There was a lot of pressure on Camila Cabello when she released her debut album, ‘Camila’, back in early 2018. After weeks of speculation, it had been announced in 2016 that she’d done a Timberlake and left her girl group, Fifth Harmony, to go solo. In the months that followed, she released a handful of collaborative singles – to lukewarm reception.
But when she released ‘Havana’, everything changed. The slinky, salsa-flecked tune soared up charts worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy. Cabello, it seemed, could more than cut it on her own.
‘Camila’ proved that Cabello excelled under pressure. A collection of tight, Latin influenced pop songs, it further established her as a genuine solo artist. She’s since supported Taylor Swift on one of the biggest international tours of all time and headed back to the studio to work on her follow-up record.
This time around, Cabello wanted her album to evoke a particular feeling – the dizzy sensation of falling in love. She brought mood boards (which featured a lot of “people kissing”) into the studio, released gushy trailers for the album, speaking poetically about love and sharing gorgeous visuals that explained the “world of ‘Romance’” would be “a museum of loves and the stories they’ve left behind”.
Ahead of these trailers, Cabello had dropped her behemoth summer single ‘Señorita’, the saucy collaboration with her IRL boyfriend Shawn Mendes, a global smash. Just as ‘Havana’ was everywhere for months and months, ‘Señorita’ followed suit, topping the charts worldwide.
‘Cry For Me’ – the relatable breakup bop which sees her lamenting the fact her ex isn’t more upset over them calling it quits – is similarly wickedly good fun and the slinky, ska-licked ‘Liar’ is brilliantly catchy, with its brazen brass riffs and thumping bass line.
The record shines during these more upbeat, fun moments – new tune ‘My Oh My’, a collab with rapper DaBaby, sees Cabello shedding her good girl image for a roaring cut of sexy, reggaeton-inflected pop. Over sultry brass lines she purrs “He’s only here for one thing / But so am I”, before adding: “I swear on my life that I’ve been a good girl / Tonight I don’t want to be her”.
The album is less successful when Cabello tries to show the side of romance where you’re falling head over heels, or doubting a relationship. The eerie ‘Bad Kind Of Butterflies’ sounds like it was plucked out of a creepy live action remake of a fairytale, with Cabello whispering that she’s got: “Bad, bad butterflies / In my chest / There’s something I’ve got to confess / Yes, somebody’s stuck in my head”.
The saccharine stuff sounds more sincere elsewhere, as on on the sweet album closer ‘First Man’, where Cabello tells her family about a new partner she’s falling in love with, delicately crooning emotive lines such as: “I just met his family / They’re just like you and Mom/ He makes me really happy / I think he might be the one”.
Cabello’s honeyed vocals soar throughout. She’s more than capable of producing earth-shatteringly big pop tunes, but on ‘Romance’ she has attempted to expand her palette into more textured ballads. She’s more comfortable in the former territory, but here is an artist unafraid to explore terrain that is, to her, less well-known.
Release date: December 5
Record label: Epic Records, Syco Music