Camila Cabello’s New Album ‘Familia’ Is Proof She’s an Underrated Pop Star

Camila Cabello, everyone’s favorite 19th-most-streamed artist in the world, released her third album last month. While I do think the record, Familia, is very good — as were its two predecessors, Romance and Camila — her third effort’s high quality is not what intrigues me the most. What I can’t get over is how, for the second time in as many albums, I didn’t even hear about Familia’s existence until it had been out for more than a month.

It wasn’t until I was on Camila’s Spotify page to queue a song that I realized Familia was, and had been, out. Upon seeing this, I asked my girlfriend if she’d known about it. She’s not a Camila fan, but she does run a fairly large lifestyle and culture magazine and gets over a hundred pitches a day on myriad celebrity and music subjects. Her response: Nope. Not even a clue.

This, to me, is baffling. We’re both music journalists and former artist managers. She’s a music publicist. I’m an independent artist and producer, and previously worked as an A&R Scout at a major label. We’re both very in touch with the industry and new music; missing a new album from a notable artist isn’t an issue we have often.

Camila Cabello performing at the 2020 Grammys.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

It’s especially hard to miss out on albums from Camila’s major-label pop contemporaries, like Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, or even several-years-past-her-peak Katy Perry. These artists are cultural staples—you’ll encounter their songs everywhere, from a Middle American soccer mom’s car radio to the mix desk of any successful producer in London.

Now, I’m not saying these things to take a dig at Camila or her promotions teams. I’m quite a fan of her music, and not afraid to share that. And in her defense, when Romance dropped in 2019, I was out on tour. When Camila released Familia, I was spending the week abroad on vacation. In other words, I was uniquely preoccupied during Camila’s last two big release weeks.

But right before and after both albums’ debuts, I was home and conducting business as usual. If I’d seen even one article or song link shared in my internet travels, it would have been enough to put Camila’s new stuff on my radar; when I see the name of an artist I really enjoy alongside an unrecognized piece of album art, I don’t usually just swipe past it. But no, twice consecutively now, I didn’t know an album existed until a month after the cat was out of the bag.

Where I believe the answer lies is twofold: with Camila’s branding and promotion strategy. I don’t mean her branding as in her creative, narrative, or actual music though; in my opinion, all of that is great. Each era has included exceptionally good records accompanied by vibrant, well-curated visuals. They’ve each been more personal to the last, to their great benefit.

Her music has evolved from her days as a teen pop sensation singing (alongside an ill-suited Young Thug verse) about a love in the inescapable hit “Havana,” a place she likely hasn’t been to in years. Now, she’s far more likely to pen songs like “Lola,” a sleek, melancholy ballad (featuring a verse from Yotuel, an actual Cuban activist) about a bright young Cuban girl who never got the opportunity to expatriate, as she did.

Despite the evolution, it’s the lane in which she’s been pigeonholed to run that is holding her back from earning widespread credibility as an actual musical artist. These constraints may have something to do with how she got her start, as a member of the reality TV-spawned girl group Fifth Harmony. It seems the average person sees Camila as little more than a celebrity fixture, her past relationship with singer Shawn Mendes, terrible Cinderella movie, or (occasionally controversial) social media presence coming to mind long before her music.

Just Google her name and scroll through a few pages of the News tab: There are plenty of pieces telling you about the clothes she’s wearing or racy photos she’s posting on IG; you’ll even find out her views on abortion. But what is there for those of us who want to read about her actual work, a.k.a. her music? Well, keep looking—there’s not much.

To be fair, Camila does lean into the celeb aspect of her public image. By partaking in the world of fame, she’s sometimes grilled for being an awkward or clueless social media presence, or what pop culture vultures would refer to as cringe.

I’ll admit, sometimes that label is deserved, like the time she performed on Ellen, and every single instrument on stage was left out of the mix except her vocal. That’s not exactly a creative decision most “credible” artists would make.

However, as someone who saw her play a small club early in her solo career—during which she sang an a capella verse, without even a microphone—I can tell you the talent is in fact there. I was skeptical going in, but Camila made it very clear that she doesn’t need to lean on studio magic to be a top-notch pop vocalist. Still, in the A-List stratosphere she’s ostensibly a part of, her music, save a few massive hit singles, is largely an afterthought.

Camila Cabello performs onstage during iHeartRadio's Z100 Jingle Ball 2019 Presented By Capital One on December 13, 2019 in New York City.

Camila Cabello owns the stage at the Z100 Jingle Ball in 2019.

Theo Wargo/Getty

]I will concede that Camila Cabello isn’t the most exciting celeb in the game. Beyond her story as a Mexican-Cuban immigrant, which includes her father literally swimming to the U.S. in pursuit of a better life, she’s a pretty ordinary personality. As a pop star, she lacks the danger of a Halsey, or the main character-ness of a Taylor Swift. Her persona comes across as friendly but not enticing, funny but not hilarious, and while she’s not shallow in interviews, she rarely sounds off-the-cuff either.

No matter what you make of her persona, what should matter most is her music. And Camila’s songs are just as good and unique as Taylor’s or Halsey’s or anyone else’s—especially considering the bridge she provides from radio pop to Latin music.

Her Latin influences are particularly bright on Familia, her best work yet and first to include songs written solely in Spanish. These sensibilities undoubtedly help her find crossover success, landing numerous singles on the Spotify global charts each go-around. Familia has already spawned two hit singles in “Don’t Go Yet” and “Bam Bam”, which have reached 290 million and 215 million Spotify streams thus far, respectively.

Her newest music video, for the Spanish-language single “Hasta Los Dientes” (and whose comments section features less English than a Colombian kindergarten classroom), garnered over 6 million views in its first week on YouTube. And the U.S. music press reviews for Familia that are out there have feted her as “an exuberant and expressive transmitter of language,” both English and Spanish.

For better or worse, American Latin music artists often succeed in a world culturally outside of much of the English-speaking parts of the country. Try sending in a job application at one of the major labels’ offices in Miami without speaking Spanish, and HR will have your resume in the Trash folder within seconds.

But let’s not undersell Camila’s popularity in the English-speaking world too. She is a huge artist on all fronts; if you’ve gone grocery shopping at least once, you’ve probably heard “Havana” at least twice. And she wouldn’t have been hired as a coach for The Voice if she was on an indie label selling 600 tickets a night.

Camila just happens to be much more marketable to Spanish speakers than most other artists of her stature, because of her origin story and proficiency in the language. So while the streams for Familia tick up, up, and away, English-language buzz for the album fails to pick up steam accordingly.

As a result, millions of people are missing out on what Camila really is beyond a passably interesting celebrity fixture: a great pop singer with a unique sound, and a woman who could integrate the English-language and Latin pop worlds. That is, if everyone would just give her a chance.

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