‘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
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