With “I LUV IT,” Camila Cabello Goes All In on Indie Sleaze

It’s like this: one day you’re futureless in a town whose climate is officially described as “perma-cloud,” then EUREKA, there is neon, 128 kbps MP3 downloads, ecstasy pills, shutter shades, and an American Apparel store only 90 minutes away. And you’re driving to the city anyway to pick up the pills from some guy’s parents’ basement, because tonight there’s a party—Crystal Castles at Sonotheque. You look the part: gold lamé leggings, tank top with arm holes cut to the ribs, bangs secured to your forehead by a strap of glittering string. It’s 2009 and nothing matters but the music, besides of course the line of graphic tees you’re designing in Photoshop, which is lowkey going to be major. Later that night, eyeballs vibrating, you think you see a UFO streak across the sky.

Two years ago it was decided that this kind of person is once again cool, except that’s sort of a lie; for this was never a cool kind of person to be, not even in 2009. But it was a fun kind of person to be — creatively optimistic, if a bit lowbrow, and wonderfully indulgent, borderline degenerate. This stretch of the late 2000s and early 2010s holds a tenuous claim to the last IRL gasp of “alternative culture” before our phones salted that particular earth, but wait—alternative to what, again? The character I’m describing was often preoccupied by ideas of “authenticity,” stemming from a gnawing feeling that perhaps they were not really a bohemian at all. In 2010’s “What Was the Hipster?”, the writer Mark Greif called this character the “rebel consumer.” So savvy were they at deducing “the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction” that buying and selling the right products approximated an artistry, a sense of self.

Isn’t it reassuring how even the most garish times return as throwback trends? I have so far enjoyed watching the youth, and those who cling to it, do their various impressions of a Misshapes party during George W.’s second term. Turns out my culture is a costume, and a hideous one at that. But Lord knows we need some fun where we can find it! It’s dreary out there on the charts, where it seems that every song is about either setting boundaries or abusing benzos. And that’s where Camila Cabello—the 27-year old singer whose previous songs I have considered inasmuch as I have been inside an Uber as they played—comes along, to bless us with something vintage and demented.

Inside pop’s PR machine there are two wolves, Victim and Troll. I can respect the Troll; the role requires some finesse. Since the 30-second preview of “I LUV IT”—the lead single from her forthcoming album C, XOXO—dropped in early March, I have witnessed more discourse regarding Camila Cabello than I have in the decade-plus of her career. (That includes the time “Havana” topped the charts in 24 countries.) In the teaser video, the singer dangles herself from the passenger window of a moving car in a manner that suggests she has not seen Hereditary, her hair newly deep-fried platinum with two-inch dark roots. She vibes to the track as it splices her own glitchy voice with a sample from “Lemonade,” the Gucci Mane classic from 2009, either having or valiantly trying to have the craziest night of her life, or possibly auditioning for a role in Spring Breakers 2.

Let’s call “I LUV IT,” which premiered last week in its barely-three-minute entirety, a simulacrum of a cool pop song, brazen enough to dispense with any doubt as to its sources. I can’t see the video’s fluorescent gas stations and candy-painted sunsets without thinking of Harmony Korine (Cabello and Spring Breakers‘ corrupted co-eds share a fondness for finger-gun violence). The video comes via director Nicolás Méndez and his production company Canada, from whose work with the alt-pop auteur Rosalía you may recognize the motif of the arrow-pierced heart. (Or perhaps from recent images of Lana Del Rey as shot by Nadia Lee Cohen, whose freakshow-glam Americana I’d bet was on Cabello’s moodboard.)

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