will give all of their attention to the young person, and even buy them gifts to make them feel special. They’ll continue to do this until the groomer gains the child’s trust. Then, things start to change. The groomer will isolate the young person so that they have to depend on their predator. They’ll control the young person and make them feel guilty or ashamed. They may even force them to perform sexually.
The horrifying truth behind grooming is the number of young people who have fallen victim to this predatory practice of manipulation. These adults know how to exploit the child’s mental state and their emotions while essentially keeping them hostage in their “relationship.” The groomers take pride in having someone young who is willing to listen to anything they say and do anything for them. Lovato’s “29” is allowing people to recognize how prevalent grooming is and how it can affect someone for years.
Lovato’s personal truth behind “29”
Since the song was teased, fans have speculated that “29” is about Lovato’s relationship with Wilmer Valderrama, also known as Fez from That ‘70s Show. The two met on January 11, 2010, on the set of a census PSA commercial at Valderrama’s house. Lovato states in her Simply Complicated documentary from 2017, that she was immediately attracted to Valderrama, 29 at the time, and claimed that he dismissed her because of her age.
However, as soon as Lovato turned 18, the two began dating. They stayed together for 6 years and called it quits in 2016. But even after their breakup, Lovato spoke kindly of Valderrama and also shared in her documentary, “I think my heart is always with Wilmer…”
Now, Lovato is the age that Valderrama was when the two became a couple and things seemed to have shifted with her feelings for him. She shared in a recent interview with Zane Lowe that turning 29 was a huge eye-opener for her and put things into perspective. Lovato also discussed how her recent time in treatment had influenced her new album, Holy Fvck, and specifically “29.” Writing this song, she said, was part of her healing process and she poured her emotions into it. Lovato shared that “the song says it all.”
The message within the lyrics
If you look at the first verse, Lovato highlights her innocence:
“Petal on the vine, too young to drink wine / Just five years of bleeders, student and a teacher / Far from innocent, what the fuck’s consent? / Numbers told you not to, but that didn’t stop you.”
Then comes the chorus. Here is Lovato’s reflection on her own current age and how that relates to her past relationship with Valderrama:
“Finally twenty-nine / Funny, just like you were you at the time / Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy / But was it yours or was it mine? / Seventeen, twenty-nine.”
Even though Lovato doesn’t mention Valderrama by name, all of the lyrics suggest he is the one behind the lyrics. The second verse provides more insight into her trauma from their time together:
“Had me in your grip, went beautifully with / All my daddy issues and this shit continues / 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.”
Lovato emphasizes the inappropriateness of the age gap between her and Valderrama. She even mentions his current relationship with model, Amanda Pacheco. Valderrama, now 42, and Pacheco, who turned 31 a few days ago, are engaged and welcomed a baby together in 2021.
The final chorus of the song has some slight lyric changes which completely alters the emotion and meaning of these verses:
“Finally twenty-nine / Seventeen would never cross my mind / Thought it was a teenage dream, a fantasy / But it was yours, it wasn’t mine / Seventeen, twenty-nine.”
In this chorus, it is evident that Lovato has gained confidence in her realization that her past “relationship” was not right nor was it healthy. Her lyrics share that she would never think of dating a 17-year-old at her age, which was 29 at the time that she wrote the song.
Another change of lyrics is small but powerful. In the previous choruses, Lovato reflects on how she believed her relationship was a “a teenage dream, a fantasy” and then asks the question “But was it yours or was it mine?” However, in this last chorus, it is no longer a question. She states “But it was yours, it wasn’t mine.” This means that Lovato has accepted that she was a victim of the grooming and trauma within their relationship. She is putting the blame on Valderrama for manipulating her into believing that they had a “fantasy relationship” that she could only dream of.
By mentioning Valderrama’s current relationship, Lovato is highlighting a pattern in his dating history and the age gap between him and his partners. Some TikToks are calling out Valderrama for dating women younger than him for years.
TikTokers have highlighted his relationship with Mandy Moore who was 16 years old when he started dating her at the age of 20. After that, he dated Lindsay Lohan when he was 24 years old, and she was 18. But even then, there were rumors at the time that they had secretly started dating when she was still underage. The couple was even engaged at one point, but they ended soon after. His current fiancée, Pacheco, even shares his and Lovato’s 12-year age gap.
Now, Valderrama is being called out because of Lovato’s new song release, but unfortunately, he is not even close to being the only one in Hollywood to date significantly younger.
Another big culprit of this is Leonardo DiCaprio who has a pattern of not dating women after they turn 25 years old. This is problematic, as many see his actions as him essentially saying that women over that age are undesirable, but that’s a whole other story for a different time. Meanwhile, other celebrities like Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Madonna, Tyga and more have been in relationships with large age gaps. I’m not saying that all of these celebrities are a part of manipulative relationships, but it may suggest a harmful trend in Hollywood.
What “29” is doing for others
Grooming doesn’t only happen in Hollywood. As I mentioned, TikTok is full of users that are sharing their experiences in “relationships” with a large age gap. The videos typically include the victim sharing pictures of them and their significant other while they were together. Then, they discuss how they’ve recognized that they were groomed, taken advantage of, manipulated and abused at a young age.
Lovato’s song has become an anthem for individuals who have been through a situation similar to hers. They are finding their voices through her words. They finally feel that their story matters. They want to be heard. And Demi gave them the platform to feel seen. This song has shown how often “relationships” like this occur.
As a society we have a tendency, specifically when we are young, to think that dating someone older makes us mature or cool. However, that’s not really the case. It’s in fact creepy. Lovato agrees in her interview on the “Call Her Daddy” podcast by stating that “if you’re a young girl, and you think that it’s sexy or fun to date older men, it’s not okay…actually it’s weird.” She asks those who are in a situation like that to take time to reflect and really think about it.
Demi Lovato’s new song has helped her to process her own trauma and now is giving others the space to do the same.
Keep sharing your stories! When Lovato released the song, she knew that others would relate, however, I don’t think that she knew the impact that it would have. Take the power and emotions from the lyrics and rise up to use your voice and fight against predatory relationships.
And if you or someone you know has been abused, manipulated or a part of a predatory relationship and you are in need of resources, please reach out for help. You are not alone:
- 24/7 free and confidential support for teens, young adults, and their loved ones
- Text ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522
- Call: 1-866-331-9474
- 24/7 free and confidential support around sexual harassment, abuse, and assault
- Spanish online chat hotline
- Call: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
- 24/7 free and confidential support around domestic, intimate partner, and dating violence.
- Online chat
- Call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
If Demi Lovato 29 has empowered you like it has empowered others, please share your story!