Camila Cabello's 'Havana' Breaks at Pop Radio: 'It's a Great Representation of Who She Is as an Artist'

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Billboard Magazine
Camila Cabello performs during Day Two of 2017 Billboard Hot 100 Festival at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Aug. 20, 2017 in Wantagh City.  

The song starts at No. 38 on the Pop Songs chart, aided, programmers say, by the ubiquity of "Despacito."

After notching four solo hits on Billboard's Pop Songs airplay chart largely at the center of pop radio's current styles, Camila Cabello debuts with perhaps her most intriguing entry yet, the Latin music-focused "Havana" (featuring Young Thug). The song, by the Cuban-born Cabello, starts at No. 38 on the chart dated Sept. 30, up 108 percent in plays in the week ending Sept. 17, according to Nielsen Music.

Pop programmers leading the way on the song (released on Epic Records) say that its content and production, aided by the monster success of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" (featuring Justin Bieber), which spent a record-tying 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 between May and September, is key to its mainstream appeal.

"Listeners are loving 'Havana' in Miami," says Alex Tear, program director of iHeartMedia's WHYI (Y100) Miami. The station played the "sultry" song, as he calls it, 27 times in the tracking week. "It's the perfect vibe and region for this track to ignite."

Still, "Havana," which Cabello co-wrote with Pharrell Williams, among others, is connecting regardless of geography. Timing also appears to be helping the laid-back track. "'Havana' is the perfect ease-back-out-of-summer-tempo record for us," says Radio Disney GM Phil Guerini; the channel played it 60 times in the week ending Sept. 17. "And, while some may view this song as a departure from Camila's previous singles, many more will hopefully hear it as a return to her Latin roots, perfectly timed to benefit from the recent resurgence of that music to the mainstream."

Guerini says that in its first three weeks in rotation on Radio Disney, "Havana" has out-requested Cabello's last single as a lead artist, the No. 19-peaking Pop Songs hit "Crying in the Club," compared to the latter's first three frames. (Cabello first hit Pop Songs as a soloist with "I Know What You Did Last Summer," her Shawn Mendes duet that reached No. 10 in early 2016. After leaving Fifth Harmony in December 2016, Cabello then crowned Pop Songs for two weeks in February with "Bad Things," with Machine Gun Kelly.)

Perhaps surprisingly, the station with the most plays on "Havana" in the latest tracking week is in Milwaukee, where Entercom-owned WXSS played it 77 times, making it the station's seventh-most-played title. "'Havana' sounds great on Kiss-FM," PD Brian Kelly says. "The sound stands out in a big way and it raises its hand among all the noise of straight-ahead pop-sounding singles. I have no doubt it's the next big hit incorporating a Latin feel. 'Despacito' knocked down the door to put this type of sound in PDs' heads.

"What once seemed like an impossible fit all of a sudden makes sense."

Kelly says that Kiss assistant PD Nathan Graham brought the song to his attention and they decided to "try it for a couple weeks and see what happens. Judging by our Shazam numbers in Milwaukee and the suburbs, the audience loves it."

Cabello premiered both "Havana" and the seemingly more radio-ready "OMG" late on Aug. 3. "We chose to premiere and play both tracks several times that night," says Mark Adams, iHeartMedia pop brand coordinator and PD of San Francisco's KYLD (WiLD 94.9). "Both [assistant PD/music director] Travis [Loughran] and I were drawn to 'Havana,' and the audience reaction was almost immediate."

KYLD played "Havana" 70 times in the latest tracking period. Says Adams, "social media activity has been strong from the outset. Within days it began tagging on Shazam in all of our key zips." (The song has drawn 40.8 million total on-demand U.S. audio and video streams and sold 50,000 downloads through the week ending Sept. 14, according to Nielsen Music.)

Overall, Adams says about "Havana," "we love its production and originality and feel like it's a great representation of who Camila is as an artist."