Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (2024)

It’s a sunny May afternoon in Miami’s lush Coral Gables neighborhood, and Camila Cabello greets me at her family’s one-story home accompanied by a small menagerie: four dogs — including her golden retriever, Tarzan, and German shepherd, Thunder — along with her rescued co*ckatoo, Percy.

Cabello is home “to recharge” amid a hectic few days that included time in California and will soon take her to New York for the Met Gala. But today, with her messy pigtails, Daisy Duke shorts and silver flip-flops, Cabello looks more like a college girl on break than a major pop star about to release her fourth solo album — a fearless artistic statement coming June28 titled C,XOXO. Her father washes the driveway, her mother offers me cafecito, and her aunt plays with the dogs.

Cabello will receive the Global Impact award at Billboard’s Latin Women in Music, produced by and airing on Telemundo on June9.

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“Let’s go to lunch — I’ll drive!” Cabello exclaims as she grabs her tote. The 27-year-old got her license just two years ago and learned to drive during the pandemic; as we hop into her white Tesla — nicknamed “Tessie” — she admits that getting behind the wheel (with a good album or podcast on the stereo) is her favorite form of stress relief. She takes us to Pura Vida, one of her favorite local health spots, where we sit down outside with summer chicken bowls. “Girl, it’s this Met Gala coming up… I can’t wait to stuff my face after,” she jokes.

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With her still fairly new platinum blonde tresses (a fresh ’do she debuted on social media in February), Cabello largely goes incognito; some passersby seem to recognize her but are perhaps too shy to approach. Just one screams, “Camila, I love you!” — a reminder that while Cabello might periodically crash at her parents’ house, she’s still a global superstar. But while she jokes that her new look has the side benefit of granting her some anonymity in public, she explains that it has a deeper meaning.

“The voice that I found with my new album has this big baddie energy vibe,” she explains animatedly. “Part of that spirit is taking risks, not giving a f–k and doing whatever you want. I think the blonde was me staying true to that feeling. With the hair, it was like, ‘How do I tell people, visually, that this is my new era?’ Sometimes you need the physicality to let them know, ‘Oh, this is a new thing, a new character.’”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (2)

On March27, Cabello unleashed the first taste of what C,XOXO might bring: the Playboi Carti-featuring “I Luv It,” co-produced by Spanish hit-maker El Guincho (Rosalía) and Jasper Harris (Jack Harlow, Doja Cat). “I Luv It” samples Gucci Mane (“Lemonade”) and has a hyperpop aesthetic that marked a significant departure from the more conventional pop (and more recently Latin-influenced) sound that made Cabello a household name, first as a member of Fifth Harmony, then as a solo artist.

The unexpected track was also significant for another reason: It was Cabello’s first Interscope Records release after leaving Epic Records, her label home of nearly a decade where she had been since Fifth Harmony’s debut and released her first three solo albums — Camila, Romance and Familia — between 2018 and 2022.

Reactions to “I Luv It” on social media were mixed, and the song debuted and peaked at No.81 on the Billboard Hot100. Still, the song (and its somewhat unhinged vibes) piqued interest in Cabello’s next musical chapter. “The unpredictability of it is so different for me,” she says. “It’s such a kick-the-door-down moment, sonically, that it makes me feel strong and powerful. At least for me, in this stage of my life, it would feel so unfulfilling to just have a song that was big but felt like something that I’ve already done before. That brings me no joy. I would rather have a song that’s weird and be new territory to me.”

While the strangeness of “I Luv It” encapsulates Cabello’s new era, it was a different track that truly set the tone for the C,XOXO sessions. “At first, we played around with different genres, trying to find the sonic world the album lives in,” she explains. “‘Chanel No.5’ really cracked open the album. For me, as a writer, that was the voice I wanted for the album: coy, cheeky and kind of devious.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (3)

On “Chanel No.5,” Cabello sings between trippy piano interludes, her falsetto distorted, about being a “cute girl with a sick mind.” At one point she even raps — she has recently taken inspiration from “c–ty, co*cky girl rap” like Flo Milli and Baby Tate, she explains.

“We realized we hit this key transition in the process,” says Harris, who co-produced the album, of the track. “That’s the first song we knew was very C,XOXO, and creating every song forward, we would ask if it felt as true as ‘Chanel.’ It was our north star.” (“Chanel No.5” will be released pre-album drop as a fan track.)

Cabello, El Guincho and Harris devoted most of 2023 to working on the album — in New York, Los Angeles and the Bahamas but primarily Miami — and along the way, she had another creative epiphany: Her previous sets all had a why, a when and a who at their center, but never a where. C,XOXO would: It’s a love letter to Miami.

Cabello wasn’t always a Miami girl, but her journey here — a city full of sounds and culture enriched by immigrants — was a big part of what ultimately made her one.

Born in Havana, Cuba, she moved to Mexico City with her parents at age 6 and ultimately arrived in Miami with her mother (her father joined almost two years later). Her mom, who had been an architect in Cuba, worked in the shoe department at Marshalls; her dad washed cars at Dolphin Mall. Today, they run a successful contracting company called Soka Construction (named after Camila and her younger sister, Sofia).

In ninth grade, Cabello auditioned for The XFactor, where she eventually joined contestants Ally Brooke, Normani, Lauren Jauregui and Dinah Jane to form Fifth Harmony. With Cabello in the fold, the girl group — one of the most commercially successful ever — went platinum with its first two albums, in 2015 and 2016, and notched a top five Hot100 hit with the Ty Dolla $ign-featuring “Work From Home.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (4)

Amid Fifth Harmony’s success, Cabello started exploring opportunities outside the group. In 2015, she teamed with Shawn Mendes for “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which cracked the top20 of the Hot100; the following year, she released “Bad Things” with Machine Gun Kelly, which went to No.4. In December 2016, Fifth Harmony announced Cabello’s departure from the group on social media. “After 4 and a half years of being together, we have been informed via her representatives that Camila has decided to leave Fifth Harmony,” the other four members stated. “We wish her well.”

Cabello quickly flourished on her own: Her first three solo albums all reached the top10 of the Billboard200, and she has logged 21 Hot100 entries as a solo artist, plus picked up two Latin Grammys. All the while, she continued notching star collaborations, like “Hey Ma,” an early-2017 teamup with Pitbull and JBalvin from the Fate of the Furious soundtrack. But her solo career really took off in August of that year with the Young Thug-featuring “Havana,” which climbed to No.1 on the Hot100 the following January. Her second Hot100 chart-topper followed two years later: the steamy duet “Señorita” alongside Mendes, with whom she was in a much-photographed, two-year relationship.

Still, Cabello hasn’t yet delivered her lasting, full-length statement — the one that strongly defines her creative ethos and is entirely her own. Her latest album, 2022’s Familia, scored a top40 hit with the Ed Sheeran-featuring “Bam Bam,” but it was Cabello’s lowest-charting solo project. (Her feature film Cinderella the previous year — a splashy starring role that could’ve further boosted her profile — received, at best, middling reviews.) In September 2022, Cabello left Epic to sign with Interscope — home to young stars like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, who have become some of the biggest names in pop music by unapologetically establishing strong musical identities. With C,XOXO, Cabello is poised to potentially do the same.

“This was the first time she had the chance to decide on her own record label,” says Cabello’s longtime manager, Roger Gold of Gold Music Management. “[Epic was] wonderful and super supportive, but there’s a difference between being signed to a label without your own selection process and making decisions and then really getting to do that for the first time. It was a big deal for her to find people who deeply wanted to work with her, respected her and understood her. [Interscope] truly makes us feel like we’re the only artist on the label sometimes.”

“She’s the kind of artist who doesn’t compromise,” says Michelle An, Interscope Geffen A&M president and head of creative strategy. “It sounded like Camila wanted a label team that really gets into the weeds of everything. What are the big looks with the [digital service provider] partners? What is the strategy with radio? How are we implementing it internationally? She’s the boss of the boardroom, and she can tell us how she feels and how she wants to market. She’s really embracing the fact that she has a big team that operates like a boutique.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (5)

That level of label support, Gold says, allowed Cabello to treat C,XOXO as the kind of creative departure she had never explored before. “She’s feeling very confident in her womanhood, owning her own power,” he says, “and feeling like this is her time to bravely say the things she wants to say.” It may have been a sonic jolt and, to some fans, an outlier, but “I Luv It” was no red herring.

On C,XOXO, Cabello’s musical hallmarks remain — her hypnotic falsetto, her vulnerable ballads, her heartfelt songwriting — but in an entirely different sonic context that now blends hip-hop, Afrobeats, R&B, reggaetón and electronic music. They’re the sounds of Miami itself, vividly evoking the scenes of the city: driving past the clubs on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach or through bustling, artsy Wynwood on a busy weekend.

“So much of the inspiration for this album was driving, listening to music, rolling the windows down and hearing what people in the city are listening to,” Cabello says. “The voice she was using as a writer felt very much like the city itself,” El Guincho adds. “I thought it was a very interesting angle to have Camila represent her city strongly in a pop album context, which are usually very displaced and decentralized.”

Because the album was made almost entirely in Miami, Cabello says she looked at the city “with binoculars and extra-close attention. Sonically, it feels like it’s a Miami art piece.” For her palette, Cabello drew on a diverse group of collaborators to add unique colors, including Carti, Lil NasX, The-Dream, fellow Floridians City Girls and BLP Kosher ­— and, most notably, Drake. That much-discussed (and paparazzi-snapped) jet ski adventure Drake and Cabello took in the Turks and Caicos Islands last year? They were finishing up a track together.

“He’s the f–king GOAT, so it felt like shooting for the stars,” Cabello recalls of initially approaching the Canadian rapper by sliding into his Instagram DMs. “I showed him the album when I felt comfortable enough and he really liked it. [The feature] came out of a nontransactional place. He had this idea of a song called ‘Hot Uptown,’ and it just felt like I was in the city. I was in Miami.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (6)

The flirtatious, Caribbean-infused track (which until their Turks meetup was, according to Harris, the only album cut created with a remote collaborator) isn’t Drake’s only C,XOXO appearance. On the nearly two-minute-long interlude “Uuugly,” sequenced immediately after “Hot Uptown,” he sings over soft synth beats and Cabello’s ghostly backing vocals. According to Harris, the interlude was Drake’s idea: “He wanted to do one more thing for the album.”

“Why does he have his own song? Because selfishly, I just want to hear Drake on my own album,” Cabello says with a laugh. “I love that for me — it’s like that rebellious mood. Who says I can’t do that? It’s Drake talking his sh-t.”

Another ballsy move for Cabello: This is the first time she has written all her lyrics and lyrical melodies for an album, taking full responsibility for the ideas and concepts behind them. “She’s fast, curious, has great instincts for melody, is strong with her opinions but also open for them to be challenged. She’s pretty much a freestyler with great first takes,” El Guincho says. The producer “really believed in me to take on the writing,” Cabello says. “That felt good and important to me. It makes me feel different when the whole body of work is purer, my thoughts and my taste in words. I think that’s why it sounds so cohesive, because it really feels like me.”

Today, at Pura Vida, Cabello pulls out her phone and opens a Pinterest board she created last fall. It has movie stills from Spring Breakers, girls wearing balaclava masks, long manicured nails, BMX bikes, photos of the city at night — all conjuring the quintessential DGAF Miami girl energy that Cabello telegraphs on the cover of C,XOXO, which features the sweaty-haired star with heavily mascaraed, just-out-the-club lashes, licking an electric blue lollipop, her tongue stained with its fluorescent color.

“She had specific memories of Miami and growing up there,” An says. “She described driving through the tunnels, with [their] very specific yellow lighting that you don’t see anywhere else. She described a specific hue of blue at the beaches and was focused on blue hour. The blonde hair was also a big deal. The party culture. She spent a lot of time trying to get us to understand the visual world of Miami.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (7)

As she honed the album’s voice and vision, Cabello started dressing differently, always wearing lip gloss, fully embracing her bold new persona. “It was important for me on this album to feel that way,” she explains. “Pop music is so uncomplicated — it’s very one-toned. In a weird way, this album shows these chaotic, sometimes toxic scenarios, and I think we as humans are like that — we’re messy, complicated, super twisted.”

“There’s a lot of people that want you to be formulaic in this business,” Gold says. “There’s pressure in general to not rock the boat too much: If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Camila is not that type of artist.”

With C,XOXO finished, Cabello has some time to unwind and focus on herself. She finally started watching Breaking Bad; she’s currently into cold plunges; and she’s maximizing the time that she spends in chancletas (flip-flops).

“It’s when I feel the freest. I just want my toes to be free,” she confesses with a smirk. “I hate heels, I hate sneakers, I just want to be in chancletas all the time. This is actually the first time that I’ve gone to an interview in chancletas, and I feel that this album has given me the permission to do that.”

C,XOXO also allowed her to embrace her personal relationships. Simply being able to hang out with her friends at home enriched the creative process, she says: “That energy of being with your friends and that girl gang vibe felt so sick to me.”

That vibe particularly comes through on “Dade County Dreaming,” the final track she recorded for C,XOXO. Inspired by its namesake county, the collaboration with Miami hip-hop duo City Girls (who Cabello connected with through her sound engineer) captures the essence of both the album and who Cabello is today: a city girl herself, having fun and living life. The hard-hitting track — with its ’90s freestyle undertones, haunting piano lines and geographic name drops — was, Cabello says, “the missing piece on the album [because] City Girls represent Miami so hard.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (8)

Just weeks ahead of releasing C,XOXO, Cabello tells me she doesn’t have any expectations. “Many things can happen, and they are out of my control,” she says. But she’s ready to face the feedback with the clarity and maturity she has cultivated in the 12 years since her Fifth Harmony debut.

“[When I was starting out], I wish I knew that not everybody is going to like me, and it has nothing to do with me,” she admits. “That affected me a lot in the beginning. When you’re that young all you want is acceptance and love, and you can’t understand when people don’t like you. You take it so personally, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Once you get older, you realize that people’s reactions have nothing to do with you, and you don’t have to take it so personally and be affected by it. I’m way more at peace with it today.”

On an ordinary day, she’ll go to the beach, read a book, invite her friends to her condo in Sunny Isles for dinner, sip a Bacardi and sparkling water, put on a cute outfit and go dancing at Swan, a chic Euro-style spot in the luxurious Miami Design District, or Dirty Rabbit, an edgy Wynwood dance club. After a night out, she’ll make a mandatory stop at the 24-hour Pinecrest Bakery for some croquetas. Even if she’s tired, she pushes herself to go out and won’t hold back from dancing with a cute guy if she feels a vibe. “I’m living the Sex and the City life, but Miami,” she says with a laugh. But really, it’s the C,XOXO life.

“To me, it’s about going out more, going to more parties and just being a bit more fearless and rebellious,” she muses. “Before, I would go out and not care about what I looked like. If I felt kind of ugly, it was whatever — but now, I always want to feel pretty for myself. It’s about really enjoying life, and I always think to myself, that’s what sensuality is all about. It’s a sensory thing: enjoying the food you eat, enjoying putting on a few outfits in the mirror, enjoying the senses of being alive. It’s about taking in that baddie energy.”

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (9)

This story originally appeared in the June 1, 2024, issue of Billboard.

Camila Cabello Dialed Up ‘Big Baddie Energy’ (And DM’d Drake) for Her Miami-Inspired New Album (2024)

FAQs

What ethnicity is Camila Cabello? ›

Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao was born in the Habana del Este district of Cojímar, Havana, Cuba to Alejandro Cabello and Sinuhe Estrabao. Her father is Mexican and was born in Mexico City, before moving to Cuba. She has a younger sister named Sofia.

Who was Camila Cabello inspired by? ›

Celia Cruz, Shakira, Alejandro Fernández, Rihanna, Calle 13, J Balvin, Black Eyed Peas, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Fergie, Avril Lavigne and Queen. She also draws from musical styles such as Reggaeton, Dancehall, and Calypso. Use this worksheet to help you create Camila Cabello's boy/girl group!

When did Camila Cabello leave Fifth Harmony? ›

December 19, 2016: Camila Cabello Leaves Fifth Harmony.

What is Camila Cabello most successful song? ›

The Cuba-born singer and songwriter rose to even greater heights with her 2018 solo debut, Camila, featuring the chart-topping single "Havana."

Is Camila Mendes black or white? ›

Personal life. When auditioning for characters of Latin American background, she has been told, "You don't look Latina enough." Mendes is Brazilian American and identifies as Latin American. She speaks Portuguese. "I really appreciate how these two cultures created who I am.

Are Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello back together? ›

Camila Cabello Supports Getting Back With Your Ex — But Will Not Be Getting Back With Shawn Mendes (Again)

Is Camila Cabello related to Ariana Grande? ›

Camila Cabello is a Cuban-American singer and songwriter (formerly in the group Fifth Harmony). She is friends with Ariana Grande.

What is Camila birth control? ›

Camila is a form of progesterone, a female hormone important for regulating ovulation and menstruation. Camila is used for birth control (contraception) to prevent pregnancy. Camila is also used to treat menstrual disorders, endometriosis, or abnormal vagin*l bleeding caused by a hormone imbalance.

Is Camila Cabello a US citizen? ›

Cabello, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, wasn't always a confident performer. During her childhood years in Havana, Cabello remembers watching her parents cut a rug at family gatherings and staying far away from the dance floor.

Is Camila Mexican or Cuban? ›

Camila Cabello is half Mexican and half Cuban since her dad (Alejandro Cabello) is a Mexican and her mother (Sinuhe Estrabao) is Cuban.

What is Camila Cabello mixed with? ›

Born Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao in Cojimar, Cuba, Cabello moved to Miami, Florida at the age of six. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking environment (her mother is Cuban and her father is Mexican), she fostered her love of music by listening to Celia Cruz and Alejandro Fernández.

When did Camila Cabello come out? ›

Camila Cabello's debut album called 'Camila' was released January 12th 2018 racking up a score of 76 on metacritic and over 100 #1's.

What is the ethnicity of Shawn Mendes? ›

Shawn Peter Raul Mendes was born in Pickering, Ontario, on August 8, 1998, the son of English mother Karen (née Rayment) and Portuguese father Manuel Mendes. His mother is a real estate agent, while his father is a businessman from the Algarve who sells bar and restaurant supplies in Toronto.

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