Camila Cabello constructs a catchy yet contrived paradise on ‘C,XOXO’

Date:

Geffen/Interscope Records.

Recommended Tracks: “I LUV IT,” “B.O.A.T.,” “June Gloom,” “Dade County Dreaming”
Artists You Might Like: Charli XCX, Selena Gomez, Madison Beer

Originality is a concept often expected of musicians, whether realistic or not. It’s hard to expect that anything contemporary artists do is 100% original, given the last tens of thousands of years of music history. However, a culprit comes along every so often that follows their references a little too closely, indicating that their artistry is simply a byproduct of expertly-curated Pinterest boards and recommended Spotify playlists. Despite Camila Cabello’s undeniable knack for churning out pop bangers, she has unfortunately slipped into this category.

In March of this year the Fifth Harmony alum posted a video showing off her new bleach-blonde hair, leaning out of a moving car’s window, singing along to her repetitive earworm, “I LUV IT.” Criticism from fans online quickly followed, many pointing out the close similarities to Charli XCX’s 2017 song “I Got It.” Such is a less than ideal way to kick off a new album cycle. 

Three months later, Cabello’s fourth studio effort C,XOXO stands in all of its scattered, pasted-together glory, featuring a considerable amount of irresistibly catchy club bangers. But the strongest moments on the record cannot distract from the crystal clear fact that Cabello is trying far too hard to redefine herself in a brash, jarring way that can’t help but come off as reductive copies of her clear influences. 

After gaining prominence as a standout member of girl group Fifth Harmony, Cabello flew solo in 2016, unveiling her debut album that established her as a genuine songwriting talent and performer in 2018 and followed the project up with 2019’s melodramatic Romance and 2022’s Familia, which paid tribute to her Cuban-American roots. At the time of Romance’s release in late 2019, Cabello already began to catch criticism for ripping off album artwork and photo shoots from indie-pop artist Caroline Polachek.

The thesis of C,XOXOas Cabello herself explains it — is to pay homage to her native Miami, and doing so by blending rap with reggaeton and pop, BMX biking aesthetics with a Spring Breakers ski mask flair. As Cabello explained to Broken Record Podcast’s Justin Richmond, “I was kind of like drawing up, like, Pinterest boards and stuff and that kind of influenced the music.” Aesthetic cohesion and world building has been a key factory of bringing pop music to life over the last decade (think: Lana Del Rey’s early albums, Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart, even Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter), but the authenticity behind the music can sometimes become blurred by an over-emphasis on aesthetics. In Cabello’s case, there is no real sense that she has in fact lived this idyllic, hodgepodge of “vibes” that she adopts on C,XOXO. There comes a point when the listener must consider if what they’re being sold is genuine or a fake. 

Yet despite how much effort Cabello has spent trying to convince listeners that she’s a cool, ski mask-wearing, bleach-blonde member of a Miami “girl gang” (as she puts it), C,XOXO does manage to deliver successful pop heavy-hitters assisted by superstar producers El Guincho (Rosalía, Frank Ocean) and Jasper Harris (Tate McRae, Jack Harlow). 

The key to a worthwhile (and genuinely fun) listen to C,XOXO lies in not taking the project too seriously — even if that’s what Cabello expects of her listeners. The album’s lead single “I LUV IT,” featuring Playboi Carti remains the project’s most dizzyingly intoxicating demonstration of Cabello’s rebrand. Thanks to a writing credit and added vocals from PinkPantheress, the brief but captivating “pink xoxo” sounds like a delicious cut from the British singer’s debut Heaven Knows left on the cutting room floor. “HE KNOWS” with Lil Nas X places the listener in the dimly lit corners of the city’s hottest club and the jaunty “Dade County Dreaming” is home to what is likely to be the rap duo, City Girls, final feature (thanks to tension evidenced in an online exchange earlier this year).

The LP’s mid-point is plagued by an overbearing amount of Drake — complete with his own solo track that does little to contribute anything other than some whining (“Don’t make me pull out these credit card statements and show you the proof”) — and excruciatingly corny lyrics on “DREAM-GIRLS” that overshadow the catchy The-Dream-sampling reggaetón instrumental. The final three tracks come back to save the day with an enticing amount of sentimentality (“B.O.A.T.”), seductive quasi-house beats (“pretty when i cry”) and blaring melodrama (“June Gloom”). If one enters Cabello’s neon-hued aesthetic construction of Miami, dare to stay skeptical enough to take the songs for what they are: unserious copies of influences that still manage to deliver an energized and magnetic listen.

Keep up with Camila Cabello: Twitter // Instagram // Facebook // Website

Avery Heeringa
Avery Heeringa
Avery Heeringa recently graduated from Columbia College Chicago where he studied communication and journalism. He is passionate about all things entertainment and popular culture. When not writing about music, he can be found in the aisles at his local record store or discussing new album releases with his friends.

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