“I was really inspired by the big sounds of the Eighties,” she says, jet-lagged and calling from London. “I just liked the drama — like Queen, where everything is so intense. I want these songs to feel amazing to perform.”
While tracks on her self-titled debut tackled her roots, relationships, and establishing herself as a solo artist separate from her group Fifth Harmony, Cabello wanted Romance to be more thematically focused. Helpfully, she fell in love with a close friend, fellow star Shawn Mendes, and channeled the newness of it all into singles like “Shameless” and “Cry for Me.” In her conversation with Rolling Stone, Cabello covered the love gamut, from Mendes to Sex and the City.
What’s scarier: releasing your debut solo album, or following up that success?
I have a complicated answer for this that has much to do with where I’m at internally. My personality is pretty extreme, so I’m either scared of everything or scared of nothing. Some days, I think that it was scary. It’s not even the pressure of [success]. Showing up to the studio and having to be so vulnerable in front of people that I just met that day can feel like a scary thing. On other days you’re like “Oh, it’s not.”
With my first album, I would come to the studio super overly prepared, with every lyric of the song written before I went into the studio and ten concepts and titles for songs that I wanted to write that day. [But] with songwriting, the most magical moments are the ones where you’re not trying at all.
You turned 21 before going on the Reputation tour with Taylor Swift and Charli XCX. Did you have any crazy nights with them?
I so regret that we didn’t do that more! We did not have enough of those. I think we should have them when we’re all in LA again sometime. I would go to Taylor’s dressing room, but we didn’t really go out and party. I think only one time in the middle of the tour.
Do you have a favorite song from Lover?
I love “Afterglow.” I listened to it 30 times in a row when it came out.
Oh, my God, yes. My therapy is listening to songs from the early 2000s. I actually have a playlist I found on Spotify: “Shut Up and Drive,” Rihanna; “My Humps,” Black Eyed Peas; “Fergalicious,” [Fergie]; “Complicated,” Avril Lavigne. Whenever I feel anxious or want to make myself happy, I just put that on and I sing at the top of my lungs. I’m obsessed with songs from my childhood. It just makes life feel simple and fun.
You have a reputation for being extremely nice. What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done?
I’m sure I’ve been mean by accident, but I’m so sensitive that I couldn’t intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. I’m not saying that to sound super wholesome and pure — I just don’t have any memory of me being capable of doing that.
What’s the most rebellious thing you’ve done?
When I was in the group [Fifth Harmony], me and one of the girls snuck into this club on the first floor of a hotel for a white party. We were, like, 16 or something, and if we wanted to leave the room, we had to tell the tour manager so our security and our team at the time were looking for us. It’s not a great answer: The last rebellious thing I did was when I was 16 years old.
Was it a fun party?
It was fun because we weren’t allowed to be in it. But actually this is inspiring me! Next time you talk to me I want to have a more recent answer.
You’re dating Shawn Mendes. When did your relationship go from friendship to romance?
During “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” I really bonded with him as more than a friend. I think he did, too, but we were both really young, and he was experiencing the pressures of his career. I don’t think we knew what to do with those feelings. It was this awkward thing where we both liked each other, but we weren’t together. It was just weird. An energy was there from the beginning, but after that song, we didn’t spend as much time together. Our paths just didn’t cross in that way romantically until we started hanging out again and writing. For me, it just brought it back.
On SNL, you paid homage to Madonna’s Marie Antoinette-inspired VMA performance, and dedicated your 2018 VMA Video of the Year win to her. How does she influence you?
She’s such a badass. I want to be more like her. I think everybody does.
Sometimes, you go in with people and you can tell they’re just trying to make a hit song or are phoning it in. He’s so enthusiastic about it. He, like, doesn’t stop: He’s just like, “All right, what’s the next song? What’s the next?”
You can see the influence of romantic movies in your music videos. Do you have any favorites?
I love the movie About Time. Have you seen that?
I actually haven’t.
Oh, you should! It’s with Rachel McAdams. It’s my favorite romantic movie; superunderrated, in my opinion.
Do you have any favorite fictional couples?
OK, Noah and Allie from The Notebook.
Rapunzel and Eugene from Tangled. I was going to say Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big [from Sex and the City], but I feel that their relationship is a bit toxic. But I still love them in their early days.