Interview: Camila Cabello with USA Today
Camila Cabello: New music, old exes and why 2017 was the ‘best year of my life’
By: Maeve McDermott
When USA TODAY reached Camila Cabello on the release week of her debut album Camila (out Friday), her breakout hit Havana had climbed back to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, tantalizingly close to topping the charts.
“I hoped that it would happen for a really long time,” the 20-year-old told USA TODAY about the runaway success of the track, originally released as an unofficial promotional single before fans seized on it. “Obviously, I didn’t know it would be such a success that’s gone so far. And it’s, like, my first, it’s my highest position ever on the Billboard Hot 100, which is super-cool as it is. But it would definitely be amazing to go No. 1, because I know how rare that is. You never know when it’s going to happen again.”
Havana is one of 10 songs that appear on her debut, the product of Cabello’s first full year as a solo artist following her departure from her former group, Fifth Harmony, at the end of 2016.
For all of the post-split drama, Cabello is quick to dispute the idea that 2017 was the most difficult year of her career.
“Not at all,” she says. “I mean, obviously, the stuff in my career was hard to balance and was really, really intense. But definitely, it was the best year of my life. I think the hardest year in my life was the year before, and 2017 was this very free, independent, really fun (time). I just felt very alive.”
Yet, a friendship breakup can invoke as many painful feelings as a romantic one. Debunked rumors about a relationship with fellow rising pop star Shawn Mendes aside, Cabello’s split from Fifth Harmony is the personal drama that’s most dominated her headlines, and a year later, it’s impossible to find an interview with Cabello that doesn’t mention the breakup.
While her various heartbreaks are fertile ground for her songwriting — “it’s like purging,” she says, “writing about all the little details and moving on“ — it’s important to her to keep her source material private.
“I’ve always been, since I was little, a very private person, when it comes to that,” she says about revealing the subjects of her songs. “And also I just feel like it’s very important to have things that only you know about. I think that having secrets while being a public figure is important. And it just makes me feel like there’s things in my life that only I know about, and I feel like it’s always going to be like that for the rest of my career.”
“That’s why, whenever people ask me, I always give the most vague answers.”
She’s still game to debunk some rumors she’s heard about herself, including the idea that all her breakup tracks are inspired by a singular figure. “When I release a song that’s super-emotional, and you could tell that I was just heartbroken, and people say that it’s, like, about my first boyfriend and I was, like, 16,” she says. “And I’m just, like, no.”
There’s a good amount of heartbreak in Camila, though much of it was left on the cutting-room floor, with Cabello admitting there’s “probably around 25” songs from her recording sessions that didn’t make it to the album.
“I didn’t want to have any fillers,” she says.
The album’s short runtime still gives Cabello plenty of room to play around stylistically, with hints of Rihanna’s ANTI — an album she “loves” — as it contrasts Cabello’s sexual confidence (She Loves Control, Into It) with more intimate moments of longing and loss (All These Years, Consequences).
Then, there’s Havana, Cabello’s first big hit, a song that was almost inevitable for her to write.
“It’s like my daily life,” she says. “The relationship that I have to my family, and people in Miami, and my culture, it’s everything, it’s like the food that we eat and the music that we listen to and the things that we talk about.”
And, after name-dropping Colombian singer J Balvin alongside Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift as some of her favorite recent influences, Cabello reacts excitedly to the prospect of contributing vocals to a Spanish-language track in the vein of Despacito or Mi Gente.
“Oh yes, always,” she says. “I always want to do that.”
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