Camila Cabello, of Fifth Harmony, Talks Finding Self-Discovery in Songwriting

Camila Cabello, of Fifth Harmony, Talks Finding Self-Discovery in Songwriting

V and DKNY present Camila Cabello, a member of Fifth Harmony, who spends plenty of time on the open road and in the spotlight. Here, she talks writing in hotel bathrooms, getting playlists from Taylor Swift, and finding her own voice.

V and DKNY present Camila Cabello, a member of Fifth Harmony, who spends plenty of time on the open road and in the spotlight. Here, she talks writing in hotel bathrooms, getting playlists from Taylor Swift, and finding her own voice.

Photography: CHAD MOORE

Styling: Havana Laffitte

Text: Whitney Mallett

“I think songwriting was the biggest way that I found my identity,” says Camila Cabello. The 19-year-old Cuban-born Fifth Harmony member has been growing up in the public eye ever since she competed on The X Factor at 15—the resulting girl group was signed by the Simon Cowell-owned Syco Music and L.A. Reid’s Epic Records—but she's also made some musical moves of her own. “It’s hard to know who you are when you start doing that stuff, and songwriting has helped me stay sane throughout this whole thing.”

Last November, the duet Cabello co-wrote with fellow teen idol Shawn Mendes, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. “I felt like that was the first time I got to show people who I am and the music that I was writing while we were doing the mall tours—all the shitty demos on my laptop that nobody knew I was doing,” explains Cabello, whose day-in-day-out is dominated by a grueling schedule promoting the platinum-certified Fifth Harmony, full of stadium shows, press appearances, and radio station interviews. Cabello grew up in Miami, where she still technically lives, but she’s only there for about two weeks out of the year. For months, she won’t be in a single city for more than 48 hours.

In the midst of the showbiz chaos, Cabello’s songwriting has been a sanctuary when she’s living out of a suitcase, ping-ponging between hotels and tour buses. She first started making her own music on the road. “I would wake up really early and go into the hotel bathroom, put a towel over the toilet and put my laptop there. I’d put my headphones on and just write,” Cabello explains. “And so now when I do writing sessions and I am stuck on a part or I can’t figure out a chorus, I’m just like, ‘Give me a second,’ and I’ll go to that bathroom. I remember when I was writing with Major Lazer and we were stuck on a part, I spent the whole night in the bathroom.”

Though she’s been crafting lyrics since she was a little kid, Cabello has Taylor Swift to thank for inspiring her to start songwriting seriously. The two are also good friends. “If I’m going through a rough time with a boy or if there’s boy drama, she’ll be like, ‘Here’s a playlist I made when I was going through that,’ or she’ll call me to talk about it,” says Cabello, who’s seven years younger than her pop mentor. “She’s always teaching me. She’s given me such great advice. And honestly, just seeing her live her life? You learn from it. She’s so graceful.”

CLOTHING AND SHOES DKNY

At the moment, Cabello is drawn to the sultry tracks dominating radio waves. “I love pop right now because I feel like everything that’s good floats to the top,” she says, citing Drake, Rihanna, Zayn Malik, and the Chainsmokers as recent obsessions. She’s also influenced by the traditional Latin music that she absorbed from her Cuban and Mexican family. “All of the songs my grandparents and parents listened to are called boleros—they’re all love songs. They’re about giving your heart to a person. It’s a culture that is so romantic and passionate, and that’s something that I’m very proud of,” she explains. “We grew up with nothing, so we just want to live a life full of love. A lot of the music I write is about love. Sometimes I won’t understand how I am feeling until I write a song about it.”

Credits:

Makeup Maud Laceppe (Streeters)  Hair Kei Terada (Julian Watson Agency)  Manicure Holly Falcone (Kate Ryan)  Set design Orly Anan  Photo assistant Adam Levett  Stylist assistants Rochelle Adam and Jay Hussa   Makeup assistant Aya Watanabe  Hair assistant Mario Sisneros  Retouching Vision On  Location Root Studios

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