The stunning transformation of Camila Cabello

The world fell in love with Camila Cabello as a member of Fifth Harmony, the powerhouse girl group that was put together on the U.S. version of The X Factor by pop impressario Simon Cowell. Cabello was the clear standout and, in late 2016, she not-so-shockingly cut ties with her four band-mates in order to stake a claim for herself as a full-fledged solo pop star in her own right. Chart hits, a world-conquering number one single, and massive solo success soon followed.

The Cuban-American singer-songwriter emigrated to the States when she was still just a kid, then too young to realize her life was about to change forever. She didn't enter the public eye proper until the reality TV talent show came calling, but even so, we've watched her grow up from a shy teenager to a confident young woman right in front of us. This is the stunning transformation of Camila Cabello. 

​Started from the bottom now she's here

As she explained in a lengthy, career-charting interview with Rolling Stone in May 2018, Cabello's journey to being a pop superstar began with a well-meaning lie. When her mother packed up their life along, the then-6-year-old was told they were headed to Disney World. The (legal) emigration process took the duo from Havana to Mexico, crossing into Texas where they hopped on a 36-hour bus ride to Miami. There, they stayed with friends until solid work could be found. Cabello's mother had just $500 with her.  

"Her goal was always to end up in the United States. When she got pregnant with me, she wanted me to be in a place where there was no ceiling to whatever I wanted to do," Cabello explained to RS. The youngster's father followed soon after, swimming the Rio Grande to join them. Cabello's mother, an architect back in Havana, worked at Marshalls and used a posh fake address in order to send her daughter to a good public school. Her father earned money by washing cars, finally securing his green card in 2016.

​Proud to be different

Given how much her folks sacrificed to give Cabello a better life, it makes sense she's incredibly proud of her heritage. Speaking to Miss Vogue in August 2017, the singer-songwriter said she's "more than comfortable" sharing her story. "I'm super proud of it and where I come from, and what my family has done. I'm super proud of my culture, and everybody who has a similar story and I think the point of any community in the world is sharing stories, because then other people don't feel alone, or they can relate to you — they feel like they identify with you somehow," she enthused. 

In an interview with The New York Times the following year, Cabello explained that her family helps keep her grounded when it comes to the stresses of social media, too. "My parents' story helps me to know what's important in life. A lot of times you can be here and be on Twitter and you think that the world is the internet. But I know what it's like in the places my family has come from and the struggles people go through," she advised. 

No one would have predicted she would become a popstar

Most stars who hit the big time young enthusiastically tell the press how eager they were to be onstage, pretty much since they could walk. Not so for Cabello who, by her own admission, was painfully shy as a child. "There are memories of me being very introverted and shy when I was in Cuba. I hated family parties. I would start crying and lock myself in a room because I was overstimulated," she admitted to The Guardian in a 2018 interview.

She went on to say that, unlike her contemporaries who were dying to be in the spotlight and who everybody could see heading for the big time, Cabello wasn't the obvious choice to be a pop star. "I always hear stories of people who became singers and musicians who put on shows for their families when they were very young or were the class clown or always singing in class, and people saw it coming for them. I don't think people saw this coming for me," she told the publication frankly.  

​Finding her X Factor

In stark contrast to the young lady who couldn't even bear to be at family parties, at 14 years old, Cabello decided to forego the traditional quinceañera celebration for her upcoming birthday. Instead, the family spent the money driving to North Carolina so she could audition for The X Factor. It might seem like a crazy decision for a shy teenager to make, but, as the singer explained in a 2018 interview with Marie Claire, "there's way less risk performing or exposing yourself to strangers than there is in your own town or school." 

Likewise, as Cabello was feeling trapped inside the painfully shy persona she inhabited at school in Florida, she took the show as on opportunity to reinvent herself. "I kind of became the person that I wanted to be. In interviews, I was super goofy and confident. I look at videos of myself from the first performance, and I'm winking and pointing. I was dying inside — literally, my hands were shaky, my voice would be flat allover — but I was like, I just have to just go for it," she explained.

​Singled out

The hugely talented Cuban-American was initially rejected by The X Factor, but Cowell subsequently put Cabello in a group with four other talented rejects. Thus, Fifth Harmony was born. The band enjoyed massive success but Cabello soon found herself itching to break out on her own. As she explained to Marie Claire, the burgeoning songwriter felt trapped by the lack of individuality she was allowed to show as part of the group.

She also felt pressure to look a certain way, particularly when it came to wearing revealing outfits alongside the other girls. "I would try to kind of rebel in my own way and wear turtlenecks or pants — which was allowed. Nobody ever put a gun to my head and was like, 'You have to do this.' But it was definitely moving in a certain direction and there was a group mentality, so you have to do it," advised the singer. 

Following a couple of high profile solo guest spots, the atmosphere got frosty and in December 2016, Fifth Harmony released a statement announcing Cabello was leaving the band effective immediately.  

​Growing confidence

The negative reaction to her departure from the rest of Fifth Harmony rocked Cabello's confidence. As she told British Vogue in August 2018, the singer-songwriter now wishes she hadn't let everything get to her so much. "Nobody else is thinking about you as much as you think they are, nobody else is paying attention to you as much as you think they are, or judging you as much as you think they are," she explained. " Everybody has their own things going on, and it's your life so wear whatever you want, do whatever you want, go wherever you want, and just take the whole thing less seriously."

She subsequently received some sound advice on her solo career from an unexpected source, too, revealing to Glamour in January of that same year that Simon Cowell himself advised her to, "just make sure that it's you, because no one can make 'you' for you." 

​Baring her soul

When it came time to finally show the world who she was, Cabello didn't hesitate, releasing her first solo single "Crying In The Club" in May 2017. Although it was an exciting time for the young starlet, as she revealed on the BBC's Radio 1 Breakfast Show, it was also terrifying. Cabello admitted she hadn't slept at all in the two weeks prior to release.

"I've been cooped up in a studio for months doing this, writing the music… now it's really sinking in that people are going to hear it. I'm running round like crazy so I don't feel like I have time to process it, which I think is a good thing. Otherwise, the nerves would be way worse," the singer-songwriter explained (as reported by the BBC). 

The track enjoyed moderate chart success, topping out at #47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still, it announced Cabello as a solo star, even if, as her manager told The New York Times, the song "doesn't feel or sound like Camila," with him acknowledging "we were most successful when Camila trusted in her own instincts." 

​Finding her sound

Cabello's debut solo album, which was originally entitled The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving before being changed to the less clunky Camila, was described by the singer as "me in sound form" in a 2017 interview with Miss Vogue. The Cuban-American went on to explain that it's the purest representation of her as an artist based on the multitude of different influences. "There's this consistent Caribbean Island and Latin thing going on, as well as a lot of my hip hop and singer-songwriter influences. Basically, every part of me that makes me me is on there,"  she gushed.

In a discussion with Wonderland magazine that same year, Cabello enthused about how much control she had taken of everything while creating her sound — something her manager hinted to The New York Times when discussing what went wrong with that first single ("Crying In The Club" was ultimately left off Camila entirely). "I've had a chance to really write and make the songs, and I've been involved in every aspect of it, from the production to the mixing to, everything. [It's] definitely a lot more challenging but it's more fun, for sure," she explained of the process. 

​Loving the business

In keeping with her still-pretty-shy demeanor, Cabello isn't one to be papped falling out of clubs or to conduct a showmance for social media likes. She keeps her long-term relationship with Matthew Hussey private, simply telling Marie Claire he makes her "the happiest" she's ever been. The singer-songwriter still lives at home with her family in Miami and music is her #1 focus. Being super famous is never going to be the end goal. 

The Cuban-American told Marie Claire UK (via E! News) in May 2018 that it's never about just making money. "My worst fear is making an album for it to sell a lot or be super successful. I don't want to be the person that's making songs in the studio saying, 'Radio is going to love this' or 'We're going to be rich after this song. That's just so cringey to me. … Music is not my business, it's my life. I just need enough to make my family and me good and comfortable, and that's been such a huge blessing for me to be able to do that for them," she explained emphatically. 

​Havana big moment

2018 was Cabello's big coming out moment as her massive #1 single "Havana" was released, spending a massive 49 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Funnily enough, as the singer explained to The Guardian, her label wanted a completely different track to launch her self-titled debut. But she put her foot down, subsequently topping the album and singles charts at the same time — the first solo artist to do so since Beyoncé in 2003.

"Everybody was like, it ["Havana"] doesn't have enough production, it's not radio-friendly enough, it feels too slow, it's a cool piece, but people won't get it, only Latin people will get this. And I was just like, let's just put it out and see what happens," she told the publication. 

As Cabello previously explained to Miss Vogue, it's all about listening to her gut. "I think it's setting your mind to something and not stopping until you get it. …Everything that has led me to this point so far, which is being able to work on what I love to do, I've gotten it through just not taking no for an answer and being persistent," she said.  

​Painting the town red

Plenty of young female stars do makeup collaborations. Cabello, however, debated about whether to join forces with L'Oreal Paris on a collection named after her number one single. In an interview with British Vogue, she explained that agreeing to collaborate was easy once she realized, "I don't have to pretend to be anything I'm not. The products are all products that I wear, and that I would wear on a day off. They're super simple and easy to apply, and you don't need to be a make-up guru or an expert to apply them."

On the decision to name the collection "Havana," Cabello told Elle it was a no-brainer. "So much of me comes from my culture. I live in Miami now, and Miami has so much Cuban influence. It's everything from the way the people are, the culture, the food, the tradition, how lively and how warm people are, the music playing in the streets, the heat, people walking around in flip flops and sweaty and just feeling so lively and real. That's the beauty of it," she gushed.

"​She Loves Control"

On January 12, 2019 Cabello took to Instagram to share a special message with fans on the anniversary of her album Camila's release. "This year has been all about you and the new memories we've made with these songs. At first they were my little secrets, and now they're bonds that bind us together in the moments we've made with them," she wrote.

Speaking to NME the previous year, just a month after release, Cabello singled out fan favorite feminist track "She Loves Control." She explained: "It's about a moment… when I was feeling free and excited and enjoying this new independence where I had all this creative control I'd never had before. …There's something really powerful in being able to say, 'I like taking control of my life. I like living how I want to live."

Looking to the future, Cabello hopes to continue showcasing her impressive skill-set. "When I'm in the studio, I'm just a 20-year-old girl writing songs, trying to be honest. But as a performer, I want people to be excited and for it to feel unexpected and unpredictable. …And also… I definitely want people to think I'm nice," she enthused.