JD Garcia flew into LAX from Boulder, Colorado on Friday to be one of the first people to shop Camila Cabello’s “Unlocking Romance” pop-up shop, which had opened that morning to coincide with the release of the singer’s sophomore album, Romance. Clutching two shopping bags filled with streetwear-inspired T-shirts and red-and-black accessories (matching the aesthetic of the Romance album art), the 17-year-old proudly pulled out an autographed CD he had purchased, even though, he confessed, he doesn’t own a CD player.
“I don’t really have a way to listen to this,” he admits, “but I’m just buying the album so it’ll go to Number One on the charts.”
Garcia was among hundreds of so-called “Camilizers” who lined up along Los Angeles’ bustling Fairfax Avenue Friday (some as early as 2:30 a.m.) to tour and shop the vaguely Versailles-themed space, which promised a “multi-sensory” exploration of Cabello’s new album (the album played on loop through speakers). In addition to the custom-designed merch, the converted gallery had plenty of photos of the singer, alongside floral-adorned walls and posters displaying lyrics from Romance, with short blurbs about how each song came to be.
The two-day “fan experience” (sponsored by Verizon) also included a live Q&A session with the singer before 50 or so fans in the pop-up space and thousands more tuning in online. For Garcia, who says he’s been a fan of Cabello’s ever since he heard Fifth Harmony‘s “Worth It” on the radio, the event was a chance to feel closer to his favorite artist and also connect with fellow fans.
“We’re definitely committed and dedicated to her,” he says, explaining why he, like others in the room, had traveled all the way to L.A. just to watch a 30-minute interview and to shop T-shirts and hoodies that were also available online. “She’s really relatable, and she knows how to treat her fans and connect with her audience.” That bond, Garcia explained, is why the Camilizers stick together to celebrate, promote, and defend their queen.
“She gets a lot of hate, but because we love her so much and she’s such a genuine soul, we look out for her,” he explains, adding, “We can be very defensive at times.”
Who exactly is hating on Cabello? “Stan twitter,” Garcia quips.
Nearby, 21-year-old Camilizer Cesar Perez was trying to be more diplomatic. “We are all supportive and positive,” says Perez, who had taken the bus in from Bakersfield with his friend that afternoon to attend the Q&A. “We’re not too die-hard where we’ll start attacking or bashing other people.”
Perez says he’s aware of what can happen when fandoms get out of control, citing Taylor Swift’s fans, who came under fire recently after Scooter Braun revealed that his family was getting death threats on social media after Swift called him out for blocking the performance of her old songs (something Braun has denied). Are Camilizers that hardcore? “Um…” Perez stammers, “in a way, kind of?” he says. “But we’re just protecting Taylor because she’s really close to Camila.”
It isn’t hard to see why Cabello’s fans feel so tied to her. During the Q&A, she frequently asked the audience for their opinion on everything from their favorite song on the album (the F-bomb dropping “This Love” seemed to be a consensus) to what they think the next single should be (half the room shouts out “My Oh My,” which features DaBaby). When Cabello’s dog Eugene (named after the prince in Tangled) escapes from her mom’s lap and begins sprinting around the room, fans call out to him as if he were their own pet. It’s OK, Eugene, come here. And then there’s Shawn, as in Mendes, Cabello’s “Señorita” duet partner and real-life boyfriend. Every mention of his name elicits audible gasps and giggles among the predominantly teenage crowd.
“He’s iconic,” Garcia says. “They’re a power couple.”
Or as Esmeralda Vega, who’s been following Cabello’s career since she debuted on The X-Factor, adds: “It’s about time [they got together],” she gushes. “I saw the chemistry for a long time.”
Vega, who traveled almost two hours to attend the Q&A, says she was heartened to see that Cabello was just as sweet as she’d hoped. “She has always stood out to me, even when she was in Fifth Harmony,” Vega says, adding that Camilizers still support Cabello’s former bandmates, even if they’re not as devoted. “We get along with everyone,” she insists, “and we are different from other fandoms because of the way Camila is. She’s very kind and loving and friendly, so she attracts those type of people in return.”
During Friday’s question-and-answer, Cabello took questions from fans in the audience and members of Verizon’s rewards program, Verizon Up (which launched in 2017 and gives members everything from free Starbucks, to tickets to exclusive shows). Here are five things we learned from the event.
1. Shawn Mendes was one of the first people to hear the album.
Cabello said she played the finished album for her mom, and her manager Roger Gold first, before sharing it with Mendes. His favorite song on Romance: the brassy, told-you-so anthem, “Should’ve Said It.”
2. Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift both name “First Man” as their favorite track from Romance
While visiting Sheeran in Nashville, Cabello played a rough cut of her song “First Man” for him. The gentle ballad, inspired by the singer’s relationship with her father, immediately struck a chord with Sheeran, and Cabello says he called it his “favorite song” that she’s ever done, urging her to finish recording it.
The following night, Cabello went over to Swift’s place in Nashville and played the song for her, too. The singer says Swift had the same reaction. “First Man” became the first song Cabello wrote for Romance, and one that she says was the most “emotional” and “vulnerable” for her to record.
3. Cabello loves all 14 tracks on her album but…
Cabello says she hasn’t been able to listen to “Bad Kind of Butterflies” ever since she first recorded it. “It takes me back to a time when I was always feeling anxious,” she said, about the sparse, bass-heavy track, who finds the singer desperate to get something off her chest but unsure of how to break the news to her presumed lover. “Just thinking about writing [the song] makes me want to throw up,” she said, half-jokingly. “I don’t even like hearing that song.”
4. She likes surprising Mendes with impromptu visits
“I love surprise flights,” Cabello confessed, when asked about the most romantic thing she’s done for a partner. “I’ll fly somewhere to see someone, even for just a day,” she confessed.
Cabello played coy when asked where she’s flown to recently, though fans at the pop-up yelled out “San Francisco!” alluding to photos of the singer sharing a kiss with Mendes in the Golden Gate City over the summer. The city — and possible rendezvous — is also referenced in the song, “Used to This,” with Cabello purring: “No, I never liked San Francisco / Never thought it was nothin’ special / ‘Til you kissed me there.”
5. Writing about romance came naturally to her
“I’m not going to write songs about making money and being a bad bitch,” Cabello said, when asked what inspires her music. “That’s just not what’s important to me and that’s not who I am.”
The Romance pop-up shop in L.A. comes on the heels of a similar event with Amazon in New York City. Cabello’s label, Epic Records, is also launching album art-inspired exhibits in New York, L.A., and other cities around the world. The interactive exhibits bring the album to life through Instagrammable “street galleries” that highlight the songs, artwork, and stories from the new album.