Camila Cabello’s smoky Latin-pop 2017 megahit, Havana, promised a pop star with some idiosyncrasies. Her two subsequent albums, however, hardly strayed from commercial pop-by-numbers; her music always felt like a supporting statement to her celebrity, most recently her breakup with pop heart-throb Shawn Mendes.
Her third album, Familia, finally delivers that potential. Choosing to work with a smaller group of collaborators, she has leaned heavily into her Mexican-Cuban heritage, resulting in an album that’s honest and humming with artistic intent. The Willow Smith-assisted curio Psychofreak echoes Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner and speaks to debilitating anxiety with a weariness that anyone who struggles with mental health issues will recognise. There’s also a recurring theme of self-sabotage and paranoia: “You’re not guilty, I’m hypervigilant,” she admits on the shuffling yet claustrophobic No Doubt, while the deceptive moonlight shimmer of Hasta los Dientes, sung entirely in Spanish, exposes someone gripped with self-doubt.
The Latin elements are most vibrant. The mariachi-trill of La Buena Vida, featuring vocals from Cabello’s father, is telenovela-level melodramatic, and Lola, a haunting tale about sexism, poverty and corruption told over rumba rhythms, exhibits excellent storytelling. The record falters with two middling tracks about Mendes, Quiet and Boys Don’t Cry, clearly recorded before the pair split, but overall, everything hits, even the slightly toothless Ed Sheeran duet Bam Bam. Confident and wearing her effort lightly, Cabello has finally carved out her own space as a pop star.