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Is Camila Cabello getting weird? Or is she just getting real?

Is Camila Cabello getting weird? Or is she just getting real?
Is Camila Cabello getting weird? Or is she just getting real?

Camila Cabello keeps telling everyone her new music is “weird,” but that might just be code for “Florida.” After spending the last few years of her fame making obviously not-weird choices—touring with Coldplay, duetting with Ed Sheeran, appearing as Cinderella in a Hollywood jukebox musical—the Miami-raised singer’s fourth album, C,XOXO, drips in the inherent Florida weirdness of Disney World, Spring Breakers and rising sea levels. In pop music, declaring yourself weird doesn’t mean you’re weird. But in Florida, pretty much everything is weird, which means Cabello suddenly sounds a bit like a realist.

She says so herself. “Magical and real like Murakami,” she coos over the muted piano strains of “Chanel No. 5,” alluding to the magical realism of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami—which is nice to hear after Florida made the most attempts to ban books in 2023. An even cleaner declaration of the neo-self can be found right in the song’s chorus, where Cabello uses her digitized rasp to portray herself as a “sweet girl with a sick mind.” She’s announcing her transformation here, but at least she stays stylish and fast. The rest of Cabello’s great mutation is in the music itself, which—with help from producers El Guincho and Jasper Harris—pulls all sorts of sci-fi tricks with its smooth timbres, exploded shapes, and sweet-tart moods.

On the more subtle side of that spectrum, there’s “BOAT,” a mournful piano ballad dedicated to “the best of all time.” When Cabello’s heartbreaking chorus liquefies into rainbow-colored rivulets of synth melodies, she shows us that a slow song doesn’t have to be cheesy to be sentimental. It almost feels like a rejoinder to decades of Disney. Then, on the other end, there’s “Dade County Dreaming,” a collaboration with recently disbanded Miami rap duo City Girls, in which Cabello boasts with bated breath and whispers self-glorification in her loneliest voice. This song feels like a rejoinder to too many years of Drake.

Oh no, we called him out. For whatever reason, the downtrodden rapper shows up on two consecutive songs at the center of this album, “Hot Uptown” and “Uuugly,” wandering around in his poser dialect while Cabello sings flourishes around him, delivering her melodies with a vitality that reminds you of the time Drake ruined Rihanna’s “Work.” The album’s other misstep is an unforced error at the very end, titled “June Gloom,” a song about a particular kind of summer sadness that allows Cabello to waste three life-extinguishing minutes wishing she was Lana Del Rey.

At least that admiration was mutual at Coachella in April, when Del Rey invited Cabello onstage during her set to sing “I Luv It,” the most euphoric song on C,XOXO and a favorite for the year’s liveliest pop single. Have you heard this thing? First, a synth line bobs like hurricane water lapping against a sliding door. Soon, Cabello is stuck on the titular chorus like a nervous tic. Then the angelic choir from Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” floats down from the heavens in sample form. Then Playboi Carti saunters down from a parallel dimension and launches into his guest verse. By now, Cabello’s new thesis is all but written in the sky: We’ll know true joy by how strange it feels.

All you hear about is female pop singers reinventing themselves? Imagine at least a postcard from Florida containing an ecstatic message of survival, written in teal ink, the handwriting sagging as if it were melting in the apocalyptic sunshine of 2024: I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it!

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