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Camila Cabello celebrates her Miami roots on 'C,XOXO'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Singer Camila Cabello is no stranger to the spotlight. Her music has catapulted her to superstardom with hits like "Havana" and "Senorita" that, as of this taping, have collectively been streamed nearly 5 billion times on Spotify. That is billion with a B. Now Cabello is out with a new project. It's called "C,XOXO."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADE COUNTY DREAMING (FT. JT & YUNG MIAMI)")

CAMILA CABELLO: (Rapping) Yo, Miami City girls, XOXO (ph).

DETROW: Cabello says this album marks a change for her - a new label, more confident songwriting and being more intentional about her collaborators. We caught up with her as she's been out promoting the album, and that's where we began the conversation.

What is a release week like for you? Like, what are you thinking? What are you doing? What's the energy level?

CABELLO: I just texted my friend - and this is a joke, so, like, I'm not saying it seriously. But I like when people say, like, releasing an album is like - there's, like, a campaign. Some people say rollout. Some people say campaign because it does feel very, like - I feel like a way, way less important version of the president in terms of, like, it just feels like it's so much work. It's so much work.

DETROW: You can do a presidential debate this week, too. Just keep it going.

CABELLO: (Laughter) Exactly.

DETROW: I mean, I covered campaigns for years. I feel like you're not that far off in terms of the work you have to do.

CABELLO: Right?

DETROW: This is your get out the vote.

CABELLO: It really does feel like kind of a similar energy, except you're right - there is no debate. We just have a - I don't know, a concert and, like, a live stream, which is way less pressure. But it would be crazy if they had us, like, I don't know - like, I was, like, debating, like, Charli XCX or something.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: Well, now I'm picturing me asking this next question like I'm a debate moderator.

CABELLO: (Laughter).

DETROW: Like, how would you describe "C,XOXO?" What's the feeling of this album?

CABELLO: Oh, God. The debate moderator thing actually made me so nervous, which means...

DETROW: (Laughter).

CABELLO: ...I'm so not cut out to ever, like, be president, obviously. But yeah, no. "C,XOXO" for me - and it's cool 'cause I - you know, I just had this, like, powwow with my team where I was like, guys, this is really - like, I just want us internally as a team to, like, embrace the "C,XOXO" energy. Like, everybody should just be - like, put on your best outfits and, like, you know, like, really practice that - like, that confidence and that bravado and that cockiness that comes with "C,XOXO"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LUV IT")

CABELLO: (Singing) Super twisted, sick, addicted, kiss me hard. Someday, you'll miss this.

...And that energy, like that just, like, nighttime in the city, like Miami, like "Fast & Furious" energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LUV IT")

CABELLO: (Singing) I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it.

DETROW: Which is interesting because this is your first album on a new label...

CABELLO: Yeah.

DETROW: ...A lot of talk about a different sound - and you had said that you were looking for a lot more independence in your next project. How did that play out in the choices you made in this album?

CABELLO: For me, I feel like the independence I was talking about was I really liked how it felt - right before this album, I had done a couple of features where I went in the studio and just kind of wrote a verse by myself. And I loved how undiluted it made the outcome. Like, it just felt so - you know, a lot of the times you - like, if you go in with a writer, it just feels like it's, like, a more kind of diluted version of you, or it feels like yours and theirs (ph) perspectives. I don't know.

I felt like before this project, especially when I came out of the group - came out of Fifth Harmony, I just remember, like, suddenly being thrown into, like, these rooms with Pharrell and Max Martin. And more than even wanting - like, to be honest, like, more than even wanting a successful song, I really was focused on just proving to them that I was good, which is terrible, you know? But that's just I think what happens when you're young.

DETROW: Was there a moment when you were writing this solo - was there one song where you felt like, it's all clicked; I got this; it's coming together?

CABELLO: Yeah, "Chanel No.5."

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMILA CABELLO SONG, "CHANEL NO.5")

CABELLO: I just remember just, like, the process of that just felt like, oh, this is so - because there are songs that I've written, like, for example, like "First Man," where I'm like, wow, I feel like my songwriting, like, was so good on that song. But I felt like "Chanel No.5" was a song that, like, could only belong to this project. That was when I think the rest of it kind of fell into place, and even the choices of words, like, the lip gloss or blush or whatever, like...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANEL NO.5")

CABELLO: (Singing) Shouldn't trust it that I want you, baby, 'cause I love you, love you not like daisies. But this gloss I got is cute and tasty. She's an extra. I'm your leading lady.

...It just gave me kind of this template of language and words that made it so easy to write every other song.

DETROW: It's interesting you're talking about not wanting to be diluted, and yet you really leaned into collaborations in this album. There are some really interesting...

CABELLO: Yeah.

DETROW: ...Collaborations with Drake, with Lil Nas X, with others. How do you see that differently - why, on one hand, I want to be my own person; on the other hand, I want to do these collaborations? How do you think about that?

CABELLO: Well, to me, the diluting - for example, like, what I find really interesting about this is on every song, every line or everything that I sing feels like me being the most me version of myself. And Lil Nas feels like the most him version of himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE KNOWS")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Say, boy, what-what you want - give you that uh-uh-uh (ph), that oh - brrt, baow (ph), shoot in my mouth - shoot in my [expletive] and one. OK, on the real, I'ma (ph) take his soul. I'm gonna (ph) take him from his [expletive]. OK, for real, I think he knows.

CABELLO: (Singing) I think he knows.

So, to me, I feel like that is more kind of like - it's like when you're - you know, the best friendships are when you're - you know, you have this dynamic where it's like you don't feel like you have to meet in the middle to be accepted.

DETROW: Well, let me ask this - and, you know, it's been a while since you recorded these songs. They've been living in your brain.

CABELLO: Yeah.

DETROW: You know, they're just getting out to the world right now. What's one song that really excites you when you think about it - that you're still excited by?

CABELLO: That's a great question. "Pretty When I Cry" was the one that has grown. Like, today we were listening to it, and I was listening to that verse, that - pretty when I cry. And I was like, wow, this song makes me feel really, really good...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY WHEN I CRY")

CABELLO: (Singing) Pretty when I cry. Pity you don't want me. Pretty in this light. Glitter falling off me.

...Because it is kind of like the Aperol spritz, like, in the midst of, like, maybe a little bit more of, like, darker cocktails.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY WHEN I CRY")

CABELLO: (Singing) ...When I cry. Hot when I ride. Look this good out of spite. And burn it in his mind. I'm like, everything, everything...

DETROW: I want to get back to the collaborating because, you know, like you said, it brings out a different side if you song to song. It's a different feel from song to song. There were two different songs with Drake on this album, one of them...

CABELLO: Yeah.

DETROW: ...With the four U's. Is it "Ugly" (ph)? Is it "Uuugly" (ph)? How do I say that out loud?

CABELLO: Wow. I like the second time.

DETROW: (Laughter) OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UUUGLY")

DRAKE: (Rapping) Please don't make me. Don't make me put out these credit card statements and show you the proof. It'll get ugly, (vocalizing).

DETROW: Tell me about that experience, though - why you brought Drake in, what it was like working with Drake.

CABELLO: I have listened to Drake's music for so long. And I just think he's such an incredible lyricist. And yeah, I really think he influenced me a lot on this album. And I think part of my spirit of curiosity was, you know, what could happen if I reach out to people that I love and admire? You know, worst thing that happens is they don't answer me. And I - you know, I have endless impostor syndrome, so I always think, like, nobody's going to answer me, and nobody knows who I am. But, you know, it's been fun to get - collect the data that that's not true and that people are kind, and people are generous.

And I so I DMed him, and I was like, I've been listening to your music a lot throughout this album. And I would love to play you the songs that I have, and I'd love to get your feedback. And we met up in Miami, and I played him some songs. He played me some songs from "For All The Dogs." And yeah, I think he connected with it.

DETROW: And I saw some other places where you were talking about and thinking about kind of intentionally reaching out more, intentionally kind of trying to grow friendships...

CABELLO: Yeah.

DETROW: ...Among other artists, among other people out there in the world. It seems like that's been really important to you lately.

CABELLO: It is. I just think that - and I'm sure, actually, in so many other industries, it's also - can feel competitive in a way that, you know, nobody really talks about. And then also, we don't have a lot of chances to really be together, and when we are - when it's an award show, again, it's still set up in a way that's not conducive to interaction because it's literally, you know, you're calling, like, five names and seeing who gets the most applause. So it's not exactly, like, breeding ground for - how are you? - and talking on a human level.

DETROW: (Laughter).

CABELLO: So I think just, like, community is really important, and at the end of the day, it's like, it's - we just - we do need community 'cause it's already - it's, like, weird enough as it is to, like, be...

DETROW: Yeah.

CABELLO: ...Like, a public figure.

DETROW: Well, Camilla Cabello, thanks for reaching out to us and talking to us about your new album.

CABELLO: (Laughter) Thanks for having me.

DETROW: "C,XOXO" is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LUV IT")

CABELLO: (Singing) Oh, my God. I love it. I love it. I love it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.