From the moment “Bad Things” was released, it seemed not just inevitable but slap-your-forehead obvious: Camila Cabello was going solo. She was going to be a real-deal pop star too, a Beyoncé or a Justin or at least a Zayn — not one of those strivers endlessly stuck in development purgatory, always praying her next single would connect beyond the reach of her label’s street team. She was going to take over the world.
Cabello, a Cuban-American on the brink of 20 years old, would not be positioned for such a takeover if not for her four years as the de facto frontwoman of Fifth Harmony, this decade’s reigning girl group. 5H were usually good and sometimes great, first grabbing my attention with 2014’s thunderous-if-corny Ricky Reed production “BO$$” and peaking with last year’s delightfully campy Ty Dolla $ign collab “Work From Home.” If not quite worthy heiresses to Destiny’s Child, they were a perfectly solid pop act, a boon for Cabello until they became an albatross. She was the most likely candidate to strike out on her own, but such a move did not seem imminent; her previous solo excursion, the 2015 Shawn Mendes duet “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” was strictly extracurricular.
“Bad Things,” on the other hand, suggested Cabello had outgrown Fifth Harmony so definitively that continued association with the group would only cramp her style. A duet with Cleveland rapper-turnt-actor Machine Gun Kelly, the single found Cabello interpolating — I’m still not sure if I believe this — the hook from Fastball’s unassuming yet hella catchy 1999 pop-rock hit “Out Of My Head.” Such a whitebread cheese sandwich of a song seemed like odd source material for sexy, cinematic pop-rap, even after factoring in the slick melodrama of the Eminem/Rihanna duets that served as this song’s obvious inspiration. Having a personality vacuum as your foil also doesn’t help. But Cabello absolutely sold it, via both an expressive vocal track and a magnetic performance in the music video, a mini-movie depicting a troubled romance between Cabello and Machine Gun Kelly. He’s credited as the lead artist, but she stole the show. (Note that when they performed it together on Ellen, Cabello was the focus of the introduction.)
Now that “Bad Things” has become a staple of the top 10 (it peaked at #4, matching Fifth Harmony’s best chart performance), Cabello is off and running with a number of high-profile collaborations. Last week she completed a young pop star rite of passage by releasing a single with producer Cashmere Cat, who has co-headlined tracks with Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and Troye Sivan among others. The slow-building digital eruption “Love Incredible” is an entirely different canvas for Cabello’s power-meets-finesse vocal prowess — a state of constant computerized crescendo that finally collapses into a gorgeous Imogen Heap — and it could easily become Cabello’s next big hit. If not, her new Billboard cover story suggests a Major Lazer collab is ready in waiting, and given the track record of Diplo’s crew, that one’s basically guaranteed to rule the charts.
And then there’s the song Cabello recorded with Pitbull and J Balvin, for which a music video is already in production. (Scenes from the shoot leaked last week.) If that single is as deeply Latinx as expected, it will add yet another element to her arsenal of hits, cementing her place as one of today’s most versatile pop stars before the rollout for her fall debut album even kicks off in earnest. Covering your bases is smart policy for any aspiring pop star, but for Cabello, a Havana/Mexico City/Miami native and a vocal opponent of the president’s immigration policy, leaning hard into her Hispanic heritage seems especially meaningful right now.
Real-life drama such as travel bans and border walls makes the inevitable media rivalry between Cabello and Fifth Harmony, who are releasing their first album without her this year, feel petty and insignificant. 5H’s notoriously passionate fan base practically broke out into civil war upon Cabello’s departure, and both she and her former bandmates were very publicly bitter about the ordeal. Yet as she noted in the Billboard story, “In Cuba, people are literally making rafts out of tires and sticks, throwing themselves into the ocean to find opportunity. That’s real shit. Not this.”
Important or not, it’s easy to imagine Cabello outshining not just Fifth Harmony but most of her peers vying to become the next great pop star. By all accounts she’s a songwriting natural with an intuitive, hands-on creative presence. She’s been working hard behind the scenes honing her craft for years, recording laptop demos in hotel bathrooms on early mornings after Fifth Harmony tour stops. It would appear that she’ll have a sizable enough treasure trove of hits that her album — pegged by Billboard as a mix of ANTI, Alicia Keys, Shakira, and Cuban music — will not be tied up in the endless delays and revisions that so often plague players in the major-label machine. She’s clearly just as capable in front of a camera as in front of a microphone. And frankly, anybody who can wring a genuinely affecting performance out of would-be treacle like “Bad Things” has good things in her future.
The Billboard 200 feels Fifty Shades Darker this week as the film’s soundtrack debuts at #1 with 123,000 equivalent units and 72,000 in pure sales. That’s one notch better than the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack, which topped out at #2. Up next is Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, returning from #7 to its #2 peak with 66,000 units on the strength of two solid Grammys performances. Two recent chart-toppers, Big Sean’s I Decided and Migos’ Culture, follow at #3 and #4 respectively, and the Weeknd’s Starboy hangs in there at #5.
Enjoying a significant Grammys boost is Adele’s 2015 blockbuster 25, which tallied 47,000 units on the heels of an Album Of The Year win plus Record and Song Of The Year wins for “Hello,” which she performed to open the show. It’s remarkable that 25 somehow sold 30,000 more copies last week considering it already went diamond (the equivalent of 10 million copies sold). After Trolls at #7 and Lady Gaga’s Joanne at #8 comes another Grammys beneficiary, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, at #9 with 38,000 units and 29,000 in sales. And the La La Land soundtrack closes out the top 10 at #10.
Ed Sheeran remains atop the Hot 100 with “Shape Of You” for a fourth nonconsecutive week, while Zayn and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” reaches a new peak at #2. That means Migos and Lil Uzi Vert’s former chart-topper “Bad And Boujee” slides to #3. Debuting at #4 is Katy Perry and Skip Marley’s “Chained To The Rhythm,” which Billboard reports is the highest debut for a woman since Adele’s “Hello” entered at #1 in 2015. It’s Perry’s 14th top-10 hit and her first since “Dark Horse” dropped out of the top 10 three years ago.
At #5 is the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer,” which has now been in the top 5 for a record 26 nonconsecutive weeks and has extended its record 29 consecutive weeks in the top 10 after debuting there. Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello’s “Bad Things” is at #6.
Then comes a series of three new top 10 entries: Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” at #7, Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain” at #8, and the Weeknd and Daft Punk’s “I Feel It Coming” at #9. That’s 14 top-10 hits for Mars, six for the Weeknd, three for Daft Punk, and a whopping 30 for Rihanna, passing Michael Jackson for third all-time. (Only the Beatles and Madonna have more.) Along with “Chained To The Rhythm” that makes four new tracks in the top 10 this week, which Billboard says hasn’t happened since April 2011. Big Sean’s “Bounce Back” drops to #10 to round out the top 10.
The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – “Something Just Like This”
Say this for the Chainsmokers: They’ve definitely settled on their aesthetic. And that aesthetic appears to be nostalgia for those halcyon days when “Closer” ruled the charts (i.e. now).
Ed Sheeran – “How Would You Feel (Paean)”
In case you were wondering if Sheeran had another adult contemporary power ballad á la “Thinking Out Loud” waiting in the wings: He did!
Zedd & Alessia Cara – “Stay”
Cara has not really lived up to the “jaded introvert” persona advanced by breakthrough single “Here,” but her voice has become a distinct, recognizable presence on pop radio: confident, conversational, and subtly soulful. Pop singers tend to get swallowed up in Zedd’s aesthetic, so it’s impressive that “Stay” scans as a Cara song first and foremost despite the usual waves of synthetic noise.
Dua Lipa – “Thinking ‘Bout You”
I’ve been seeing this woman’s name everywhere except the pop charts, and I’m guessing she’ll be there soon enough. Not sure that this acoustic Jhené Aiko-core will be what gets her there, though.
gnash – “Lonely” & Olivia O’Brien – “Empty”
The voices behind last year’s hit “i hate u, i love u” return with dueling visions of abject sadness. For gnash, that means another installment of passable Drake-core with a twee twist. But Olivia O’Brien is the one out here pushing all this to its logical extreme; her new single’s hook is literally, “I’m empty inside, yeah, I’m empty inside/ Yeah, I don’t wanna live, but I’m too scared to die.” It’s like “We Can’t Stop” drained of its molly-fueled optimism, and the results are unrelentingly bleak. I’m not sure I actually like the song, but I give her credit for taking such a big risk.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Calvin Harris shared the artwork and credits for his upcoming collab with Frank Ocean and Migos. [Twitter]
- Cops were called over another confrontation between Robin Thicke and his ex-wife Paula Patton. [TMZ]
- Charli XCX teased a collaboration with CupcakKe from her forthcoming mixtape. [Twitter]
- Karrueche Tran has been granted a restraining order against ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, who reportedly vowed to kill her and has beat her up before. [TMZ]
- Dr. Luke released emails in response to the ones leaked by Kesha last week. His new ones are intended to suggest that it was Kesha’s management team who was concerned about the pop star’s weight and mental stability, and that Dr. Luke was actually the supportive one. [Rolling Stone]
- Rihanna will receive the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award from Harvard for her charitable work with the Clara And Lionel Foundation Scholarship Program. [Miss Info]
- Charlie Puth will join Shawn Mendes on his Illuminate World Tour. [Teen Vogue]
- Paula Abdul has been cast as herself in a new NBC sitcom. [THR]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Old publicity photos of nsync always make them look like Guy Fieri's five sons pic.twitter.com/RaUq1V4cBc
— chris wade (@saywhatagain) February 20, 2017