Clutching the moonman for Video of the Year at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, there was just one person Camila Cabellodo wanted to share the moment with: her 15-year-old self.
Six years earlier, she had been feeling out her place in Fifth Harmony, a newly formed girl group just trying to outshine the collection of other acts on The X Factor, and desperate to set foot on the famed award show’s pink carpet. “I wanna be there SOOOOOOO bad you don’t understand,” she tweeted, “#someday.” So when no less than Madonna handed her the night’s top trophy, it was a complete out of body experience.
“YOURE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS SMOL CAMILA,” she responded to her old missive, “BUT: IN 2018 MADONNA IS GOING TO GIVE YOU AN AWARD FOR VIDEO OF THE YEAR AND YOUR ACNE WILL CLEAR.”
While she was certainly grateful the HD cameras were capturing a smoother visage, it was the whole pop legend honoring her bit that left her hands shaking. “Madonna, I love you so, so much. I’ve seen every single music video of yours. I’ve seen every single documentary of yours,” she said in her acceptance speech. “You’ve inspired me so much, and for that reason, this is a surreal moment. And, I love you, seriously. I can’t believe it.”
And if she thought that was great, well, she should have seen herself open up this year’s Grammy awards in an impressive performance that featured the likes of J Balvin, Ricky Martin, Young Thug and Arturo Sandoval. Or perhaps catch her debut tonight on Saturday Night Live.
Credit the impossibly catchy ear worm that is “Havana”, the lead single off the debut, self-titled solo album she launched last January and the precursor for her latest smash, “Señorita”. While Camila certainly held its own, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 before going platinum, “Havana”, her track featuring Young Thug, hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in January and is still being streamed some 9 million times per week. With a cool 1 billion streams on Spotify, it’s the service’s most-played track by a solo female artist and you’re probably humming it to yourself right now.
“Havana, ooh na-na…”
You’re not alone, of course, shortly after its August 2017 release, President Barack Obama named it one of his favorite songs of the year. “I cried,” Cabello recalled to Billboard. “I made a video of myself crying!”
Perhaps that was the moment the 22-year-old singer—currently teasing the release of her follow-up album, Romance, with a series of singles—knew she had been right to risk the established notoriety of Fifth Harmony on the dream of going solo. Or it could have been while she was juggling her headlining world tour with a spot opening for Taylor Swift. Or, possibly, as she was collecting four American Music Awards, four VMAs, a Billboard Music Award for Chart Achievement and a leading four trophies at the MTV European Music Awards.
Safe to say she has few regrets about leaving Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane and Lauren Jauregui behind back in December 2016—save for the drama that followed as the two sides released conflicting statements about how her exit went down. As one fifth of a girl group manufactured by Simon Cowell during their 2012 reality show run (the quintet, named through an audience vote ultimately finished third) the teen had little say in the direction of her career. Now she has an album full of songs that reflect her personality and Cuban roots and a second on the way.
“Getting to do shows where people are singing words that I wrote back to me was a completely mind-boggling new experience,” she told Billboard. “The last year was definitely the best year of my life.”
Courtesy of Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTV
Getty Images for iHeartMedia
“It was my birthday, and I was like, ‘We have a chorus for this song, but I can’t figure out the rest,’ and he just came up with the melody for the verse we needed on the spot,” she told Marie Claire. The song was finished by close of day, but then she had to keep working to convince her label it could be a hit. “They were like, ‘You have to make it faster. You have to add production. Radio isn’t going to get it. It’s a cool song, but it’s not your single.'”
A pep talk from Swift, whom Cabello befriended after having the guts to approach her and Lorde at the 2015 MTV VMAs, convinced her to keep fighting. “She was like, ‘People on the outside are never going to think about the story that you want to leave behind,'” Cabello recalled. “That’s yours, so you have to always protect that, because to other people it’s a song, but for you it’s something personal.”
21 🙋🏻♀️🙋🏻♀️🙋🏻♀️🙋🏻♀️ thank you so much for your birthday wishes, i love you guys so much (that’s my parents singing and being extra lol) pic.twitter.com/LvygqyDDeU
— camila (@Camila_Cabello) March 5, 2018
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for TAS