When a band is formed on national television, drama is bound to ensue. It was no different with the 2012 X Factor-formed five-piece Fifth Harmony. After three years together, Camila Cabello embarked on the beginning of her solo journey, working with Shawn Mendes on the infidelity anthem “I Know What You Did Last Summer”.
The project really served as the launching pad for Cabello’s solo career – she voiced wanting to write her own lyrics for the band, but was ultimately shot down. Then she wanted to make a solo album and stay in Fifth Harmony, but reports suggested the group’s team were having none of it.
Soon, Cabello would leave Fifth Harmony. With a dramatic 2016 MTV Video Music Awards performance featuring a falling fifth silhouette – viewed as extreme shade from the remaining members – plus a claim that Cabello told Fifth Harmony members she was leaving rather impersonally via her manager, fans were left to believe that Cabello was in fact leaving a toxic relationship. And the breakup is perhaps the best thing that ever happened to the 20-year-old, whose debut solo effort just became the first by a female artist to top the Billboard 200 since Meghan Trainor’s Title, in 2015.
Up until November, fans thought Cabello’s debut would be called The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving – a title she carried with her for the majority of 2017. But the music was changed and the album was delayed — she shifted gears from darker material (that was likely related to her recent band breakup) to something more balanced.
It doesn’t feel like the worst move for her – the songs are lyrically introspective, but also reveal a liberated Cabello who is ready for the next step in her career. It’s something that became clear with her massive hit single “Havana”: a song about her birthplace which would go onto become the longest-running No.1 single since Adele’s “Someone Like You”.
At a time when Latin pop is getting its dues in the mainstream music industry, “Havana” became the hit Cabello needed before dropping her debut solo album Camila. Prior to “Havana,” she had released “Crying In The Club”, which didn’t quite take off the way she intended. It didn’t even end up on the record. So “Havana” was perhaps the most authentic and innovative song in her collection so far, and the salsa-infused gem garnered the calibre of interest she needed. It wasn’t just Fifth Harmony and pop stans who were paying attention: it was everyone. People who had previously dismissed her departure from the group as a career disaster did a swift heel-turn.
“Havana” got millions of people hooked, but it also served as a taste of who Cabello really is. You could also say that Cabello brought attention to the rich culture of Cuba through her personal connection to the country – something imperative with the current state immigration reform. It was the perfect segue into truly getting to know who Cabello was outside of ⅕ of Fifth Harmony.
While “Havana” was the perfect pop radio hit, it shouldn’t fool you – Camila is not full of them. It shies away from the overtly sexual and finds itself in sweeter territory. Cabello shares her memories and her reality: not eating after a breakup; the painful parts of the music industry, and prioritising emotional intimacy. Cabello lives in extremes when it comes to love, friendship and her career – it’s an all or nothing mentality that persists throughout the 10-track record – a testament to how deeply she feels and how passionate she is.
“Just like nicotine, heroin, morphine/Suddenly, I’m a fiend and you’re all I need,” Cabello pleas breathlessly on her second album album single “Never Be The Same”. To her, love is a drug in the best and worst sense; an idea she toys with throughout the record. Of course Cabello addresses her music industry drama in song. With “Real Friends”, she wistfully looks at the people that she was surrounded by, all the while yearning for something genuine. “She Loves Control” is a Latin pop-infused declaration of independence – something that shows she’s finally in the driver’s seat when it comes to her life. As she sings, “She loves control / she wants it her way / And there’s no way she’ll ever stay unless you give it up,” it is immediately apparent that the song could be about a romantic relationship. But it’s more likely about the next step in her career.
While Cabello stands out on the more fiery tracks, she also shines in subtlety. So “Consequences” is a stellar ballad that shows her versatility for the soaring vocals of Christina Aguilera, with the singer-songwriter appeal of Laura Marling. Perhaps the most beautiful moment on the album is actually in the opener when she strips down for “In the Dark”, making emotional intimacy feel like the sexiest thing in the world. With Camila, the former Fifth Harmony singer pays homage to the culture and the core of who Cabello is. And for the first time, we can see her clearly.
Camila, the debut album by Camila Cabello, is out now via Epic Records