On studio life, maintaining focus, and her next album...

Camila Cabello once lived life on the outside looking in. Now, emboldened by love, bravery, and honesty, she’s finally firmly in the present and learning to trust her emotions - and other people.

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A storm is brewing. Not a real life, meteorological disturbance, I hasten to add - I’m not qualified to make such predictions - but I do forecast a clamorous spell of fervent activity on the horizon, and so does Camila Cabello, who warned her 8.3 million Twitter followers to appreciate the calm that would precede it.

Why? Because the 22-year-old pop phenomenon is preparing to drop her second solo album and, as a wise man once sang, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

It will follow ‘Camila’, the 2018 debut that defined her as a breakout star in the wake of her turbulent split from Fifth Harmony, the girl group that came third in X Factor USA 2012 and became the global chart-busting sister act to One Direction. Its Latin-flavoured hit single ‘Havana’ literally exploded, resulting in the Cuban-born Cabello becoming Spotify’s most streamed ever solo female artist, surpassing a billion plays by the end of last year. You’ll have heard it.

Expectations are therefore high, with a tangible pressure surely being felt by its creator to match its success, which may in part explain her self-imposed sequestering to ensure her attentions will not be compromised. “WRITING MY ALBUM,” her Instagram bio reads, “LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!!!!”

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“I just want to be coming from such a pure state, and I feel like going on social media and seeing opinions - even if they’re good ones; people’s opinions comparing yourself to other people - I really think that it affects the creative process,” she reasons when asked to explain her request. “I feel like it’s necessary to just be as human as you can all the time, but especially keeping it pure for the writing process.”

This devotion to realness is, I will learn, a common trait evident in Camila’s identity and output, the pursuit of which can be just as rigorous, even traumatic, as the work itself. Investing herself in the process of making an album, she’d previously revealed, could be a “scary” experience. How so? 

“I think that there’s something that happens in your brain when you’re exploring your emotions all the time that it just makes me feel more sensitive,” she offers. “It makes me feel like I’m just walking around raw, like I’m an open wound… I’m always kind of emotional, but I feel like when I’m writing I am extra sensitive and extra introspective and very in touch with my feelings, and things just come up.”

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Such self-analysis is apparent throughout ‘Camila’ (“I stay up talking to the moon,” she laments in ‘Real Friends’, “Been feeling so alone in every crowded room”), the result being a poignant statement of intent, designed to serve as the beginning of a new chapter for Cabello the artist. Second time around, what will her new record represent? 

“I have to be careful explaining it because I haven’t said the title yet and the title is kinda like what it is,” she teases, “but from the first album to now, it was kinda like [around] the first album I had absolutely no life, basically. I was in a group from when I was really young, and I’ve been introverted all my life - I feel like I never really went out and experienced the world, I was always just kind of observing it.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I really like the movie Amélie so much, because I feel like I really related to her character, like always watching from afar - even falling in love with people from afar - but never really like getting out there and getting into the battlefield. And I feel like that influenced the song writing process too, because a lot of the things I was writing about came from an observing place, but a more distant place.”

“And since that album I’ve fallen in love and I’ve experienced life - I feel so much more alive now, and I don’t feel scared anymore. I think that on a personal level I was just scared: I was scared of going out and meeting people, going on dates and this and that, and I kinda was very sheltered in my own little bubble, and since I’ve broken that bubble, it’s kinda like a never-ending place to pull from because it’s all coming from a real place.”

“It’s not just coming from the mentality of my first album - I mean, it still is, but it was like, ‘Okay, how can I just make a great song?’ And I feel like since that time I’ve been living great songs. All of my favourite songs that talk about love and the intensity of those emotions, my dream was to write them, and I feel like I’ve lived them, you know?”

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One major differing component between then and now, of course, is Matthew Hussey, Camila’s 31-year-old boyfriend, a relationship guru originally from Essex. Clearly his impact - and that of her resulting affections - has propelled this personal, and in turn creative, journey that finds the singer in a thoroughly more assured position.

“Honestly, I think I’m just more brave,” she considers. “I feel like I can be much more honest with myself and other people because obviously I’m growing up and I have a more grounded sense of who I am.”

It’s ironic then that despite this maturation, Camila can still look towards her youth as a source of inspiration - some of the lyrics to ‘Find U Again’, Cabello’s lovesick contribution to ‘Late Night Feelings’, Mark Ronson’s new break-up concept album, date back to songs she wrote when she was 16. Ronson joins a roll call of responsive collaborators - which also features Pharrell, Machine Gun Kelly, Quavo, Travis Scott, Diplo, Ryan Tedder, and Charli XCX - who have each successfully elicited a unique and affecting response from Camila in the studio and on record.

“I really like working with people that are kind, that I get the right energy from,” she relates. “That’s really important to me: for me to be able to feel like I can open and I can talk to this person, and I can mess up, I can suck, I can say the wrong thing, you know?”

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Perhaps the most sympathetic of her collaborators, however, is Shawn Mendes, with whom she duetted on 2015’s ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and the freshly dropped sizzling summer smash, ‘Senorita’, the steamy video for which saw the two stripping off in a hotel room. Friends for almost five years, the pair have grown up together in the spotlight, hyperaware of the ridiculousness of fame and intense scrutiny that pervades every step of their personal development, and have become a mutual support network to maintain a semblance of normality in each other’s lives.

“It’s actually a really beautiful feeling to know that this person is always going to be in my life,” Camila says of Shawn, “we’re always going to love each other.”

Their bond is a refuge they can turn to when the unreliable and stifling world around them begins to feel unbearable. “I’ve never had a lot of friends,” Camila admits. “I’ve always just had a few people in my life that I trust. I feel like it’s so rare to meet someone in this industry and find a person of that quality, and I feel like Shawn is that person for me. I just trust him, and no matter the level of intensity that he has around his career or I have, he is just normal, and that is so rare and precious to find in this industry.”

“To be able to hang out with someone and you don’t really care that they’re Shawn Mendes, you know what I mean? You’re just people, and that is definitely something that is rare.”

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Camila’s family, too, are her safety net, their company generally preferred over more sensational options. Surrounding herself with such stable influences, Camila has maneuvered her perspectives to regard her profession - being a performer - as the only anomaly in an otherwise ordinary life. “I just know that I can’t not be normal,” she insists. “That’s just not me, I wouldn’t be happy.”

“You see pictures of me in LA and sometimes I just look like trash because I didn’t know that there was going to be paparazzi there,” she demonstrates. “I don’t dress for that all the time. I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna go around the corner,’ and then I’ll see the picture on the Internet and I’ll be like, ‘Shit!’ But it’s just because I can't - I can’t be in heels and do two hours of glam every day just in case there’s a picture of me. That’s just not a sacrifice I’m willing to make.” ’t>

Defiant in the face of unwarranted intrusions, as album number two - and the heightened attentions that come with it - approaches, Camila appears to be prepared to weather that particularly contentious storm. Eternally curious by nature, she accepts the precarious, embraces the unpredictable, and revels in the positive in equal measures. “I just love life,” she enthuses. “I love the intensity of it all.”’t>

And that’s a word that absolutely characterizes Camila: her disposition seems to operate by extremes. When compiling a list of 22 life lessons she’d learned ahead of her 22nd birthday, she noted that “living intensely means feeling intensely.” ’t>

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It seems incongruous that someone so sensitive would choose to deal with distress and anguish, but the consequence of appreciating joyous highs is confronting deplorable lows. How, I ask, does she deal with such acute levels of emotion?’t>

“It’s really hard,” she concedes. “There’s this quote by Eckhart Tolle that’s like, ‘Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and whatever you resist, persists,' and I’ve realised that with pain, you kinda just have to accept it…” ’t>

“Whenever I feel like that or something is happening in my life that is painful, I do feel it really intensely, and it’s not pretty - it sucks - but that’s the moment that you honestly have to just breathe through it and be like, ‘Okay, I’m in pain. Alright, that’s okay. It’s gonna pass, and I’m not gonna fight it. I’m just gonna feel it, I’m just gonna accept it.’ ’t>And I think the minute you do that is when it gets better, because when you’re just like, ‘I don’t want to feel if I don’t want to feel this,’ then you’re either numbing yourself or you actually feel worse.” 

“So I’ve actually just learned to in that moment stay closer to the people I love instead of isolating myself, and just being like, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ Because I do feel like I have a level of trust in life that I didn’t have before. I do believe that what is meant for you will not pass you by, and so I’m just like, ‘Everything is going to work out in the end. Everything will be okay.’” ’t>

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After the rain, thankfully, is a rainbow. Camila Cabello has transcended the threat of those low, looming clouds to emerge an emphatically more self-assured and capable person, one that refuses to retreat back into the shadows. In May 2017, Camila prefaced her debut album by claiming it documented her journey thus far “from darkness to light” - exactly two years later, on the eve of its successor, I ask her for a status update on her location. ’t>

“I’m definitely in the light,” she confirms. “And I don’t think that has anything to do with joy or everything going perfectly. In terms of where I am, just knowing myself and being in touch with my emotions, I feel like I’m the best version of myself right now. Yeah, I definitely feel like I’m the best version of myself so far.” ’t>

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Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Olivia Malone
Fashion: Britt McCamey
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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