On C,XOXO Camila Cabello Fails on Everything She Sets Out to Do

The pop star’s fourth studio album is remarkably apathetic and lacks the charisma needed to leave any kind of worthwhile impression.

Music Reviews Camila Cabello
On C,XOXO Camila Cabello Fails on Everything She Sets Out to Do

If there’s one way to start an album cycle off on the wrong foot, it’s with ripoff accusations. The imagery for Camila Cabello’s “rebrand” for her fourth album C,XOXO garnered attention across the internet almost entirely due to its suspicious similarities to that of Charli XCX’s BRAT. If the camcorder videos and dancing in fancy cars weren’t already raising eyebrows, lead single “I LUV IT” certainly did with its flow being almost identical to Pop 2’s “I Got It.”

What I find most unfortunate about C,XOXO is that “I LUV IT” is the album’s most memorable and interesting track. Along with a beat that can’t decide whether it wants to be Drill or Jersey Club, Cabello communicates one thing clearly: She has absolutely no artistic vision or direction, nor does she care that that’s the case. Generic lyrics about sex find their way into the majority of the album’s runtime (“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”; “He’s wrapped around my pinky finger (Yeah) / Watchin’ the way I move”) and Cabello wastes no time starting that motif on “I LUV IT.” Even after looking past the aforementioned similarities to “I Got It,” the chorus on Cabello’s track is, at best, silly in its absurd delivery and, at worst, aggressively irritating. The track’s final minute provides a remarkably apathetic verse from Playboi Carti, a slogging 45 seconds where the only emotion he’s portraying is pure boredom—fodder about his infidelity habit (“Pink cups, the big worm out / High as fuck, got the sherm out”). Carti opts to not use his signature baby voice (a choice that thoroughly perplexes me, considering this record is supposed to be Camila’s attempt to dabble in hyperpop), and instead falls asleep at the wheel for a feature that he clearly was not invested in whatsoever.

Camila’s vocal performance on the entire album is processed through what sounds to be the exact same vocal chain. It’s a degree of Auto-Tune that is intentionally noticeable, but not to the point where it feels like Cabello is in on its intention like most others who use it as an artistic statement. This aspect of C,XOXO causes for intended moments of sincerity to not only fall entirely flat, but makes them genuinely difficult to listen to. Paired with the wrong instrumental, her vocal sounds grating and immeasurably out of place. This is exemplified on “Twentysomethings,” an acoustic track circling vague musings on insecurity and fickle youth, a topic that would be better suited for someone born after the turn of the millennium. Pulling back the curtain on the “’Bout to lose service, I’m in the elevator / ‘If you’re down, maybe we could do somethin’ later’ / Fuck does that mean? I need a translator” verse would be far more compelling had Camila built a reputation for anything related to poise and artistry. Admitting “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing” comes off more as stating the obvious than a reminder of Cabello’s humanity. The acoustic guitar loop continues as she opts for rapping the second verse, revealing a sonic inconsistency that sounds contradictory and lacks confidence.

The timing of C,XOXO’s release truly could not have been worse. The immediate success and ongoing cultural moment surrounding BRAT only draws greater attention to the heavy inspiration Cabello and her team have been taking from that record’s marketing tactics and aesthetics. If the sleazy, Y2K-inspired styling she’s been parading on her Instagram wasn’t enough, this cover shoot looks quite similar to the cover of Charli XCX’s CRASH. Having already gained a steady grip on the Latin American market, her team decided the next logical step was to pander to common denominator popheads, and the reception of the pre-release singles have shown Cabello to be halted at the barrier to entry.

To add insult to injury, consecutive tracks “HOT UPTOWN” and “Uuugly” both feature Drake (the latter being sung exclusively by him), a man who has become so thoroughly disgraced over the past couple months that opposing Southern California gangs united to call him a pedophile and dance on his proverbial grave at Kendrick Lamar’s Pop Out concert last week. After being called a culture vulture by several of his contemporaries, it’s only natural that these tracks are Drake’s grand return to his beloved Jamaican accent. “Hotline like a bling” is a real bar on “HOT UPTOWN,” and Drizzy raps over a bland (but ultimately inoffensive) Dancehall beat. If anything, it’s refreshing to finally hear an artist that, to some extent, knows who they are on this record. The same goes for the City Girls feature on “Dade County Dreaming,” which is probably the most charismatic anyone sounds at any point on C,XOXO. There’s nothing particularly special happening on “HOT UPTOWN,” but it at least diverges from the songs preceding it, which, at times, were actively difficult to sit through. Tracks like this and “pretty when i cry” are the type of bland and inoffensive pop music that remind me of the store playlists from my high school retail job—it’s wallpaper music I’ve conditioned myself to tune out (the stock vocal ad-libs on “pretty when i cry” feel particularly reminiscent of department store background noise).

The interludes on C,XOXO are mostly thinly veiled, self-indulgent runtime padding, but the PinkPantheress-produced “pink xoxo” harbors glitzy, swirling synths that actually pair fairly well with Camila’s voice. I didn’t check the runtimes before listening to this record for the first time, so you can imagine my utter disappointment when the track just abruptly ends after 50 seconds (sadly on brand for PinkPantheress and her penchant for short songs). The glimmer of hope for something interesting and worthwhile on this album was pulled out from under me. I turned to my friend that joined me on my first listen, and I asked, “Did they just forget to finish the song?”

Cabello’s attempts to exhibit sex appeal also fall entirely flat due to a combination of lackluster lyricism and awkward delivery. “Fold for me like origami / Magic and real like Murakami / Red chipped nails, I’m wabi-sabi” are not lyrics I can take seriously with Camila’s vacant falsetto and a beat drowned so heavily in a high-pass filter that it’s nearly inaudible. “Chanel No. 5” sees Cabello vying to adopt an “It Girl” persona that becomes more and more unconvincing, as she continually fails to do anything interesting musically or lyrically. Beyond the strange and out of place 10-second intro, absolutely nothing changes in the instrumental for the rest of the song—and Cabello doesn’t go any deeper than the fact that the titular perfume makes her so irresistible she can pull any guy she wants. Her words quickly become so devoid of meaning that the lyrics read like ad copy for the very product the song is named after.

Closer “June Gloom” is the final nail in the coffin. The down-tempo tune about a tryst with ex Shawn Mendes is an uncomfortable last-ditch effort to grab the listener’s attention through some mixture of shock value and public intrigue. “Does she get this wet for you, baby? / Talk to you in poems and songs, huh, baby? / Little kiss, make your head go hazy / Is it really love if it’s not this crazy?” she asks, leaving no room for ambiguity or reflection. The track, and subsequently the album, ends with a garish and out-of-place synth solo. How apt. Camila Cabello was tasked with turning heads for this album cycle, and there simply aren’t enough artistic, novel or charismatic bones in her body to do so.

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