Camila Cabello @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 5 Jun

Tonight at the O2 Academy, Camila Cabello is an unapologetic example of what pop can be at its finest

Live Review by Rachel Bowles | 11 Jun 2018

For the uninitiated, Camila Cabello is a Latinx pop songstress who found success on American X Factor, recruited into Simon Cowell’s Fifth Harmony in which she soon became the stand out star. Citing feelings of sexual objectification and lack of creative control Cabello eventually decided to go solo, dropping her debut self-titled LP earlier this year. Her single Havana (featuring Young Thug) emerged as her paragon record, a salsa-infused piano earworm, celebrating American/Cuban heritage and dedicated to the Dreamers – undocumented child immigrants facing deportation in the U.S. With Billboard announcing Havana as Spotify’s most streamed song ever by a solo female artist racking up 888,000,000 plays a mere four days before this gig, Glasgow seems to have caught Cabello in a unique moment of cultural relevancy, albeit a moment haunted by the devastating terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert just over a year ago in Manchester. 

At the sold out O2 Academy, Cabello’s audience shares the same demographic as Grande’s; young women, girls and LGBTQ youth, riotously excitable in a public self-made safe space, loudly singing along to Journey and cheering as roadies set up instruments and test lights. Giant LED screens light up with black and white visuals of storms and Cabello gazing at herself in a mirror, ramping up the crowd before it breaks into hysteria as she appears in the flesh from the darkness. Cabello opens with a bombastic rendition of the latin-cum-dancehall She Loves Control, with added instrumentals allowing for her dancing talent to shine as she salsas with a backing dancer to Spanish guitar.

The setlist is expertly paced; the joyously upbeat Inside Out is interwoven with wistful and earnest ballads such as Consequences – the latter sung captivatingly as she plays piano accompanied only by her thousands-strong fandom who seem to know every word. As well as the obvious theme of love, her lyrics emphasise female solidarity, Real Friends and nascent sexuality – she sings Bad Things, wrapped in a fan’s LGBTQ flag as the audience sings back, hands throwing heart shapes and waving, her young fans enjoying a formative, collective experience of music as part of their emergent identities.

To say that Cabello is passionate about her fans and her politics is an understatement. Introducing Something’s Gotta Give, a deceptively simple piano ballad that doubles as a break-up song about a couple and a divided country in the wake of Trump, she cements the notion of the personal as political, singing the song to gut-wrenching visuals of protests such as Tieneman Square and March for Our Lives. The crowd saves its loudest and most emotional reaction for a Black Lives Matter banner, a powerful moment of solidarity.

Garrulous throughout the show, Cabello drills into the young crowd to treat themselves “with love, patience and kindness, as if you’re your own best friend,” initiating an en masse pinky swear. It’s an unapologetic, radical act of self love and inclusivity, an example of what pop can be at its finest.