Camila Cabello's 'C,XOXO' Nearly Sticks the Landing

BY Josh KorngutPublished Jul 2, 2024


It would be easy to pick on Camila Cabello. The painfully obvious rebrand she underwent for her fourth solo album conjures images of panicked music executives brainstorming on a whiteboard to figure out how to backtrack on the disappointing impact of the pop star's 2022 record Familia

There are legendary pop acts, like Madonna, who rebrand successfully for nearly every new release. So why can't Cabello do it without critique? Is it a question of likability? The talented 27-year-old shares a similar energy to Lea Michelle, another big talent that was turned on not necessarily due to her well-documented misbehaviour, but because nothing turns people off quite like striving too hard.

Likable or not, lest we forget that this Fifth Harmony alum is, in fact, a bonafide star. "Never Be the Same" is a perfect pop song, housed in Cabello's eponymous debut LP that was catchy as hell and landed her massive, measurable success. Cabello is one of the hardest working girlies in the biz, so why is it hard to take her — obvious, striving — rebrand seriously? It could be because aspects of the new look and sound on C,XOXO come across less like a refresh, and more like the creative highjacking of other, more interesting artists.

The internet quickly clocked the similarities between this latest era and a certain hyperpop trailblazer; Lead single "I Luv It" reads like a shameless hijacking of Charli xcx's 2017 underground anthem "I Got It." With that said, "I Luv It"  does, in fact, slap. It also gives hyperpop the big-budget, major-label sheen no one really asked for, yet it works, setting the stage for a fascinating portrait of a pop star in the throes of identity crisis.

Incidentally, "I Luv It" is where all of the hyperpop and Charli influences come to an abrupt end. While Cabello's C,XOXO is not the flagrant Charli xcx cheater brand it was once assumed to be, that doesn't mean it's in the clear about copying the homework of her peers. The production, which she's dubbed "experimental," sounds so much like Alex G's Blonde contributions or Rosalia's genre-splicing MOTOMAMI that it's surprising the two didn't quietly assist in the studio. "B.O.A.T" is the best example of this confluence; it sounds as much like a Blonde outcast as it does a sideways ballad á la "Hentai."

When it's at its best, C,XOXO sounds like a 2016-era Britney Spears produced by a distracted Alex G, Frank Ocean, or even Mykki Blanco. Spears' Glory sure would've been a lot more interesting if one of them had. "Chanel No.5" is another glaring example of this style at its clearest, but it's not quite as successful or interesting.

BRAT summer is, unfortunately, not the best time to hit the scene with second-rate pop experimentalism. It's just not going to stack up. But this isn't the only example of bad timing for C,XOXO. The collaborators Cabello has aligned with on the record are currently facing identity crises of their own; Drake, who features twice in a row on the album, has had an embarrassing springtime in the wake of his lost bard's war with Kendrick Lamar. This context weighs the album down with more baggage than it has room for.

Lil Nas X faced his own creative humiliations earlier this year when he kowtowed to conservative critics over his controversial "J. CHRIST." There was no winning, leaving his critics smug and fans betrayed. It also doesn't help that the track he's on, "HE KNOWS," is one of the album's most tedious and uninventive moments.

C,XOXO isn't a bad album, particularly when stacked against the imagined disaster it could've been. The problem is that it sounds like it's been purchased from other talents rather than being curated and homegrown by Cabello and her team. You gotta hand it to her for trying though, even more so for the fact that it nearly, just nearly, works. 


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