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Pharrell Williams, Camila Cabello Serve Special, Transcendental “Sangria Wine” (Review)

“Sangria Wine,” the new collaboration between Pharrell Williams and Camila Cabello, warrants the “special” classification.

Pharrell x Camila - Sangria Wine Banner | Columbia Records

Good duets involve two talented artists working together.

Great duets involve two talented artists working well together.

Special duets involve two artists embarking on a journey together.

“Sangria Wine,” the new collaboration between Pharrell Williams and Camila Cabello, unquestionably warrants the “special” classification.

Not merely a catchy, interesting offering from star musicians, “Sangria Wine” represents an utterly transcendental musical experience. It showcases the magic that happens when two immensely talented artists, without sacrificing their own identifies or dulling their own strengths, join forces in pursuit of something fresh, different and exciting.

Yes, it features Pharrell’s hallmark production elements and some of Camila’s signature vocal stylings. It definitely sounds like an artistic companion to their past collaboration “Havana.”

It absolutely should, and not simply because it was developed in the same time frame.  Artists who are passionate about their art and confident in who they are should always leave their stamp on their music. Nothing they release should ever feel impersonal, let alone unrecognizable.

It does not, however, sound exactly like any previous release from either artist. It, more importantly, does not sound like a calculated, safe, unambitious ploy to capitalize on their existing popularity and familiarity. The appeal here is neither “the opportunity to hear music stars Pharrell and Camila on the same track” nor “the chance to hear a new song from the people who brought you Havana.”

It is the privilege of escaping into a world that Pharrell and Camila envisioned and then created.

With each step — the initial horns, Pharrell’s relaxed yet powerfully inviting hook, Camila’s impossibly magnetic verse followed by her seductive, Spanish pre-chorus, the harmonized reprise of the chorus and everything that follows — “Sangria Wine” increasingly pulls listeners into its world. They are passing through the same portal that brought Pharrell and Camila into this unique world — and experiencing exactly what the two artists are experiencing.

That can only happen when the artists are simultaneously confident in who they are, unflinchingly honest in how they feel, and wholeheartedly united in what they see.

This relentless experiential lure — one with promises of a world that is attune to the present, evocative of the past, and rich with the tapestries of numerous cultures — explains why “Sangria Wine” made such a mark throughout Camila’s “Never Be The Same” tour.

Unknown to audiences at the start of the concert series, “Sangria Wine” quickly became one of the show’s top attractions. While the freshness and catchiness surely helped, the real draw was the experiential component. The unique vibe, coupled with Camila’s unrivaled conviction, let listeners know they were not merely hearing something special. They were going somewhere special.

The recording may not completely recreate the transcendence, but it comes impressively close.

Granted, its success as an overall effort should not be mistaken as confirmation of perfection. “Sangria Wine” does have flaws.

While the production contributes wonderfully to the experiential feel, the specific vocal delays and effects can occasionally disrupt the vocal flow.

Whereas Camila’s previous hits (including “Havana”) have benefited from a dynamic, escalating composition, this song can also feel linear. There is no big, flashy ending — Camila’s breathy, solo introduction to the final hook, though perhaps the highlight of the song, does not fit the conventional definition of a “climax.”

Rather than having Camila join Pharrell (and mirror his low-key approach) on the “Sangria Wine” hook, an improved version would have had Pharrell solely sing the first iteration, Camila solely sing the second iteration and both share the final chorus. Alternatively, they could have divided each chorus in accordance with the same contrasting dynamic (first Pharrell, then Camila, then both).

A case can, however, be made that a song this engaging does not need an engineered climax. Listeners are already going to be immersed in its atmosphere; they do not need any additional, calculated reasons to care.

With its tropical essence, inviting beat, nuanced production, enthralling vocal performances and meme/viral-friendly concept, “Sangria Wine” checks all the boxes of a song engineered to be a summer hit.

Yet the real beauty is that the song itself never feels remotely engineered. It is too authentic, too honest, too addictive and too blessed by commanding vocal performances to come across as anything but sincerely transcendental.

Pharrell and Camila will be performing the song during the May 20 Billboard Music Awards. Pharrell’s label Columbia Records will be promoting the song at mainstream radio.

Written by Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002.

Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj.

Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]headlineplanet.com.

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