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Miami-bred Camila Cabello’s “HE KNOWS” (off of 2024’s C, X0X0)

Camila Cabello

Camila Cabello

Silvery-glimmering topaz noons and eves perfumed with dark-ripe passionfruit and guava, iron-rich sea salt, warm and tingling like dark rum yet sweet like molasses have long-composed twenty-seven-year-old Camila Cabello's musical oeuvre. The Fifth Harmony mezzo-soprano's debut full-length solo work Camila broke through with lavish mid-century samba compositions, elegant strings and brasses, luscious harmonies, and finely restrained production. 2019's Romance richened the red velvet of this earliest endeavor - ambitious with operatic bachata guitars, violins, and cellos, Spanish rose-satiny, sharp-edged harmonies, and horns, complemented with buttery violet-plum compositions.

2022's Familia revealed just how closely interwoven music and healing are in Camila's heart - written and recorded during the pandemic lockdown's traumatic times, her mother and father's loved ones and heritages were leaned upon and drawn from for the artist to survive, treacle-decadent reggaeton and salsa rhythms and melodies, clementine-sunlight harmonies and singing and vulnerably rustic strings, reeds and production.

A sign of Camila's spiritual power as an artist can be told by each of her features having been imprinted upon by her golden-velvet perspective: then-grunge hip-hop artist Machine Gun Kelly's 2017 "Bad Things" shone with samba's velvet-honey caress, hers and Shawn Mendes' Senõrita could not have come to be if not for blissfully in-love mid-century samba and Ed Sheeran's 2019 collaborative "South of the Border" with her and songstress Cardi B sparkles as the peaks of Cuba's Caribbean waves. 2023-24 marked Camila's shift towards a willingness to openly embody a rule-breaker and a rebel-girl, two identities that she has predominantly kept secret since she was at the latest, a fifteen-year-old-girl; in futuristic-fantasy personal style, creative projects, and June 2024's C, XOXO, her fourth album. Speaking on Spotify's "Call Her Daddy" ahead of C, XOXO's release, Cabello teased at this fourth album's being a re-introducing to Camila the artist, and to the woman alike - the fruit-bearing tree valley on the other side of the mid-twenties mountain provided a wind-sheltered place for the young woman to begin to heal from her past scars and to become in touch with the corners of her self. 

To introduce future listeners properly to the record, Camila composed C, XOXO's trailer: luxuriating in the dreamy, sun-soaked bikini tops, palm trees and charcoal cat-eyeliner, and moonlit and melting self-bought sports cars and blinking city lights of Miami's artist-worshipped "Caribbean Tokyo." Onyx's slick and molasses-oily mid-90s synths ripple and bubble up as seafoam underneath Camila's bare-all confessions about the organic honesty and freedom and top-down fearlessness of Miami's paradise and Camila herself. These darker, rawer musical elements carry on to the first single Camila pulls listeners into C, XOXO's palette with late-spring's "I LUV IT" featuring a matching Southern-metropolis nightcrawler, Playboi Carti, trading in acoustic instruments and honey-sweet plum-engineering for ruby-nectar-drinking bass-synths, silver moonlight-kissed heavy-metal synths' spinning, bioluminescent-gemstone electric beats and an orange-bubblegum-ribboned sample of Gucci Mane's iconic late-Y2K "Lemonade." The music video, Camila's touching heaven with her mother's devils-food-cake and her buttery-white lily locks, running from bloodthirsty dogs and cops and performing childhood-composed ballet steps as a young woman in a home-like Cuban-owned gas station heaven's light, promise what this album will share. 

The subject of this single review, the second and latest of C, XOXO's shimmers in sapphires and gold, a collaboration with Baroque-carved platinum-armored and peach gold-trident-wielding Lil Nas X, who hails from Miami's cultural neighbor, the state of Georgia. Building upon the artist's traditional communication of closely held self-truths through the visual arts, the music video accompanying Camila and Nas X's "HE KNOWS" fearlessly, in Caribbean sea- and sky-turquoise 90s Versace and McQueen dances, shimmering with sweat, upon beloved girlfriends and boyfriends and a shared arrowed Romeo + Juliet-Romeo lover. Moonlight-silver and fuchsia-violet strobe-lights thrum in a recreation of Miami highways' stoplights on the diamond-checkerboard dance floor of an indie cult-chic warehouse is the home of Camila and Nas' (crowned by his mother, Montero Lamar Hill) dueling sirens. Camila and her girl squad march their way to center stage, sparkling like diamonds in Destiny's Child-esque silk and gauzy-satin two-pieces, sparking lightning strikes with a Britney-and-Selena routine choreographed in bedroom mirrors; the singer giggling, sneaking off to hypnotize a poetically-gorgeous bad-boy type with her hips. Like our C, XOXO songstress is drawn to the falling halo in the devil's twinkling eyes belonging to this black-and-blue-bruised Romeo. The couture-punk hip-hop star steals tonight's beau, rocketing next to a Jalet-meets-early TLC routine designed like Camila and her girlfriends' to be imitated on Tiktok as a dance challenge. Yet another, a third choreographed dance element populating this second single's music video, having swaggered to a sleepily-twinkling, silver-smoky back-room at the nightclub, Camila and her three closest members of her girl gang bewitched the men beneath them, arching, bending and throwing their glamorously sweat-glimmering bodies. Part 1990s Mariah, part the baddest girls on Miami's party scene, a product of twenty-seven-year-old Camila's romance with sensuality and good sex and her making herself and her happiness the priority over a man.

An opulent ruby-red-guava tropical rhythm beats as the heart of this bombshell club-starlet-bombastic song. To this element, the second-in-command best friend is a champagne-sparkling rich snare-drum melody looping, shimmying, each minute. Like the moonlight, Pearl-luminescent cymbals and castanets circle these melodies, bringing with them the tradition of Cuba's music and a future-looking and hopeful electronica sense. Coconut-meat sweet and satiny 808s- and bass ribbons are themselves gymnasts, perfecting water nymph-inspired routines in harmony with the single's defining elements. The single's choruses lurch and luxuriate in shimmering, each aforementioned element surfacing as a tide, not just as a sea foam peak.

Nas X's verse is molasses deep and satiny, each instrument on the song slowing and becoming bluesier. Lending to the C, XOXO single rich umber and brown sugar, and at one in the same time a raw bronze-jagged-ness, Montero's feature challenges - classical MC style - our Camila and swears to the pleasure of sharing one's authentic self with another - if only for the one night. As Cabello values pop as a bible, fluttering up at the single's third act is a softer, ever-so-lightly tender bridge: floating down to a bed of sunflower-yellow-velvety synths, "HE KNOWS" luxuriates in those couple of seconds during a legendary midnight where time stops and forever is held in the palm of right then and there. Past Camila and Montero's verses, sizzling passionfruit hard-candy synths, shooting and falling star-bass-808s, and crystalline-iris bells flutter and thrum - just one more sign of Cabello's homage to dance, to party, to Miami's nights.

At music video end, Camila and Montero escape the suffocating glitz and killing eyes of the fashion-dedicated nightclub for the warm ripe-passionfruit glow of the club valet's crowning streetlights - religiously locking pinky-fingers in oath of never granting a man the opportunity to make waves in their two's bond (a ritual that takes place footsteps away from the aforementioned almost-homewrecker waiting for his ride to take him home, the singers cautiously eyeing him up and down). This author's last thought, bloopers sincerely attached to the back-end of "HE KNOWS" summates C, XOXO's ethos: Camila and Montero's alluring biting of hard candy-fingernails breaks into hearty laughter, Camila's falling to the ground with a slam play-fighting her co-lead is met with twin light-hearted jokes and Camila's placing Nas X into a head-lock during this one crazy moment is soundtracked by melodiously sing-songy wittiness as sharp as chili-lime and kindred as the blue lollipops sugaring the artist's tongue on C, XOXO's cover art.

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