Camila Cabello Dives Deeper Into Love and Her Cuban Heritage on ‘Familia’
Camila Cabello is an artist who seems to live out her songs in real life. The subject of her 2017 breakthrough hit, “Havana,” was named after the city in Cuba where she was born, representing a culture that continues to work its influence into her strain of Latin-infused pop. Cabello’s duet, “Señorita,” with Shawn Mendes, manifested itself in a highly publicized relationship that informed the bulk of the material on her 2019 album “Romance.” Her music is presented in a persona that unabashedly embraces teenage girl sentiments, and if it can seem a bit outlandish in its pop princess posturing, one is forced to consider that she was cast as Cinderella in the hyper-modernized 2021 remake of the classic Disney film. On Cabello’s latest album, “Familia,” the singer continues to draw from her heritage, refining her pop instincts, and turning out a set of songs that focus on the romantic subject matter that characterized her last release with even more flair.
The title track that kicks off the album is no more than a bit of solo trumpet, guiding us into the first full song, “Celia.” The sound is at once festive and romantic, streamlined for maximal pop effect, encapsulating the subject matter of the album. The fact that it is titled “Familia” hints at Cabello’s incorporation of her Cuban heritage into the music, which comes out further in “Celia,” one of the few songs completely in Spanish, with Cabello playing up the hot-blooded, exotic persona through lyrics that translate to “He has no idea what a mess he’s gotten himself into / With this crazy woman who has met,” and ending by simply throwing in “I’m from Cuba.” Later in the album, on “Lola,” Cabello tells a story of an eponymous girl from humble beginnings with big dreams, moving from a town where “nobody breaks the ceiling.” Over more restrained, loungey sounds of twinkling piano and sax, she here joins with Cuban singer Yotuel, singing about a character who “wants freedom… wants homeland and life.”
The rest of the album is all about infatuation and managing the madness that it brings. “Quiet” is a breezy pop R&B track with some ‘80s brittle guitars and scattered melismatic flourishes, in which Cabello sings of being swept away in the moment. “Psychofreak,” easily the catchiest song, places Cabello, along with Willow Smith, in an especially effective pairing. Cabello is vivacious but mellow, while Willow beams, expressing Cabello’s inner “psychofreak,” as she howls, “Wish I could be like everyone / But I’m not like anyone.” The emotions fall into balance upon the “Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-ra” of the chorus, and Cabello shows proves herself level-headed as she reminisces about her past with girl group Fifth Harmony, stating, “I don’t blame the girls for how it went down, down,” referencing “Down,” the band’s first single following her departure. “Bam Bam,” Cabello’s second collaboration with Ed Sheeran, is all about finding composure, built around the Spanish saying “Así e’ la vida,” or “That’s how life is.” The song begins with beachy California acoustic guitar, before breaking into vibrant Latin stylings, while Sheeran essentially provides moral support, sounding as lovably effervescent as usual.
“La Buena Vida” is a pop triumph on which Cabello shines as a singer, her expressive voicings going from wincing and sneering to howling, “You should be here, should be with me tonight,” and resolving into gleeful la-la-las. Propulsive guitars, crescendos, and exotic percussion create a festive atmosphere that winds down with lively chants of what translates to “The good life / Where is it?” “Hasta Los Dientes” is a disco-informed track that recalls Dua Lipa and features vocal melodies that echo moments of Pink’s ““Get This Party Started,” albeit of course thoroughly Latinized, with singer Maria Becerra dueting with Cabello. The maddening attraction at the center of “Psychofreak” continues to be a theme with lyrics like, “I’m crazy, but crazy for you.”
“No Doubt” is another streamlined pop production that follows a dancehall beat, builds to a climactic line, and erupts into a sweeping chorus. Cabello describes a steamy interaction between lovers in vivid detail, and tellingly changes the perspective to first person midway, eventually declaring, “You take the psycho out of my brain, yeah / And leave me with no doubt.” On songs like this and “Don’t Go Yet,” the titles are pronounced in a way that, upon first listen, can sound like Spanish. Whether or not this is intentional, it’s an effective way of further blurring the lines between the Latin and English elements in the music. The latter song abounds with hand drum fills and syncopated percussion, with Cabello engaged in flirty speaking, fanciful vocal harmonies, and choral singalongs, as she sings about navigating around the friend zone. Much of the content on the album is presumably inspired by Cabello’s relationship with Shawn Mendes, although the songs are kept universally relatable. “Boys Don’t Cry,” the most R&B number of the tracklist, addresses “toxic masculinity,” and, in particular,” recalls comments Mendes has made about the desire to freely express one’s emotions.
Having confessed, in “Don’t Go Yet,” “I wore this dress for a lil’ drama,” Cabello goes on to reveal, “I just had this vision of you looking at me different / When you saw this dress,” as she continues her romantic quandaries on the closing track, “Everyone At This Party.” A departure from the festive, percussive content that predominates on the album, the song finds her upfront and intimate, over acoustic guitar, as she wanders in vain through a social gathering, gravitating to a refrain of “Everyone at this party isn’t you.” The peculiar choice of wording, rather than the more natural “You’re not here,” or even “No one at this party is you,” somehow adds volumes to the song, a perfect example of the simple details that make “Familia” an unassumingly exceptional pop album.
“Familia” is a cohesive release on which Cabello appears to have comfortably found her voice. While “Romance” came across as somewhat scattered, “Familia” neatly funnels its content into a set of songs that effectively balance one another. Latin and American influences are blended in a way that offers accessibility while appealing to a wider audience. Each guest appearance uniquely complements Cabello, and allows her singing to resonate at its maximal effect. “Familia” presents a portrait of young love in all its giddy excesses, within a broader context of composure and grounding, while including some brushes with socially conscious fare along the way.
“Familia” releases April 8 on Apple Music.