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If you haven’t been paying attention, Camila Cabello’s rise to pop stardom all started with a little bop called “Havana,” a Latin-infused, Young Thug-featuring banger that currently sits No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. More specifically, it began with betrayal, which is a just as viable a foundation to build a budding pop career as anything else, especially if you can summon a little grace.
Out of nowhere in December 2016, at just 19, Cabello, so far known as one of the five members of the record-shattering, wildly-successful multicultural millennial girl group Fifth Harmony, was striking out on her own. Of course, the group’s die-hard fans, the Harmonizers (5H), and business executives like Simon Cowell and LA Reid — who had been instrumental in their success since forming on The X Factor — urged the girls to stay together for the potential money to be made, the fervor of their fans, and the ability to build a legacy. And, according to reports, the other four members were furious that Cabello was eager to pursue her own interests instead of stick with them. But to hear her debut solo album, Camila, is to hear an artist so fully formed, even a bruised 5H fan can understand why she had to leave when she did — and why she wanted her name on this thing.
Because of all the tension, the atmosphere she began to release singles into was contentious at best. Her debut solo track, “Crying In The Club,” peaked at No. 47 on the charts, a far cry behind two previous solo collabs, the Shawn Mendes duet” I Know What You Did Last Summer” that hit No. 20 and went platinum and a feature on Machine Gun Kelly’s “Bad Things” that shot to No. 4. Was her star dimmed by the drama with her former friends? Eventually, no, but it took a couple more features for Cabello to find her footing.
This happened most pointedly when she leaned into her heritage, and the core of herself. This clicked the most obviously on Pitbull and J. Balvin’s “Hey Ma,” which featured on the The Fate Of The Furious and included a Spanish language version. Working with producers Cashmere Cat and a song with Major Lazer, Travis Scott and Quavo also helped establish her sound — a mix of synthpop, reggaeton, and dark, simmering hip-hop. In some ways, it couldn’t have been farther from the direction Fifth Harmony had been headed, another factor that probably played into her decision to leave.
Last summer she released a pair of promotional singles to pave the way for Camila, an album that promised to be emotional given its working title was The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving.. “OMG” featuring Quavo and “Havana” featuring Young Thug both hit the airwaves, but when “Havana” quickly pulled ahead, “OMG” was eventually scrapped from the album, even though it’s got a murderous girl-gang swag bounce that would make it the perfect soundtrack to a dark teen movie. Here’s hoping some aspiring young female filmmaker rescues it from obscurity with a killer script in the near future.