If you didn’t know who Camila Cabello was six months ago, you almost certainly do now.
The 20-year-old former member of Fifth Harmony has exploded onto the scene with the success of her solo smash hit “Havana.” Incorporating elements of her Cuban heritage with the dark aesthetics of trap, “Havana” had everything a hit single should.
Featuring a verse from trap star Young Thug and a sensual Latin beat, “Havana” tells the story of two lovers in two cities — Havana, the birthplace of Cabello, and Atlanta, the birthplace of the trap subgenre and several of its cornerstone acts, such as Migos, Future and Thugger himself.
Following the success of “Havana,” Cabello announced her debut album, “Camila” — released January 12, 2018. As one of the first major releases of the year, “Camila” is a brilliant start to Cabello’s solo career, containing cleverly written, well-crafted songs across the pop, Latin and hip-hop genres.
The album’s opener, “Never Be The Same” is bassy and vocally driven, reminiscent of a “Pure Heroine”-era Lorde song. Cabello’s clever lyrical references to drugs expose a vulnerable side of a young artist giving herself over to shameless self-devotion. In the chorus, Cabello sings, “Just one hit of you / I knew I’ll never ever, ever be the same,” following the trend of songs that embody unabashed obsession — such as Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.” and Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain”.
Throughout the album, Cabello and her producers demonstrate a solid understanding of pop trends — specifically the sparse, guitar-driven songs that have made artists like Ed Sheeran popular.
Tracks in this style include “All These Years” and “Real Friends,” the latter an introvert’s lament containing lush, autotuned backing vocals and relatable lyrics. Similar to Lorde’s 2017 album “Melodrama,” they are specific to the experiences of a 20-year-old and paint a beautifully imperfect picture of Cabello.
Aside from her clever songwriting, Cabello’s Cuban roots set her apart from run-of-the-mill pop stars, giving a Latin flavor to her sound. Reggaeton-influenced “She Loves Control” is a feminist anthem for independent women everywhere, featuring lyrics like “The way she kills you makes you feel alive.” Complemented by a heavy Latin beat, this track portrays an idealized version of Cabello as a sexy, confident, in-control woman.
“Inside Out,” the cheery subsequent track to “Havana,” utilizes tropes of Caribbean music like steel drums, leaving the listener longing for the summertime.
While the majority of this album shows that Cabello is a promising young songwriter, her lyrics shine brightest on a pair of piano ballads in the second half of the album. The verses of the beautifully simple “Consequences” list off symptoms and vivid images of postbreakup depression. The lyrics “Loving you was young, and wild, and free” feel right at home in a moody Lana Del Rey dirge.
Cabello’s most impressive vocal performance — the power ballad “Something’s Gotta Give” — embodies the helpless desperation of a failing relationship. This track describes a universal experience with new passion, while exposing Cabello’s vocal abilities and artistry.
Though the album contains several examples of fantastic songwriting, it is not without its faults. “In The Dark,” a trite critique of hookup and party culture, feels a little tired at this point. Hundreds of introverted artists have had similar critiques of modern romance and social spheres, few of which have made a lasting impression.
With lyrics like “Who are you when it’s 3 a.m. and you’re all alone / And LA doesn’t feel like home,” this track falls flat and comes across as a cheesy song written by a young artist despite her mature songwriting on other tracks.
Cabello brings it all home on album closer “Into It.” The song’s sexy beat provides the ideal soundscape for cute double entendres that leave you feeling satisfied with your listening experience. After time alone and heartbroken, Cabello shows that she’s still young, wild, free and ready to be the confident version of herself seen in “She Loves Control.”
Cabello’s debut was a great introduction for a young artist — someone to watch for years to come. The instrumentals — crafted by industry powerhouses like Pharrell, Skrillex and Frank Dukes — fit each song almost perfectly, providing the ideal template for Cabello’s voice and lyrics to shine. “Camila” lays the groundwork for years of promising songwriting and performance ahead of her.