Cabello has also developed a relationship with her fans and the public that feels right to her. “Getting to do shows where people are singing words that I wrote back to me was a completely mind-boggling new experience,” she says of touring solo this summer. “The last year was definitely the best year of my life.”
But there’s a paradox at the heart of Cabello’s current fame: Even as she has asserted authority over her career and seen it soar, she has been drawn that much deeper into the unrelenting demands of stardom, and further from the modest, family-oriented upbringing that contributed so much to her appeal in the first place. All of which is somehow encapsulated by Grande’s eventual, joking-but-not reply to Cabello’s tweet about coping with the high ponytail: “i’m in constant pain always and don’t care at all.”
Earlier, Cabello sneaks down to meet me in the hotel lobby. She is trying to avoid being spotted by an ever-expanding group of Spanish teenagers waiting just outside, iPhones at the ready. She is also hoping to avoid running into any celebrities before she gets to the awards show. They’re all staying at this hotel: Janet Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Dua Lipa, even Lindsay Lohan, for some reason. This morning, Cabello and her mom did a “sexy vixen dance cardio workout” she found on YouTube in her room, so she wouldn't have to go to the hotel gym. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to run into somebody at the gym and it’s just going to be awkward,’” she says, eyes widening.
As a kid, Cabello recalls, she was “very, very shy. When everybody would sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, my eyes would start watering and I wouldn't know what to do.” Today, despite her effortlessly cool appearance -- red-and-black striped turtleneck, ripped black jeans -- she says she still gets “kind of freaked out” when a roomful of people fixates on her. As that has been happening a lot lately, she leads me to a corner booth in the lobby, away from the windows.
The paparazzi follow Cabello everywhere, even when she is home in Miami with her family. This year, she took her 10-year-old sister, Sofia, trick-or-treating for Halloween, but wore a mask to avoid being recognized. “I can’t spend an hour in hair and makeup every day,” she says. “Some people will do that because you get photographed walking around in the street, but I just can’t, you know?”