Camila Cabello got her start as one-fifth of Fifth Harmony, a group formed by music impresario Simon Cowell from girls who had auditioned for the music competition show The X Factor. The experience forced a teenage Cabello out of her shell and propelled her and her bandmates to pop stardom.
"I was super shy, very introverted, kind of a wimp, didn't really go out much," Cabello remembers of that time. "I was always in my own little bubble and then suddenly I was, like, singing on national television every week. It was like a boot camp for all of us. It's very intense."
Fifth Harmony went on to create platinum-selling songs like "Worth It" and "Work From Home" and tour the world, banding together a fleet of fans that they affectionately referred to as Harmonizers.
Still, Cabello wanted more. To the dismay of many Harmonizers, she left the group in December 2016 and has been working towards her solo debut ever since. Last August, she dropped "Havanna," a single featuring Young Thug that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and proved she could hold her own as a pop star.
"I have been a really big fan of Young Thug," Cabello says. "And I think because 'Havana' is an unconventional song ... I didn't want just a go-to, mainstream rapper that has done a bunch of pop features. I felt like he would bring just the right flavor to it."
Now, more than a year removed from her former group, the 20-year-old artist has released her first solo album, titled simply Camila.
"It's basically about the past year of my life," she explains. "There's a lot of stuff that I didn't get time to really reflect on. I really got to reflect on this album."
Click on the audio link to hear the full interview with NPR's Michel Martin.
On her family migrating to America from Cuba
[My parents] never said anything when I was little, 'cause I feel like parents have a way of hiding all the stressful or bad stuff going on. They did that for me. I'm sure there where so many struggles and so many things that were going on that they didn't tell me about because they wanted me to just be a kid, you know? To have that innocence and that pure vision of the world. My mom just told me we were going to Disney World, and that's why we were leaving.
On auditioning for The X Factor
I saw this video of One Direction, and I was a huge One Direction fan. They were giving tips on how to audition for X Factor USA. But there was an audition in North Carolina, and that was super close to Miami, and ... I just wanted to give it a shot. It was just these five seconds of bravery that changed my life, you know?
In Latin culture, we have this thing called a quinceañera. But instead of a quinceañera, I wanted my 15th birthday present to be for my parents to drive me to North Carolina so that I could audition. I think that my parents would be supportive of anything that I did. If I was like, "Oh, I really want to be a dentist today, and not pursue this as a career," they would be totally fine with it. I think they just saw how much I wanted it.
On making the decision to leave Fifth Harmony and go solo
I had been writing songs since I was 16, and at first I wanted to write for other people. [But] I had these songs that were so personal ... and I couldn't imagine me giving it to somebody and somebody else singing them because it was too close to me. I went a long time writing songs thinking that, "Nobody will ever hear this for another 10 years because I'll still be in the group." ... I made the decision to go out on my own and start expressing myself and my vision, because that's what made me come alive.
On defining her own image as a solo artist
I'm all for girls wearing what they want to wear. I think it's great for girls [who] want to express their sexuality and if they want to wear booty shorts or eyelashes or whatever to feel great, then that's amazing. The only thing wrong is when somebody is pushing you to do it before it's your time and before you're comfortable — or if that's not really you! I think both of those are OK; whether you want to go for that or you're not comfortable with that.
I'm just really being myself. I am in a great place where I have all of the control and I don't do anything that I'm not super stoked about doing, you know? There's nothing wrong with that, it's just me. If some day, that is me and I want to do that, then that'll be great too, but I just dress how I want. I express myself however I want.
On the meaning behind her favorite track, "She Loves Control"
I mean, I do love control. Basically, I thought of the title and I thought this would be really great for a song. I think that in that point of my life I just felt really free and independent and I was having a blast making this album and thinking about all of the stuff I wanted to do for it and coming up with all of the world around it. It was very refreshing for me to have that control.
Web editor Sidney Madden and web intern Stefanie Fernández contributed to this story.