Releasing an album so late in the year can be risky, but for a pop star riding the kind of wave Camila Cabello is on, it’s decidedly less so. Her second full-length album as a solo artist, Romance, is anchored by a hit single just like her debut was, and if “Senorita” is to this sophomore effort what “Havana” was to Camila, then establishing a winning pattern is her first victory. Ostensibly released as an addition to the deluxe version of Shawn Mendes’ third, self-titled album, the song’s success carried over into inclusion on Camila’s album as well. And on those terms, it’s something of a lucky break, since nothing else on Romance seems destined for radio fame — but, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own merits.
As 2019 hits go, “Senorita” was a shoo-in, carefully following the “Havana” formula by combining lyrics that reference Camila’s Latin background with another widely popular male star — and, in this case, bringing all the baggage of a celebrity romance along with it. Whether or not Camila and Shawn really mean it, or the relationship is just part of the promotion for this album cycle, they sound great together on the song itself, and a commercial hit of this caliber guarantees Cabello the right to keep making the music she wants to.
And it seems like Romance might be full of left turns for exactly that reason; after spending her formative years as a musician constrained by the whims of five other harmonies, she’s following her own, singular melody wherever it wants to roam. Just like Camila, this second album is preoccupied — almost to the point of obsession — with romantic relationships, in case the title wasn’t enough of an indicator.
Aside from “Senorita,” other early singles included “Liar,” “Cry For Me,” and “Shameless,” which, in order, deal with feelings developing so fast that initial denials of their existence becomes moot, a former partner who doesn’t express their heartbreak dramatically enough, and immediately being way too honest about those feelings. Camila loves nothing more than going to extremes, but “Shameless” is a shouty ballad, “Liar” is more Latin-pop, and “Cry For Me” isn’t particularly memorable, so they weren’t great lead-ups for the record. The next single, “Easy,” shifts gears to the safe place of finding a love that fits perfectly and has more backbone and personality than the first three — and so does the rest of Romance.
The true standout, in my opinion, is her most recently-released fifth single, “Living Proof,” a strangely syncopated, percussive, and delirious celebration of the aforementioned real-life love. Just like her early one-off with Quavo, “OMG,” it’s likely a little too off-the-wall to ever hit the charts or the radio, but it’s the kind of unique in pop song that the current iteration of the genre needs to survive. Same goes for another standout, “Bad Kind Of Butterflies,” that uses gloomy whisper vocals — the Billie Eilish influence is real, people — and dramatic synths to build a sharp, satisfying tension on a song about wanting the wrong person.
Romance has plenty of high notes despite a few early duds, but it would’ve been much improved with some other high-profile collaborators like Normani, Cardi B, or Mark Ronson. There is one other guest producer of note, though, as Billie Eilish’s brother and collaborator Finneas produced the loved-up, synthy wailer, “Used To This,” bringing a hint of ‘80s drama to the mix. Camila seems to have a knack for picking the correct rapper, so the only other feature on Romance aside from Mendes is North Carolina’s breakout hip-hop star DaBaby, and their collaboration “My Oh My” will get plenty of traction. Slinky and sexually-charged, the song is still a big look for DaBaby, despite his own success this year, and makes good use of his off-kilter flow without sacrificing Cabello’s penchant for trap punctuated with Latin influences (as predicted).
And after a record full of songs about eros love, the album ends on a totally different with a message of agape devotion dedicated to the singer’s father on “First Love.” It’s another refreshing reminder that when Camila turns her pen to other topics, she’s just as adept at evoking deep emotions. This is a perfectly acceptable early entry into what will surely be a monumental canon, but when Cabello gets past her love affair with romance, she’ll be a much more loveable star.
Romance is out now via Epic Records. Get it here.