Camila Cabello Parses Her Past And Looks To The Future On Familia

Sasha Samsonova

Camila Cabello Parses Her Past And Looks To The Future On Familia

Sasha Samsonova

In 2019, I attended a listening session and press junket around Camila Cabello’s sophomore album Romance. It was late fall, just a few months after the former Fifth Harmony singer had publicly entered into a relationship with fellow pop singer Shawn Mendes. As I and a group of other writers squeezed into a small studio booth with Cabello, she bookended each track with passionate commentary around what the song meant to her, and who it was about. Most of those songs were about her relationship with Mendes, and the album’s amorous tone was reflected on its cover art, with Cabello in a flowing red gown.

To say that things look very different for Cabello three years later would be a severe understatement. Like all of us, she’s gone through a global pandemic; her 2020 tour in support of Romance was canceled; she starred in a poorly received girlbossy version of Cinderella, and in November 2021, her very public relationship with Mendes fell apart. Cabello processes this — and arguably the last 10 years of her life — on her raw third album, Familia, which she has called her best album so far. Honestly, I agree with her.

Cabello’s breakup experience isn’t especially unique (the pandemic made or dissolved lots of relationships), but the way she articulates the fallout is. Across Familia’s 12 tracks, Cabello adopts the attitude that she’ll have to use this moment to become a more resilient version of herself, and thus pours her every thought onto the album as though it was a therapist’s couch. Music proves especially healing here, as Cabello rounds up a series of strong collaborators, including emo grrrl WILLOW, Argentine singer Maria Becerra, producers Ricky Reed, Tom Peyton, José Castillo Scott Harris, Cheche Alara, Edgar Barrera, Jonah Shy, Mike Sabath, and Nate Mercereau. Even Ed Sheeran sounds at home on the Latin pop bop “Bam Bam.”

It’s easy to see why “Bam Bam” was selected as a single for Familia, which includes a handful of Spanish-sung tracks and bounces across a number of Latin sub-genres, including flamenco, folk, salsa, tropical, and reggaeton. Unlike its tropical lead single “Don’t Go Yet,” which feels tailor-made for splashy award shows and late-night TV performances, “Bam Bam” has a cold open where Cabello just gets right down to brass tacks. “You said you hated the ocean, but you’re surfin’ now/ I said I’d love you for life, but I just sold our house/ We were kids at the start, I guess we’re grown-ups now, mm/ Couldn’t ever imagine even havin’ doubts/ But not everything works out, no.”

“Bam Bam” might as well be the thesis statement for Familia, which embraces a broken bird’s eye view. You can feel utterly destroyed by a turn of events you never foresaw, but it’s helpful to understand that “that’s just life, baby” — a simple but way more substantial turn of phrase than every reality TV star’s empty, passive “it is what it is” reasoning when things go bad.

It would be easy to call Familia a flat-out breakup album, but its author covers a lot more ground than just that. The title takes a literal meaning on the reggaeton-tinged “Celia,” which is sung entirely in Spanish, and features Cabello’s cousin on background vocals. “Psychofreak” featuring WILLOW, which channels Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” is the most all-encompassing track, touching on the breakup (“House in the hills is a house of cards/ Blink and the fairytale falls apart”) social anxiety (“Maybe I’m an alien/ Earth is hard”), dissociation during sex and scrolling through social media, and even her departure from Fifth Harmony (“I’ve been on this ride since I was 15/ I don’t blame the girls for how it went down”).

On “La Buena Vida,” Cabello pays tribute to her Mexican heritage with mariachi arrangements and a string orchestra while decrying the downsides of a long-distance relationship. Her observations around what she imagined versus reality are particularly poignant: “I thought we’d be traveling the world together/ Making love in the afternoon/ But I’m forgetting what it’s like to wake up next to you,” she admits. As on “Psychofreak,” Cabello adopts a stream-of-consciousness delivery that really drives home the processing-in-real-time element to Familia. “Listen, listen, I get it, I get it/ More than anybody, I get it,” she sing-speaks, reminding us that she knew what she signed up for by being in a relationship with someone as high-profile as she is. Despite having the same occupations, do she and Mendes share the same values? Sounds like they don’t. “Life is right now, you tend to forget it.”

Similarly, “Boys Don’t Cry” (no relation to the Cure’s track of the same name, as far as I know) has Cabello feeling unheard in a crisis (“It’s not stupid, it’s not drama/ It’s just trauma turned to armor”) and bemoaning the fact that her partner is pulling away at a pivotal time (“So why you hiding from me? It’s only making it worse”). Familia has a lusty side too: The R&B cut “Quiet” captures the shivery anticipation that sets in before meeting up to, well, hook up, and how the world slips away when that happens.

Jealousy and unease around relationships pop up again and again on Familia. An easy point of comparison might be Gwen Stefani’s wrist-wringing state of mind on No Doubt’s 2001 standout Rock Steady, where she expressed endless worry over then-beau Gavin Rossdale’s faithfulness and the overall state of their long-distance relationship. The all-Spanish “Hasta Los Dientes” featuring Becerra is a snapshot of Cabello immediately before the breakup, spinning out over what Mendes does when she’s not there. “I don’t want to share you, I love you only for me,” she sings in Spanish over a bass-heavy beat. In what I’m sure is pure coincidence, Familia also contains a reggaeton track called “No Doubt,” which, again, has Cabello confronting her paranoia around what her partner is doing when they’re apart.

The story of Familia ends at the start of a new chapter for Cabello. On the spare “everyone at this party,” Cabello is in the post-breakup stage where you’ve developed a new routine without your ex, and by all accounts you’re functioning just fine. But if you were to run into them… Well, that scenario has the potential to undo weeks of progress. “You’re the only one I want to run into/ But I never do,” Cabello confesses.

For all of its thematic elegance and focus, Familia at times does come off a little sonically scattered as it jumps across genres and eras. I felt similarly about Romance, which was technically well-produced but ultimately collapsed under the weight of too many production styles. Familia mirrors that disjointedness but to a lesser degree, giving me the impression that Cabello is on a solid path in her growth from a radio-friendly singles artist to a cohesive albums artist.

As she traces the before, during, and after stages of her breakup with Mendes, Cabello tells a heartfelt story about a life-changing relationship that was destined to end. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t pay homage — her artistry (and no doubt mental health) are better for it.

Hanna Moon

CHART WATCH

Chris DeVille here with your weekly chart update, and I’m happy to report we have some movement at the summit of both flagship Billboard charts.

Harry Styles is the latest pop superstar to debut a song atop Billboard’s Hot 100. “As It Was,” the lead single from Styles’ upcoming Harry’s House, enters the chart at #1, becoming his second leader after “Watermelon Sugar” topped the chart two summers ago. It’s the first Styles song to debut at #1, the first #1 debut by any artist 2022, and, according to Billboard, the 59th #1 debut in the 63-year history of the chart. Its 43.8 million on-demand streams represent the best one-week streaming total since Adele’s “Easy On Me” racked up 53.9 million nearly six months ago. One Direction becomes the first group to have two members debut a solo song at #1, with “As It Was” following Zayn’s 2016 hit “Pillowtalk.” Styles surpasses Zayn as the first 1D member with multiple #1 hits.

Styles’ arrival bumps Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” down to #2 after five weeks on top, which means British acts occupy the the top two spots for the first time since 2017, when Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” was #1 and Zayn’s Taylor Swift duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” was #2. Latto’s “Big Energy” remains at #3, followed by the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #4. After Imagine Dragons and JID’s “Energy” at #5, Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” at #6, and Justin Bieber’s “Ghost” at #7 comes a new #8 peak for Doja Cat’s “Woman.” GAYLE’s “abcdefu” and Lil Nas X’s “That’s What I Want” round out the top 10.

Over on the Billboard 200 album chart, Red Hot Chili Peppers debut at #1 with Unlimited Love. I was surprised to learn via Billboard that this is only the band’s second #1 album following 2006’s Stadium Arcadium. Unlimited Love totaled 97,500 equivalent album units, including 82,500 in actual sales. It’s the biggest week for a rock album since McCartney III debuted with 107,000 units on the first chart of 2021. Arriving the week after Machine Gun Kelly debuted at #1 with Mainstream Sellout, it marks the first time in more than four years that rock albums have debuted at #1 in consecutive weeks; the Killers and Foo Fighters did it in October 2017.

The rest of the top 10: Lil Durk at #2, Encanto at #3, Morgan Wallen at #4, Olivia Rodrigo at #5, the Weeknd’s greatest hits at #6, Yeat at #7, Drake at #8, MGK at #9, and Doja Cat at #10. With that, I turn the keyboard back over to Rachel…

POP FIVE

Charlie Puth – “That’s Hilarious”
Do I feel mildly manipulated by Puth’s “That’s Hilarious” visualizer, which is packed with footage of him as a little kid and holding his cute dog? Yes! Is “That’s Hilarious” still a pretty good song? Sure. Two things can be true.

Noah Cyrus – “I Burned LA Down”
The vocal layering is quite arresting on this ballad about abandonment. Also nice is the way “I Burned LA Down” creeps into country, with mournful lap steel tones adding just the right touch.

Gracie Abrams – “Block Me Out”
This latest song from bedroom pop performer Gracie Abrams is perfectly pretty and vulnerable in that post-Olivia Rodrigo way, but it doesn’t hit the same way as “I miss you, I’m sorry” or “Stay.”

Carrie Underwood – “Denim & Rhinestones”
The country ballad queen pulls from the ’80s here, with decadent, reverb-touched guitars, twinkling synths, and room-filling power snare. Denim and rhinestones is an excellent look on Underwood.

Chlöe – “Treat Me”
Chlöe is a full-on triple threat, rapping, singing, and dancing in her electric video for the positively bumping “Treat Me.” Manifesting only good things for Chlöe in the future.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • DJ Khaled receives a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame today. [Variety]
  • Tory Lanez’s bail was increased for violating the protective order in his case with Megan Thee Stallion — he wasn’t supposed to talk about her on social media [TMZ]
  • Lorde sang “Mood Ring” and other Solar Power songs live for the first time at her Nashville tour opener. [Twitter]
  • Selena Gomez says she hasn’t used the internet in 4½ years. [CNN]
  • Mike Dean apologized to the BTS Army for dissing the band on Twitter. [Billboard]
  • Post Malone reviewed international flavors of Kit Kats on Good Mythical Morning. [YouTube]
  • Rihanna, Jay-Z, and Kanye West made their debuts on Forbes’s annual billionaire list. [Forbes]
  • Imagine Dragons released a “Thriller”-inspired video for “Bones.” [YouTube]
  • The Chainsmokers announced their new album, So Far So Good, out 5/13. [YouTube]
  • Here is Nicki Minaj’s Carpool Karaoke. [YouTube]
  • Machine Gun Kelly went undercover in LA on Jimmy Kimmel. [YouTube]
  • Carrie Underwood’s new album Denim & Rhinestones is out 6/10. [Instagram]
  • Avril Lavigne and Mod Sun announced their engagement. [Twitter]
  • Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny released a video for “X Última Vez.” [YouTube]
  • Taylor Swift’s childhood home in Wyomissing, PA is on the market for $1M. [Philly Voice]
  • Jack Harlow performed “First Class” live for the first time at the Kids’ Choice Awards and got slimed. [Twitter]
  • Lana Del Rey, who quit social media in the fall, made her alt Instagram @Honeymoon public. [Instagram]
  • Tish Cyrus, Miley’s mother, filed for divorce from Billy Ray Cyrus. [TMZ]

CLOSING TIME

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