Here, Camila Cabello pays tribute to the capital of her home country, Cuba. The pop star moved back and forth between Havana and Mexico City as a child before settling in Miami. She sings about her Cuban heritage and also muses about a former flame she left back in her native land.
The track was co-written by Pharrell Williams while Frank Dukes supplied the Latin-inspired beat.
"He's the nicest person," Cabello said about Williams in an interview with Radio Disney. "He's so incredible and for every artist, producer, and anybody, he is the cream of the crop. He's just amazing and he probably knows that he has that effect on people, so he makes an effort to make you feel welcome and at home, which I think is really nice."
This song is built on "na"s, which show up in various forms:
Havana ooh na na
Atlanta na na na
Oh na na na na na
There are 75 total "na"s in the song, but because they are presented in different ways, they don't get too repetitive, like the ending of "Hey Jude
Atlanta rapper Young Thug spits some bars about a sexual encounter with a girl. It is the pair's first collaboration together.
"I have been a really big fan of Young Thug," Cabello told NPR's Michel Martin. "And I think because 'Havana' is an unconventional song... I didn't want just a go-to, mainstream rapper that has done a bunch of pop features. I felt like he would bring just the right flavor to it."
Camila Cabello explained the track's background to Wonderland magazine:
"'Havana' is an idea that I had for a song title; a lot of my songs are more dark and emotional. [This is] more summer, upbeat, it's very wind-your-waist tempo, if that makes sense. It's really cool, I did it with Pharrell, it's like a story of me falling in love with this bad boy from Havana."
The song's success came as a complete surprise to Camila and her team. She told BBC Radio 1 reporter Mark Savage:
"Everybody kept telling me it shouldn't be a single and that it would never work for radio, and they were like 'Oh, it's just another song.'
I'll Never Be The Same, I definitely want it to be a single but Havana was just kind of - I just wanted to put out songs because I was on tour with Bruno Mars and so that song just had this organic reaction from fans and it ended up becoming a single."
Camila Cabello recruited for the video Latin stars Lele Pons and LeJuan James who play respectively her bickering older sister and fast talking abuelita. The clip was directed by Dave Meyers. whose other credits include Missy Elliott's "Work It
," Janet Jackson's "All For You
" and Kendrick Lamar's "HUMBLE
This is one of the few pop hits of the era to feature a trumpet, who plays a solo and shows up in flourishes at various points in the song.
LeJuan James told MTV News how she basically improvised her role in the video:
"Initially, we had a script - and they still lived by the script - but for my part, they scrapped the script and Camila said, 'Just do what you do.' The director couldn't understand me because I was speaking Spanish, so Camila did the job of making the translations with the director in the post-edit. We shot it several times because we wanted to embrace that back-and-forth of family, and I was just free-styling, which is usually what I do - all of my stuff is off the top of my head. They did an amazing job editing it."
Camila Cabello's full name is Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao. She plays two completely different characters in the video - the bespectacled homebody Karla and the sexy outgoing Camila. The former Fifth Harmony singer explained to her fans on Twitter the whole point of the music clip is she feels like there are two sides to herself which exist inside simultaneously.
"Karla and Camila represent two parts of my personality, but Karla in the movie is who I really am and always have been."
Cabello further explained: "My family always called me Camila. When I came to school in the United States, I was really, really shy and the teachers started calling me Karla. In my life, I push myself to do a lot of things that make me uncomfortable, and that's how I started dancing. That's how I feel like I found myself — through Camila and performance and music, as that confident video vixen. They're both over-exaggerated personas of me."
The song topped the UK singles chart. Cabello's previous best on the tally had been as a member of Fifth Harmony when "Work from Home
" peaked at #2. She told OfficialCharts.com
"I found out Havana had reached #1 a couple of days ago when I was at home with my family and we all went crazy. You have to celebrate things like this because you never know if it's going to happen again. My mum screamed. My dad doesn't scream, but there were hugs - and maybe a small scream from him in a masculine, fatherly way."
Camila Cabello released a remix of the song that's sung primarily in Spanish. While the hook remains the same, Cabello's first verse switches the original version over to Spanish. Meanwhile, Young Thug's bars are replaced with some Spanish rhymes by Daddy Yankee, in which the Puerto Rican reggaeton artist seduces a love interest.
Speaking with The New York Times, Franks Dukes recalled playing Cabello a simple instrumental with a prominent salsa piano riff during one of their early sessions. It reminded the Cuban-American songstress of her birthplace, and she wrote the chorus for what became "Havana" on the spot. "There's not another artist in the world who could have done that song - she just owns it," he said.
Camila Cabello and Frank Dukes drafted in Brian Lee, who first worked with the Latino songstress on Fifth Harmony's "Work from Home
" and frequent Louis Bell collaborator to help complete the track. "It changed a million times, so no one knew which version was going to come out," Lee explained to MTV News. "But what was always set in stone was the hook - the 'Havana na na na' part."
Both Lee and Bell attribute the song's success to it being wholly unique to Cabello. "It goes back to Camila. It's a song that if she doesn't do it, you can't just give it away," Lee said. "For example, with some songs, if they're written for Rihanna, and she doesn't take it, then it goes down to some other artist and then another artist. But this was a song that if [Cabello] didn't take it, there was no one else who could do it."
Bell added, "That's always a great mode of attack, if you find a way of, 'How can we make a song that no one else could cut?' Especially when it's your first big, big song as a solo artist. When you heard it, it didn't sound like anything else on the radio. That's what gave it its mark, so that instantly, when you hear that first piano hit, you know [what it is] right away."
The clip won Video of the Year at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards. The former Fifth Harmony star was also named Artist of the Year during the ceremony.
Ali Tamposi, Andrew Watt and Louis Bell helped Brian Lee and Frank Dukes pen the track. Their collaboration started with Frank Dukes playing them a piano loop and hook that he'd come up with. Tamposi recalled to Billboard
that it sounded "like it had been written before. We were singing it in the studio thinking, this was too easy."
She added that Cabello had wanted to write a song about Havana, "and East Atlanta just rhymed which sparked the idea of getting (Atlanta native) Young Thug on there."
Cabello opened the Grammy Awards in 2019 with a performance of this song that also included Young Thug, Ricky Martin and J Balvin.
This was used in a Mastercard commercial
where Cabello walks through Manhattan paying for people's cupcakes and coffee. The spot ran during the Grammy Awards shortly after she opened the broadcast.
"Havana" was the best-selling digital single of 2018 globally with 19 million track equivalent units. Runner-up was Drake's "God's Plan
" with 15.3 million.