Album Review: Camila Cabello, ‘C,XOXO’

    Negative discourse suffocated Camila Cabello’s fourth output, C,XOXO, from the get-go. The ex-Fifth Harmony member – the most divisive figure from the cohort – had always existed in perpetuity among the tumultuous valleys of online fandom (where die-hard accolade battles despairing dissenters), even despite the near-critical acclaim of her first three records. This time around was no different. Watched by an arguably harsher gaze than her mainstream peers, it’s no surprise that C,XOXO – this, her most modern and interesting attempt yet – was steeped in criticism well before the record hit shelves.

    It did at least make a little sense as to why: a stark careening to hyperpop was the first cataclysm for Cabello. In March 2024, album lead ‘I LUV IT’ (featuring Playboi Carti) was teased across social media, subsequently dropping into incensed controversy among listeners. Undoubtedly inspired – its visual and sonic similarities to Charli XCX’s ‘I Got It’ were the primary cause for conflagration – purveyors of hyperpop branded Cabello inauthentic and the track an audacious attempt by a mainstream artist to ride the well-established underground coattails of the experimental PC Music-born sub-genre. Not only this, but audiences decreed the track a brazen attempt to shadow this year’s cool girl, XCX, whose apparent jabs against Cabello further fanned the flames of public opinion. Amid trolling and critical panning, Cabello persisted. The track was at the very least exciting: its icy futurism and alt-pop approach indeed an intriguing path for the well-established Cabello to turn to.

    But this new direction confused angered audiences. “Not sure if I should be hyped or scared that Camila is adopting the hyperpop aesthetic, doesn’t feel genuine. Feels like gentrification but like… I wanna hear the music,” one X user tweeted prior to the roll-out. Later singles ‘HE KNOWS (feat. Lil Nas X)’ and ‘Chanel No. 5’ did not improve perceptions of her foray into the genre, stamped as worse than her first try. And yet, for all this discourse, the record is not nearly the hyperpop effort it became known to be: aside that infamous cut, with all its overt Charli XCX copycatting and its loosely inspired follow-ups, there’s actually very little in the way of true hyperpop across C,XOXO. A confused mix of erratic and digitally affected alt-pop, pop rap and, strangely, reggaeton, yes; a bandwagon ride atop trending sonics, yes; but anything that closely resembles a Charli XCX record, no. That’s not to say C,XOXO isn’t steeped in awkward performance.

    Largely, what’s missing from C,XOXO isn’t a wealth of modern ideas – they’re, impressively, very present, from the strange off-piste Poor Things-esque piano and overworked autotune on ‘Chanel No.5’, to the vibrant infusion of reggaeton with those too-few signs of makeshift hyperpop – but a consistent adhesion to one idea. Without it, C,XOXO slugs and sprints sonically from one atmospheric tone to the next, its highs and lows too close to one another to make any sense, genres slapped against the wall to see what sticks. Then, that reggaeton second act – assertive and fun – is confused by insincerity. Between, ‘Koshi XOXO’ sees rapper BLP KOSHER confess over airy synths the impact of Camila’s music during periods of heartache and grief, a 47-second concussive testimonial that distastefully insists upon Cabello’s emotional and sonic gratification. Immediately after, two out-of-place Drake features feel more like his own rejects than Cabello tracks, and her sense of identity becomes awash among the unrealised ideas of other artists and their voices, her own daydreamy impression of the record’s cultural impact alienating the listener completely.

    But C,XOXO is never too explicitly uncool in its tireless efforts to be so – in fact, some career highlights lie here, immortalised in controversial and uncertain direction, suffocating under audience despair, hidden from the limelight. Not since ‘Never Be the Same’ has Cabello displayed such melodic prowess than on album closer ‘June Gloom’, yet it’s uncertain the track’s edge can break the surface of the discourse which drowns it – and its lyricism is largely, well, entirely uncool. Had Cabello’s fourth stuck to its initial promise – an elusive, divisive hyperpop imitation record – there’d be a longer rope to cling to: at the record’s best, where the genre’s experimental influence shines through (see the twangy post-country of ‘Twentysomethings’, the strangely subversive and affecting sampling of Pitbull’s ‘Hotel Room Service’ on ‘B.O.A.T’, or aforementioned career highlight ‘June Gloom’) so too does Cabello. But, as the sum of its parts, there’s the impression C,XOXO was tugged by one-too-many ideas; here, Cabello appears uncertain whose voice to imitate, too caught up in becoming the it-girl than being her. C,XOXO, its surface only lightly wetted by the digital pop freedom that clearly inspired it, certainly offers enough critical intrigue and zeitgeisty pop to be notable – and will undeniably appease devoted fans – but in treading new waters and casting a wider net, Cabello’s artistry at times becomes lost in translation.

    Arts in one place.

    All of our content is free, if you would like to subscribe to our newsletter or even make a small donation, click the button below.

    People are Reading

    Negative discourse suffocated Camila Cabello’s fourth output, C,XOXO, from the get-go. The ex-Fifth Harmony member – the most divisive figure from the cohort – had always existed in perpetuity among the tumultuous valleys of online fandom (where die-hard accolade battles despairing dissenters), even despite the near-critical...Album Review: Camila Cabello, ‘C,XOXO’