Can Camila Cabello Score a Continuity of Hits with “Never Be the Same”?
Ex-Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello days as a pop underdog are over. Her debut solo single "Crying in the Club" may have been lackluster, but her follow up “Havana” proved to be the kind of single that keeps feeding your bank account royalties long after you retire. The Latin-inflected breakthrough was not only one of the three female Billboard No. 1 hits in a male-dominated 2017, it also occupied the pop radio charts for seven weeks - a record for solo female artists that was previously established by Taylor Swift’s 2013 hit “I Knew You Were Trouble”. Fresh on the heels of a New York Times feature, her debut solo album Camila (January 12, 2018) was released to generally favorable reviews and record-breaking sales (number one on 99 iTunes charts around the world, a record for solo-artists on the platform). The Cuban-American singer turns 21 in March this year, and will likely celebrate the occasion in grand style.
Record-label executives like Clive Davis might nevertheless note, at this juncture, that a pop career hinges on a “continuity of hits”. In other words, can Cabello keep delivering pop hits? After "Crying in the Club" was unceremoniously scrapped from the album, "Never Be the Same" was released as the album’s second single. Cabello performed the television for the first time on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on January 10. With the aid of a breathtaking montage - storms, retro animation, unfolding pink petals, X-rays, an eclipse, Marilyn Monroe, galaxies, a rocket launch, shattering glass, an inferno - on three sides and the floor, Cabello delivered an assured live performance.
The mid-tempo R&B-inflected ballad is relentlessly effective despite not being particularly distinctive. The song’s central conceit (love is an addictive and painful yet exhilaratingly intoxicating drug) is far from novel. The lyrics are nevertheless noteworthy for name-checking specific drugs: ‘Just like nicotine, heroin, morphine/ Suddenly, I'm a fiend and you're all I need’ (this unholy trinity has been omitted from the radio-friendly edit). Cabello’s fluttery evocation of neurochemical and hormonal chaos is undeniably mesmerizing. Producers Jarami (Frank Ocean) and Frank Dukes (Lorde, Drake) accompany her graceful acceptance of romantic vulnerability (‘And I could try to run, but it would be useless’) with rumbling synths, resounding drums and echoed backing vocals. The song is a glitzy commercial pop number that goes down effortlessly, even if it will probably not leave older listeners gasping, ‘Just one hit of you, I knew I'll never ever, ever be the same’.
The song also plays into the sexual persona that Cabello has presented in her music and public appearances. Cabello often sings candidly of intimacy and passion while appearing sensually disheveled on her album artwork, but then plays up her shyness in TV appearances. There she is, almost kissing Shawn Mendes and Nick Jonas. There she is, wearing the "least sexiest costume" at Taylor Swift’s Halloween party. In her New York Times feature, she is presented as the girl who is a connoisseur of crushes but has only been in love once. When her crush in elementary school kissed her, she ran away. “I still do that when someone wants to kiss me”, she said. This delicate balance between an innocence with regard to the physicality of love and a willingness to explore its emotional heights and depths is likely to endear her to young female and male fans alike.
With the help of an unofficial music video on Cabello's personal YouTube channel, the song has re-entered the charts at number 71 (it debuted at number 61 before falling off in its third week). Even if an official music video fails to land it into the top 10, Cabello has already managed to claim a place in today’s crowded pop landscape at a young age. With her broad appeal and dexterous vocals, she can still secure career longevity without pop hits by emulating Lorde and Lana Del Rey and pivoting towards more idiosyncractic lyricism.