Feelings can be unpredictable, complicated and downright messy. We can experience insecurity and regret even in moments of celebration. We can find motivation and optimism amid periods of intense sadness.
The complexity of emotions is particularly evident when it comes to love. Real love is not a straightforward, fairytale concept. You can hate everything about someone and still fear losing them. You can know your partner is perfect and still find your relationship empty. You can love the idea of someone without loving them, and vice versa.
Camila Cabello marvelously captures the nuances of attraction, love and heartbreak in her sophomore album “Romance.”
During an intimate listening session over AMAs weekend, Camila described her new album as a “real-time” chronicle of the first serious romantic relationships of her life. This approach, one driven by personal experience rather than abstract thought, yields musical excellence.
Her past music dealt with love, infatuation and sexual attraction, but it did so from a distance. The artist would take insights from very short-term relationships — or even fleeting glances — and turn them into broad commentaries on love.
Make no mistake: the approach was still effective. In addition to topping the charts, her debut album “Camila” proved her songwriting and vocal prowess. Her identity was always clear, her thoughts were always obvious and her ability to connect was always undeniable. A talented artist and an emotionally open person, Camila wrote and sang with refreshing authenticity.
“Romance” applies those innate abilities to more meaningful and complicated real-life experiences. The result is an album that offers a deeper, more candid, more self-reflective window into Camila’s life. Romance is no longer something for which she longs; it is something she knows. And that knowledge comes through in the form of tremendously insightful, immensely engaging music.
The debut album revealed what Camila can do and how she thinks. “Romance” reveals who Camila is and how she feels.
Her strengths make it look so easy
Since first entering the music scene, Camila has demonstrated a plethora of artistic strengths. She has a very distinct, emotive and dynamic vocal tone. She performs with infectious passion and intensity. She and her co-writers construct lyrics and melodies with a stunning attention to detail.
The nature of “Romance” — an honest, unfiltered story of Camila simultaneously discovering herself and the power of romantic connections — plays perfectly into these qualities.
Her impressive vocal ability allows her to authentically communicate the feelings of fun, attraction, seduction, heartbreak, insecurity, regret, yearning and everlasting love she encountered in her own life. Every note empowers listeners to not only hear her but feel her.
She can sound sharply bitter and angsty on standout pre-release track “Cry For Me,” before channeling abstract admiration on the album’s more tender tracks. She can be the rebellious seductress on “My Oh My” and the loving, wide-eyed (but maturing) daughter on “First Man.”
As she is exploring a more complex and mature array of sentiments and experiences, she showcases her improved nuance and versatility as a performer. Camila’s dynamic vocals are as glorious musically as they are credible emotionally.
In dealing with real, nuanced experiences, Camila additionally finds the perfect outlet for her near-perfectionist approach to lyrics. Camila can describe romantic encounters, secret hand squeezes and San Francisco rendezvous in a way that not only helps listeners visualize her journey but understand why each moment was so significant.
Anyone, as an example, can explain the concepts behind songs like “Easy,” “Feel It Twice,” and “First Man.” Camila has a special way of making you feel their importance.
In discussing “Used To This,” Camila revealed that producer FINNEAS shared an extensive set of notes explaining his creative choices (including trolley sounds behind the San Francisco reference, as an example). Camila was right to marvel over the innovative producer’s vision, but she humbly forgot to acknowledge her own artistic precision. Every choice matters to Camila, a reality “Romance” listeners will feel from start-to-finish.
Often diverse, always Camila
The entire album technically falls under the pop banner, but “Romance” possesses a remarkable amount of diversity. It contains a sufficient share of “bops” (Liar, Should’ve Said It, Oh My My, etc), “emotional ballads” (Dream Of You, This Love, First Man, etc) and “experimental numbers” (Bad Butterflies, Used To This, etc).
And, frankly, even attempting to classify the songs into three distinct buckets does a disservice to the assortment of sounds. “Easy” is an undeniably commercial track, but it will still make listeners feel. “Used To This” may be quirky, but it also features one of the most commercially accessible prechoruses in her discography. Several of the ballads would work as well in a prestigious concert hall as they would on a mainstream pop radio station.
The beauty of “Romance” is not, however, the mere fact that it contains a diversity of styles. The beauty is in why it is so diverse.
Rather than consuming herself with commercial strategy, Camila submits to artistic purpose. Over the past two years, she has felt developed a myriad of different feelings, about different events, for different reasons. These feelings — not “best practices” for constructing an album — are what make each track so meaningfully distinct.
So in touch with her heart, Camila never coasts. She’ll introduce unexpected melodic anomalies or vocal inflections into seemingly familiar and straightforward melodies. She’ll never let anything prevent her from being true to herself.
Ultimately, we’re left with two refreshing realities: no two songs sound exactly alike, yet nothing on the album sounds like anyone else. The album, to put it simply, highlights the many shades of Camila Cabello.
A reflection of artistry
More than anything, “Romance” proves that Camila is not simply passionate about performing. She is passionate about what she is performing.
Throughout the aforementioned listening session, Camila discussed the genesis of each song. She routinely lost herself in the explanations, tangibly reliving the experiences — and communicating the unforgettable feelings — that yielded her art. She ascribes major importance to even the most minor elements of each song.
This is music that matters to her.
Granted, the beauty of “Romance” is that you don’t need her commentary to understand the importance. The significant, personal nature of the record is made abundantly clear by the vulnerable, yet powerful way she sings every note. By the visual, unique way she captures details. By the technically proficient, yet innovative way her production and songwriting collaborators complement her effort.
The reality is that the album does not have too many surefire radio smashes. Many of the songs are accessible (and good) enough to succeed given the right circumstance, but none seems certain to replicate the success of era-starting “Señorita.”
The album does, however, make case after case for why Camila Cabello is an artist destined for long-term greatness. When she sings, it is not simply her songs that matter to listeners. She, herself, matters as well.
So open and resonant, she becomes someone from whom listeners want to hear. She becomes someone about whom listeners cannot help but care. And as new ideas, emotions and life experiences creep into her art, the power of that bond will only grow stronger.
Quick take on some standout tracks
Used To This: Reunite Camila with her “Consequences” collaborator Amy Wadge, add gamechanging writer-producer FINNEAS, and you have an absolutely fantastic song. Rich with intricate details (and precise production), the track perfectly captures the genesis of Camila’s new relationship. It also, to put it simply, sounds phenomenal. Quirky, yet infinitely catchy and accessible (with a stellar prechorus), it proves that music does not have to sound like anything else to be right for everyone.
First Man: The beautiful, relatable story is an inherent tearjerker. The fact that the public is so familiar with Camila’s family, however, takes this song to the next level. It creates the kind of emotional reality from which the world’s most special works of art are made.
Cry For Me: Fans and critics will routinely use words like “fiery” and “intense” to describe Camila’s performance style. On this superb track, she channels that unwavering passion into a pointed, resonant rant. She doesn’t downplay her love and attraction on the album’s more “positive” tracks, so why should she hide her bitterness and angst on a more hostile one? Intoxicating guitars and unhinged ad-libs provide a powerful, frenetic climax to an already-superb song.
Dream Of You: Combine a gorgeous vocal performance with stunning lyrics, and you have the kind of ballad that can make anyone feel. The song, moreover, perfectly demonstrates Camila’s evolved sense of dynamics. She has never more successfully oscillated between soft and tender and big and soaring.
This Love: Camila doesn’t sound like anyone else; she never directly follows any sort of prototype. That does not, however, mean she is unwilling to stay inside a loose set of lines. “Camila” standout “Something’s Gotta Give” was a pretty standard pop-ballad that just so happened to feature the artist’s unique, emotional touch. “This Love” is of a similar spirit; it is a familiar, throwback-style ballad made different not by quirky production but by Camila’s uniquely resonant vocals.
My Oh My: There is a lot about that should not work; the laughs and over-eager chant-style hooks tend to do more harm than good in many cases. And, to be fair, they do not necessarily add to this song. But what they don’t do is hinder the confident, swagger-rich delivery of Camila and collaborator DaBaby. They most certainly don’t mute the impact of the punchy, radio-friendly beat.
Bad Kind of Butterflies: For someone so intense, Camila has generally steered away from dramatic, theatrical music. She forays into that world on this track, and it pays off with one of the most darky interesting and captivating moments on the album.
Señorita: A global phenomenon for a reason.
“Romance” is now available via Epic Records.