Camila Cabello ended the 2010s with a pair of Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit singles and a Billboard 200 albums chart-topping debut LP, one of the most promising solo breakout stories of the decade. It’s been success she’s had a little trouble matching a couple years into the 2020s — but the trend may be reversing with the release of her latest single, the Ed Sheeran-featuring “Bam Bam.”
With a tear-stained music video and lyrics seemingly addressing her breakup with fellow pop star Shawn Mendes, “Bam Bam” nonetheless rides an umptempo, salsa-inflected acoustic groove — and has proven a pretty easy sell on radio and streaming, rising to No. 22 on Billboard‘s Pop Airplay chart and debuting at No. 13 on Streaming Songs. The song also bows this week at No. 23 on the Hot 100, already Cabello’s highest entry since the No. 12-peaking “My Oh My” at the beginning of the decade.
Is this the song Cabello needs to get back on track? And how has Ed Sheeran proven so omnipresent already this year? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. The No. 23 bow for “Bam Bam” is the highest debut for Cabello in a few years. What factor do you most attribute the song’s strong Hot 100 start to?
Katie Atkinson: She did a great job teasing this one out, with a full two weeks of buildup before the release and eyebrow-raising lyric previews that appeared to allude to her very public personal life. Also, Ed Sheeran is in the midst of a big radio moment, so his involvement definitely didn’t hurt.
Katie Bain: I’m sensing a trio of factors: first and probably most crucially, this is just a really catchy, accessible and breezy song that’s easy to like. I think it gets some extra oomph in terms of human interest given that Cabello is sorta, kinda addressing her breakup from Shawn Mendes in the song. And of course, crossing over with Sheeran’s fanbase can’t hurt. (Both of their voices sound fantastic on this one, too.)
Starr Bowenbank: I think there’s a lot of factors contributing to the chart success of “Bam Bam,” most obviously the references to Cabello’s past relationship to Shawn Mendes. Hungry fans will always want to know more of the breakup narrative, which the track does provide. Cabello’s also doing a great job toeing the line between North American and Latin pop music, especially in this song’s instrumentation, which bodes well for gaining listeners across cultures — Spanish listeners will recognize her influences and American listeners will recognize the song as a dance-ready track for fun Spring Break or summer playlists. Plus, having a pop powerhouse like Ed Sheeran providing an assist on a track never hurts.
Jason Lipshutz: The combination of the song’s quality, Ed Sheeran’s involvement and the natural intrigue around the post-breakup track helped secure a fairly strong debut for “Bam Bam.” The song itself hits harder than Cabello’s preceding singles, and there’s no doubt that its thinly veiled lyrical references to her relationship with Shawn Mendes stirred the online pot; Cabello and Sheeran are also still pretty bankable top 40 artists at this point, too, which undoubtedly helped “Bam Bam” and should continue to do so in the coming weeks.
Andrew Unterberger: You may have noticed there hasn’t been a ton of star power on the Hot 100 lately, particularly with new releases from this calendar year. At a more crowded time, maybe radio and streaming might not have flocked immediately to “Bam Bam,” but right now it appears that any solid single from two name stars like Cabello and Sheeran is gonna put up numbers right away.
2. The previous Cabello-Sheeran collaboration “South of the Border” drew mixed reviews and stiffed on the charts a bit, peaking at No. 49. Does this collab simply work better than the previous one did?
Katie Atkinson: Yes. I think this one benefits from being a joyful Latin-infused pop song without hitting listeners over the head with smarmy lyrics (“She got the brown eyes, caramel thighs,” “he want the lil’ mamacita, margarita,” the song title itself). It might also help that Ed leaves the Spanish-language singing to Camila this time around. Mostly, I think the friendly, sweet dynamic of “Bam Bam” works best between these two.
Katie Bain: It’s not that “Bam Bam” is an overtly better song, but I do think its faster pace and higher energy level just make it easier to get into, remember and love. “South of the Border” is a catchy, slinky and I think pretty sophisticated pop song with an enduring melody on the chorus (not to mention a Cardi feature), but it’s subtle and doesn’t hit you over the head with bells and whistles like “Bam Bam” does.
Starr Bowenbank: Definitely. “South of the Border” felt like it was riding the tail end of the tropical house wave that was present in pop music through the mid to later 2010s – except, when “South of the Border” was released, that wave was practically nonexistent. (Cardi B’s verse also lacked the usual grit and tounge-in-cheek wittiness that we have come to know her for, so it didn’t boost the overall profile of the song.) The collaboration of Sheeran and Cabello for “South of the Border” did not feel as organic, whereas with “Bam Bam” it does.
Jason Lipshutz: When you put out an album with seemingly hundreds of A-list team-ups, as Ed Sheeran did in 2019 with No. 6 Collaborations Project, some of those team-ups are going to get more attention than others. While “I Don’t Care” with Justin Bieber and “Beautiful People” with Khalid became additions to Sheeran’s collection of hits, “South of the Border” (also featuring Cardi B) and the many other high-profile collaborations from the album could not command enough mainstream attention to cross over. “Bam Bam” works better than “South of the Border,” but the context of its release and promotion will better support its commercial aspirations.
Andrew Unterberger: Gonna go ahead and say that any Cabello/Sheeran collab that doesn’t have the latter cooing “Te amo mami, te amo mami” is pretty likely to do better than any that does.
3. Cabello seemed to be on her way to being a reliable pop A-list hitmaker towards the end of the previous decade, but has hit somewhat rockier waters thus far in the 2020s. Do you see this song as the beginning of her getting back on track there — and what, if anything, can she do to continue on that path?
Katie Atkinson: I’m actually bummed that “Don’t Go Yet,” the first taste of her upcoming album Familia, wasn’t a bigger hit for Camila (it peaked at No. 42 on the Hot 100 back in August). It was such a wacky party of a song, and Camila’s voice was at its raspy best. Apparently top 40 radio was not on the hunt for a discarded Miami Sound Machine single in 2021. I think “Bam Bam” is a positive step for Camila, but we haven’t yet heard anything that rises to the level of “Havana” or even “Señorita” in this new album cycle.
Katie Bain: “Bam Bam” is cute and catchy and her voice and charisma shine especially bright during the big build at the end, but I’m not sure that this song has got the legs to reach pop megahit status. So to answer the first question, no. To get back on that path she needs another earworm hit like “Havana” that’s so successful it just enters public consciousness through osmosis.
Starr Bowenbank: As long as Cabello does not have any other controversial mishaps (or lackluster movie roles) lurking in her closet, heavily promoting “Bam Bam” could put her on the clear path of having her star rise once again. The song has the potential to be a grower, especially as the months get warmer. If she can get the song to go viral on TikTok over the next few months, I’d say “Bam Bam” has song of the summer potential, especially compared to the single releases we’ve received in 2022 thus far.
Jason Lipshutz: Cabello excels at taking multiple swings of the bat in order to get a hit — when “Crying in the Club” wasn’t working in the lead-up to her debut album, she pivoted to “Havana” and scored a smash, and the same thing happened when “My Oh My” became the surprise hit of her Romance album following a handful of swings and misses. If “Bam Bam” isn’t the breakout hit of her upcoming Familia — and maybe it is, considering how much of a hot streak Sheeran is on at radio — Cabello will keep releasing singles until she finds one.
Andrew Unterberger: I think she’ll need a real knockout single to ever threaten for No. 1 again, but “Bam Bam” could reinforce her as a pop radio fixture at the least — and keep her relevant enough to continue fleshing out lineups at award shows and mini-festivals, and selling and touring well, if not spectacularly. It’s a career that millions of struggling pop artists would give one or several limbs to have.
4. After an arguably underwhelming first-week performance to kick off his Equals era, Ed Sheeran seems to have found his footing, with two songs still in the Hot 100’s top 10 nearly three months into the new year, and now a pair of top 25-debuting songs alongside Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello. How has he managed to resume his standing at top 40’s center like this?
Katie Atkinson: By making undeniable pop songs. I think “Bad Habits” got overshadowed on arrival by its bizarre music video, with Ed as a pink-suit-clad vampire. But once radio started spinning it, you can’t help but sing along. Same with “Shivers.” He’s a comforting radio presence with reliably catchy songs. So the album didn’t come in with a bang, but it will go out with one.
Katie Bain: Ed Sheeran is one of the best songwriters in modern pop music, and this string of recent hits — “Bad Habits” and “Shivers” especially — demonstrates his ability to craft songs that are different enough from each other to exist simultaneously without blending into each other and becoming forgettable. (Those two aforementioned songs are also sleek, probably his most electronic forward music to date and generally just super listenable.) And with “Bam “Bam” and “The Joker and the Queen,” Sheeran is getting the exposure of the Cabello and Swift camps via collaborations that transcend the craven fanbase crossover for fanbase crossover sake. I think ultimately Sheeran’s music has heart, and heart sets music apart, and you can really hear that he means it in everything he’s got going right now.
Starr Bowenbank: Sheeran seems to be a master at creating earworms – songs of his that on the first listen might not sound like a bonafide hit will always have a few lines or a chorus that will undoubtedly stick with you by the second, third or even fourth time listening to it. He’s also writing in a way that’s more fitting for his collaborators, as in the case of “Bam Bam” and “The Joker and The Queen,” something that I believe has boosted his chart standings.
Jason Lipshutz: A lot of my answers have mentioned radio, but it really is crucial to understanding what is a subtly enormous run that Sheeran is currently enjoying — “Bad Habits” and “Shivers” both have performed well on streaming services, but they’re still pretty ubiquitous at top 40, where Sheeran has ruled for years. They’re also dominating at a time when pop radio has a greater appetite for keeping multiple songs from the same superstar in heavy rotation, so that both singles from Equals can continue to thrive five months after the album’s release.
Andrew Unterberger: He’s never really left, I suppose — the metrics have changed somewhat and he’s not taking anyone by surprise at this point, but Sheeran was a global pop superstar and is a global pop superstar. He’ll likely remain one for some time to come.
5. “Bam Bam” gets its title from it chorus, which eschews traditional lyrics for a syllabic singalong. What’s your favorite song with a wordless chorus?
Katie Atkinson: It’s hard to believe John Mayer released “Clarity” as a single back in 2004, but at the same time, I totally believe it, because I’m still singing its “ooh-OOH-oohs” at full volume almost 20 years later. It’s like he left the placeholder “oohs” in when he realized no words were going to sound quite as good.
Katie Bain: This is probably cheating, but “Wordless Chorus” by My Morning Jacket.
Starr Bowenbank: K-pop reigns supreme on the wordless chorus front – the easiest that comes to mind is BLACKPINK’s “DDU-DU DDU-DU.” “How You Like That” is also another banger from the girl group that sees them going for the syllabic sing along route, but it works because it’s just so catchy.
Jason Lipshutz: Don’t say “Bawitdaba”… don’t say “Bawitdaba”… Okay, let’s go with an old indie-pop chestnut, Mates of State’s “Goods (All In Your Head),” since its “Da da da daaaaa, da da da da, WHOA-OH!” refrain has soundtracked many car sing-alongs since the mid-00s.
Andrew Unterberger: How about a different “Bam Bam” — Sister Nancy’s 1982 single, an oft-resurrected reggae classic?