On ‘Camila,’ pop’s newest star finds her voice and herself

George Griffiths /
Jan 16, 2018 / Music

It seems odd that at one point, it seemed like Camila Cabello would never release her debut solo album.

Making a hasty exit from American quintet Fifth Harmony amidst flurry of ill-advised Twitter statements from both Cabello and her former bandmates, the stage was set for a debut album first entitled ‘The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving.’ which doesn’t really scream pop magnum opus, more like A-Level English coursework.

This album, of course, never appeared, after Cabello’s debut solo single, the fiery ‘Crying in the Club,’ deflated on the charts. Despite all the posturing about ‘finding herself’ and giving her fans ‘a piece of her heart’ with her solo music, it initially seemed that, in the rush to acquire solo stardom, Cabello had possibly lost a piece of her soul, instead.

Thank God, then, that ‘Havana’ happened. At once both instantly familiar and startlingly original, the song seemed to wipe away all of the previous misgivings about Cabello and her solo career and presented her as a fully-formed pop star forged under the heat only made possible by a zeitgeist-defining hit such as ‘Havana.’

And Cabello’s self-titled debut album takes this fully-formed pop star and runs with her. Across its 11 tracks, ‘Camila’ dabbles in a number of genres and tempos, but each successive song manages to, somehow, only add more cohesion to the album’s sonic soundscape – firmly rooted in Latin-pop and, indeed, Havana itself but with the strong pop sensibility of a true auteur – and make Cabello seem that much more real as a person.

The album opens with the sobering cut of ‘Never Be The Same,’ which blurs the line between a modern pop song and an 80s rock ballad pretty well. You know Cabello means business, because she rhymes heroin (her-o-eeeeen) with morphine, and if your going to go for the old ‘love is a drug’ metaphor, you might as well shoutout heroin right?

Much like ‘Havana,’ ‘Never Be The Same’ doesn’t sound like your typical pop star single right now, for one it hasn’t got an EDM bass-drop and Cabello’s vocal delivery lands on the right side between wounded and euphoric.

When I first heard ‘Camila,’ i was surprised at just how cohesive the album was, despite dipping its toe into several styles. There’s the acoustic thrill of ‘Real Friends,’ which cuts the knife a little too close to the bone, the synth-thrills of ‘Into It’ and the perky ‘Inside Out.’

But it’s a testament to Cabello – and the album’s executive producer, Kanye and Lorde collaborator Frank Dukes – that the album never loses sight of its true focus; Camila herself.

‘Havana’ is the kind of breakout hit that most pop stars only dream of, but Cabello and Dukes never let it become the album’s biggest moment, though they would easily be forgiven to do so. Camila is positioned front and centre on the album, much like she is on the cover itself. Her voice – grating at first, I thought, seeing Fifth Harmony perform – becomes her most valuable asset. It’s as smooth as velvet and is adept at changing the mood of a song; from flirty, to demanding (the masochistic highlight ‘She Loves Control’) to broken (the tender ‘Consequences’).

Comparison in pop is nothing new, if a little outdated given the current climate. ‘Camila’s’ debut is stronger and more cohesive than many would have given her credit for, and if you were to compare it any such similar project, you’d lump it pretty close to Gwen Stefani’s peacocking debut album ‘Love. Angel. Music. Baby.’

Much like Gwen, Camila uses the sonic soundscape of the album (for Gwen, 80s synth-pop, for Camila, Latin-pop) to solidify her own voice as a solo artist. For Gwen, ‘Love. etc’ was a bold statement for her move into the world of pop; it was hard on the outside with a synth-pop sheen in the middle as smooth as caramel, a world away from the exploits of No Doubt.

‘Camila’ is different – it’s soaked in the hot sun of Cuba, drunk on love and rum. It’s intoxicating and beautiful, a timely statement from a young woman who finally knows who she is.

The topic of the album is clearly personal to Cabello – who shares writing credit on every track here – and in the ensuing gap between ‘Crying In The Club’ and ‘Havana,’ she’s clearly been able to more clearly define who she wants to be as a pop artist and what she wants to say.

In many ways, ‘Camila’ does indeed tackle topics including the hurting, the healing and the loving, but it does so with a more focused and confident gaze. It is, at points, an intimate album and given Dukes’ involvement, there’s so surprise that there are shades of Lorde’s magnum opus ‘Melodrama.’

‘Camila’ is not as good as ‘Melodrama’ because Camila herself just isn’t in that creative headspace, at least not yet. But what it is is a startlingly mature and cohesive collection of songs that manage to collect the pieces of Cabello together and form her into a true artist.

The greatest takeaway from the album? You know that the best is yet to come.

print interview with camila available in volume #22, order now

Words by George Griffiths

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