‘I got to create my­self again. I didn’t have to be this shy girl’

There’s no get­ting away from Camila Ca­bello’s sin­gle Ha­vana – and now it’s helped her win four Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards. She talks to Re­becca Ni­chol­son

The Guardian - G2 - - News -

Hol­ly­wood is used to fa­mous peo­ple wan­der­ing around, but when Camila Ca­bello skips on to the ter­race of the fancy Los An­ge­les ho­tel where she is stay­ing, heads be­gin to turn. It is the morn­ing after the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards, where she won four of the five cat­e­gories she was nom­i­nated in. On Tues­day, she gave a knock­out per­for­mance of her new sin­gle Con­se­quences, with a full or­ches­tra, in a ball­gown fit for a Dis­ney princess. But to­day, she looks like a stu­dent in jeans and a checked shirt hang­ing open over a Pink Floyd T-shirt. She asks that I sit next to her, rather than across from her. “I like to be close,” she says, shuf­fling up the sofa. She talks fast and at vol­ume, in long sen­tences that even­tu­ally loop back to a point she was mak­ing five min­utes ago. Con­sid­er­ing that she is the pop star of the mo­ment, she seems oddly un­self­con­scious.

Ca­bello rose to fame as a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can X Fac­tor-cre­ated girl group Fifth Har­mony. As is of­ten the way with pop groups, there is usu­ally one you can’t take your eyes off. Ca­bello was that one. Even in the pop game, nat­u­ral charisma is rare, but it was ob­vi­ous from the au­di­tion stages of the show that she had buck­ets of it. Within mo­ments, most of the peo­ple in the restau­rant we are in are try­ing to pre­tend they aren’t look­ing at her.

At 21, Ca­bello has had the year of her life. She has been draped in ac­co­lades for her de­but al­bum, Camila, and its ad­dic­tive, in­escapable sin­gle Ha­vana. It wasn’t Ca­bello’s de­but solo sin­gle – to­wards the end of her time in Fifth Har­mony, she had tried a few tracks and col­lab­o­ra­tions on for size – but it was the one that felt most like her. It al­most wasn’t a sin­gle at all; her man­age­ment wanted her to go with a song called OMG. Ca­bello fought for Ha­vana. She had a gut feel­ing about it and sug­gested they put both out to see. Only the lat­ter made it on to Barack Obama’s 2017 end-of-year playlist, and it has been streamed more than a bil­lion times. “Ev­ery­body was like, it doesn’t have enough pro­duc­tion, it’s not ra­diofriendly enough, it feels too slow, it’s a cool piece, but peo­ple won’t get it, only Latin peo­ple will get this. And I was just like, let’s just put it out and see what hap­pens.” She smiles. “And …”

I imag­ined some ex­ec­u­tive grum­bling that it was too Latin, and ask if she was in­sulted. “No! The peo­ple who said that were my fam­ily,” she laughs.

Ca­bello was born in Ha­vana to a Cuban mother and Mex­i­can fa­ther and lived be­tween the two coun­tries un­til her mother brought her to Mi­ami when she was al­most seven. Her fa­ther fol­lowed 18 months later. “I had a Dis­ney cal­en­dar where I would X the spots un­til my dad met up with us in the United States,” she re­calls.

Her fam­ily have al­ways re­ferred to her by her mid­dle name, Camila, al­though she was born Karla, but she was too shy to tell any­one at her new school that she pre­ferred to be Camila. It wasn’t un­til she au­di­tioned for The X Fac­tor, at 15, that she pub­licly re­claimed Camila. “They asked if I wanted a stage name, and I said Camila be­cause

She asks that I sit next to her. ‘I like to be close,’ she says, shuf­fling up the sofa

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