'Havana' by Camila Cabello, Feat. Young Thug: A Curmudgeon's Take
There comes a point in every music writer's life when he or she is no longer part of the target audience for most of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That time for me came probably in 2009 (assuming I ever was part of the target audience). But instead of ignoring the pop mainstream and sliding inevitably toward hopefully distant senectitude, I'm reengaging. Just for the hell of it, I'm going to try writing here about my reaction to the No. 1 song every week. Not only will this prepare me for any future "Song of the Summer" episodes of "The Colin McEnroe Show," I'll better understand the Lil Pump parodies on "Saturday Night Live."
First up, "Havana" by Camila Cabello, which came out in September and just hit No. 1. As a conscientious objector to reality TV music competitions like "The X Factor," I never paid any mind to Fifth Harmony, the girl group that finished third on the second season in 2012, and where Cabello got her start. "Havana," then, was the first time I'd actually heard Cabello's music. The song was the first single off her solo debut, "Camila," and Wikipedia tells me it took 10 people to write it. That's usually a bad sign, but Pharrell Williams was one of them, and that's often a good sign.
Fortunately, I didn't look up any of that information until after listening to the tune, which is pretty well done. Piano carries the melody on the mid-tempo track, fleshed out with horns, an understated Latin rhythm and a catchy hook on the refrain when Cabello sings, "Half my heart is in Havana, ooh na na." With measured, understated vocals, the Cuba-born singer finds a balance between seductive and homesick, which may be the first time anyone has dialed in that particular combination. By not overselling it, Cabello creates a subtle tension that Young Thug dispels with a mumbling rap interlude. Cabello accompanies the song with an entertaining music video that opens with a color-saturated telenovela spoof, features the questionable translation of "melocotón" as "peachmuffin" and finds Cabello demonstrating how to get up from a chair in a sinuous, alluring way. Solid effort, for sure. Will the tune go in my next Spotify playlist? No. But I wouldn't turn it off, either.