On “Crying In The Club,” Camila Cabello does what she has done her entire life: rely on music to take away the pain. “’The club’ is a metaphor for music and how it helps me let go of my demons and process my emotions,” explains the 20-year-old singer-songwriter about the track, which she co-wrote with Sia and producer Benny Blanco. “The lyrics are ‘Let the music lift you up like you’ve never been so high. Let the music lift you up like you’ve never been this free.’ Even though the lyrics are hopeful, the song itself is very intense and has a darkness to it. It literally sounds like I am crying in the club. This song represents so much. I felt like it needed to be part of the story.”

“Crying In The Club” heralds Cabello’s coming out as a solo artist. Her dynamic presence helped her former group, Fifth Harmony, score five platinum singles and two gold albums. She has also scored hits with Shawn Mendes (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) and Machine Gun Kelly (“Bad Things”). Now she is releasing the first single from her eagerly anticipated solo debut album The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving, which she says represents her in every way. “I’ve really put my whole heart into it. Not just the songs, but the performances, the production, the mixing, the cover art — it’s all a piece of me. Coming from a group, even though people may know me, they don’t know me. They don’t know who I am. They probably don’t know that I’m super emotional or that I was going through a very dark time. The most honest I can be is through my songs. On this album, I’m letting people into my heart and my world and welcoming them into my journey as a person.”

An album about friendship, disappointment, and loss, The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving charts Cabello’s evolution from being “in such a horrible place that I didn’t know how to deal with it” to realizing that “the only cure is to feel it and talk about it and get it out so you can move on,” she says. “Most people have, at some point, been in a situation where they have felt completely broken and like they’d never be okay again. I feel like the album takes you on that journey. When something is hard, people say, ‘You’re stronger than this, you can get past it,’ but it’s just as powerful to admit, ‘Damn, this is really hard.’ I didn’t write the album with the intention of delivering a message, but I realized that the message is really in the evolution. You can hear the pain and the hope and the happiness, but it’s not just about the hope and happiness.”

The songwriting floodgates opened for Cabello in January when she wrote a song with Jesse Shatkin and the album’s executive producer Frank Dukes called “I Have Questions” that turned out to be deeply cathartic. “I wasn’t just making a song to make a song,” she says. “I was making a song because I needed to. ‘Questions’ doesn’t have one positive, hopeful thing about it because that’s how you feel sometimes and that’s okay.”

Cabello says “I Have Questions,” along with “Scar Tissue” (“I’m not okay, but I’m closer to it every day,” she sings) and “A Good Reason To Go” represent The Hurting. Then comes The Healing with “Crying In The Club,” “In The Dark” (inspired by meeting famous guys who hide behind a façade and wondering who they really are when they’re vulnerable), and “I’ll Never Be the Same” (about the transformation that happens after a life-changing event). And finally there’s The Loving. “That’s the fun stuff,” Cabello says. “Oh My God” is a girls-going-out-to-party song that she wrote with Charlie XCX (“when I started trusting people more and making more friends”) while “Havana” is a steamy, Latin/hip-hop mash-up that showcases her flair for storytelling.

“As the songs got happier and happier, I felt like I did, too,” Cabello says. “That dark place I was in, I left it all in the music. There is nothing I didn’t say. I got out everything I was feeling — that was the healing — and now I’m in the loving part where I’ve really put the past behind me. I can’t write another song about it because it’s done.”

Sonically, the album fuses the Cuban-born Cabello’s Latin roots with her love for hip-hop. “Hip-hop music makes me feel so empowered and badass and confident, but at the same time, I’m not that way all the time,” she says. “I’m also super emotional. So I wanted to mix those two things — my pop melodies and emotional lyrics with production that’s dirty and has grit to it — and make something really cool and different.”

Cabello was born in Cojímar, a small fishing village east of Havana. She spent her early life shuttling between Havana and Mexico City (her father is Mexican) before relocating to Miami with her mother when she was six. Her dad followed a year and a half later. “My mom was an architect in Cuba, but she had to start over in Miami,” Cabello says. “She sold shoes at Marshalls and went to school at night to learn English.” Music was young Camila’s way of making friends as she learned to speak English herself. “I would bring my CDs to school — David Bisbal, Shakira — and ask to borrow a boom box and all the kids would come. Those little jam sessions were my way of making friends and communicating with people.” Too shy to sing in front of her family, she would want until they left the house to practice her singing.

Then one day Cabello saw a video that One Direction had posted that gave tips on how to audition for The X Factor. “They were just normal kids who had gotten this opportunity. I thought, ‘What if I tried this?’” she recalls. For her fifteenth birthday, instead of having a Quinceañera, Cabello asked her family to take her to North Carolina to audition. “That was really the first time I sang in front of a lot of people,” she says. “My knees were shaking and I thought I was going to faint. But it was five seconds of bravery that changed my life.”

Simon Cowell famously put Cabello together with four other girls to form Fifth Harmony. While on tour around the world with the group, Cabello wrote songs on her own and recorded them on GarageBand on her laptop, which she set up on the toilet in hotel bathrooms. “I would turn up the TV super loud in the room so people couldn’t hear me in the halls,” she says. Songwriting soothed the stress that came from the pressures of the group. “I discovered who I was as a person during that time because I felt like I found my voice,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much finding your voice as a writer strengthens your identity as a person.”

As she gears up to release The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving, Cabello says that the process of self-discovery through songwriting feels much the same today as it did back then. “Even though I didn’t write these songs in a hotel bathroom on tour, it feels like I went back to the girl who did,” she says. “I’m making songs with the purpose that I need to release. It’s like creating sonic photographs of my life in those moments.”

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[May 2017]