The future of pop has rarely been more uncertain.
Last year, there was a seismic shift in cultural appetite: Rap overtook rock as the most popular music genre, and soldiering pop heavyweights found chinks in their armor as swaggering viral upstarts came for their thrones.
But the recent critical and commercial stumbles of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and others have resulted in a fresh-faced changing of the guard on the charts, led by Halsey, SZA, Cardi B and now, Camila Cabello, whose sizzling smash Havana featuring Young Thug climbed to a No. 2 high on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.
With wailing horns and Cabello’s sultry delivery, the Pharrell-produced Havana is unlike anything else in the mainstream Top 40 right now: a slinky, dance-floor-ready ode to the Cuban city in which she was born that further demonstrates the desire for more Latin representation in pop after the runaway successes of Despacito and Mi Gente last year. It also signals a formidable pop force in Cabello, 20, who split from made-for-TV girl group Fifth Harmony in 2016 and releases her solo debut album, Camila (*** out of four), on Friday.
Coming in at a blessedly lean 10 tracks and 30 minutes, Camila is a vibrant blend of sounds and styles, bolstered by a reliable stable of hit songwriters and producers including OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Frank Dukes (whose credits run the gamut from Lorde’s Green Light to Post Malone’s Congratulations).
Album standout Into It is a delectable slice of Carly Rae Jepsen Lite, as Cabello playfully coos over punchy synths and hi-hats, beckoning, “I see a king-size bed in the corner, we should get into it.” The moombahton-inspired She Loves Control and Inside Out are similarly euphoric and flirty, taking a page from the tropical-house craze that has all but engulfed pop radio in the latter half of this decade. But she leaves room for dramatic balladry, too, with her signature smoky vocals particularly shining on the piano-driven Consequences, a wistful reflection on the highs and lows of young love.
If there’s one qualm to be had with the album, it’s Cabello’s over-reliance on Auto Tune — a seemingly unnecessary crutch given the strength of her TV and acoustic performances. Her pitched-up warbling on the otherwise lovely All These Years equates to what singing in a fish bowl might sound like, while a…