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Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s ‘Senorita’ No. 2 Hot 100 Debut

Another week, another debut right below the unassailable "Old Town Road" on the Billboard Hot 100. And once again, it's an artist we've seen at No. 2 just recently -- Shawn Mendes, this time teamed…

Another week, another debut right below the unassailable “Old Town Road” on the Billboard Hot 100. And once again, it’s an artist we’ve seen at No. 2 just recently — Shawn Mendes, this time teamed up with fellow pop star Camila Cabello for the sultry duet “Señorita.” 

Mendes ties his best-ever Hot 100 placement with the runner-up bow, while Cabello has her highest-peaking hit on the chart since she went to No. 1 alongside Young Thug with “Havana” in early 2018. But which of the two artists is more likely to have their future direction influenced by the song’s success? And how important is their chemistry to the song’s success? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below. 

1. Last week we were talking about two straight No. 2 first-full-week launches for Taylor Swift — now it’s Shawn Mendes with two straight runner-up debuts. Does this officially cement Mendes as a peer of Swift’s on pop’s A-list? 

Danica Daniel: Shawn Mendes has all the markings of a pop superstar. Striking good looks? Check. Vertically blessed? Check. Expert at strumming a guitar while gazing into the heart of millions, hypnotizing the masses into singing an effortlessly catchy chorus? Check. Check. Check. There’s no denying that the 20-year-old Canadian is already a household name — though what is yet to be seen is if Mendes will enjoy a career with as much longevity as Swift. Considering the lyrical maturity evidenced on his 2018 self-titled LP, transitioning from the teeny-bopper beginnings 2016’s Illuminate and 2015’s Handwritten, Mendes is off to a great start. 

Nolan Feeney: I don’t think you can necessarily equate Mendes and Taylor just because they both have two recent No. 2 debuts, in the same way I don’t think Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” domination these past few weeks automatically makes him an A-lister; despite the ubiquity of that song, he still feels like a relatively unknown quantity to the public. That said, while Mendes doesn’t exactly summon a wave of thinkpieces with every move he makes in the way Swift (or even Ariana Grande) does, his overall commercial success has been strong enough and steady enough that I’m not raising an eyebrow at the thought of them occupying the same category. (He’s certainly made good on the potential he showed back when he was opening her 1989 World Tour.)

Kevin Rutherford: Of course! That doesn’t mean Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift are suddenly equals in the pop world, but there are levels to A-list-dom, and it’s tough to argue against Mendes’ place there in 2019. Maybe if both songs had help like “Señorita” did with Camila Cabello, there’d be an argument against it. But we’re looking at someone who did 24 million first-week streams on his own with “If I Can’t Have You” and nearly doubled that with “Señorita.” He’s arrived, that’s for certain. Which, of course, is always a double-edged sword, because now he’s in the territory of having people question his relevance when something doesn’t debut top five. But hey, enjoy it while you got it!

Andrew Unterberger: Not an equal, but a peer, sure. Though Mendes has been one of the most rock solid radio and touring presences of the last half-decade, and has taken recent strides as a songwriter and album artist, he’s never had immediate smashes (or a general streaming presence) on this level before. There’s still a certain neatness to his career that doesn’t necessarily jibe with pop superstardom — generally speaking, our culture prefers our biggest stars to be at least a little bit messy — but by just about every other metric at this point, he’s already there. 

Taylor Weatherby: I’d say so — and it seems Taylor herself considered Shawn on his way to pop’s A-list when she invited him out on the 1989 Tour four years ago. Though he hasn’t had a Hot 100 No. 1 hit yet, he has plenty of other accolades that prove him worthy of an A-list ranking: Three Billboard 200 No. 1 albums, eight Top 20 Hot 100 singles, 46 million Instagram followers, and nearly 6.5 billion YouTube views (not to mention, 7 million more monthly Spotify listeners than Taylor). And frankly, if Lil Nas X hadn’t played the trump card of 2019 with “Old Town Road,” I think Shawn would have one, if not two, No. 1s this year. Plus now that he’s a little more rugged and writing songs about anxiety and one-night stands, it’s easier to see Shawn as more than just some teen heartthrob. 


2. Of course, Mendes is only one of two artists on “Señorita.” With both him and duet partner Camila Cabello currently in between full-length projects, whose future direction would you guess the song and its positive reception tells us more about?

Danica Daniel: “Señorita” screams Camila Cabello, and will definitely do more to bolster her career. With only one solo album under her belt, many may still see her as less of a solo artist and more of a former member of Fifth Harmony. Sonically the song could fit into either artist’s next tracklist, but honing into the song’s Spanish flair and steamy, sweaty lyrics about nights spent in Miami, and suddenly “Señorita” feels tailor made for the Cuban-American singer — with the addition of Mendes being a well-chosen afterthought. Honestly, “Señorita” feels eerily similar to Cabello’s last hit about falling in love in the summer: Just switch the numerous “ooh la la la”s to “oh na na”s. 

Nolan Feeney: He’s the first name billed, but I don’t think Shawn Mendes could pull of “Señorita” without Camila Cabello. I do think Cabello could absolutely pull off “Señorita” without Mendes, though — the sensual Latin pop vibes just don’t come as naturally to him for obvious reasons, even with all the very Mendes-y guitars going on. That said, I don’t know if a solo Cabello version would have been as successful, either — without that energy of a duet partner, I wonder if “Señorita” would feel like a “Havana” redux, or like a deep cut from Camila getting the single treatment.

While I wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up on a future project from either of them, this song feels more like a victory lap than the start of a new era — a chapter-closing on the last four years of their careers before they move onto the next stage, a celebration of how much their stock has risen in the past four years. I don’t know that “Señorita” tells me anything new about their musical identities or impulses other than a desire to stay in the zeitgeist and feed demand. If anything, the Cabello collaboration that has me most interested in what she’ll do next is her charming Mark Ronson jam, “Find U Again,” which is funny and a little emo and also sounds it like at any point it could veer off into an Uffie song from a decade ago.

Kevin Rutherford: “Señorita” feels less about where Mendes is going and more about Cabello, and not just because of Camila’s discography boasting “Havana” before now. She’s also the first voice you hear on the song, the lead voice in the chorus – I mean, look, this is more Camila with Shawn rather than Shawn with Camila. Given the runaway success of “Havana” plus the strong start of “Señorita,” it seems unlikely that Cabello wouldn’t have similar tricks up her sleeve for her sophomore album.

Andrew Unterberger: The song sounds more like Camila than Shawn Mendes, for sure, but it’s probably more interesting to me as a sign that Mendes is drifting towards Top 40’s current moody, acoustic-driven center — “Señorita” sounds explicitly designed to be a contemporary radio smash, in a way that the singles off his last album weren’t. It makes me wonder if Mendes’ next full-length project will be less of a singer-songwriter exploration and more of a kick-down-the-doors pop album, to assert his position as one of the defining stars of the end of the decade. 

Taylor Weatherby: That’s a toughie, because I feel like the Spanish vibe is almost too predictable for Camila’s next project, but almost too left-field for Shawn’s. If I had to choose I’d probably say Camila, but I do think “Señorita” indicates that Shawn isn’t afraid to take some risks with his next project. As for the positive reception, I think their fan bases — which, frankly, I don’t think are all that different — are so passionate that neither Camila nor Shawn can really do any wrong. And if “Señorita” is any indication, they’re not going to disappoint anyway.

3. This isn’t the first time that Shawn and Camila have linked up on record, of course — but their first duet, 2015’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” topped out at No. 20 on the Hot 100. Is “Señorita” actually that much of an improvement on that initial collab, or is it just better timing in summer 2019? 

Danica Daniel: Timing is definitely the greatest factor. Cabello and Mendes were early on in their careers in 2015 and their superfans had not yet reached their full force. In my personal opinion, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was actually the superior work: Not only is the song’s premise of someone keeping “dirty secrets” more relatable than watching a “tequila sunrise” in Miami, but it reminds me of the ’90s slasher flick of the same name, which eventually led us the everlasting love affair between Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. For that I will forever be grateful.

Nolan Feeney: Better timing. For starters, they’re simply a lot more popular than they were back then: She’s topped the Hot 100, he’s had multiple No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. (Her solo career aside, Cabello hadn’t even done her best work with Fifth Harmony when “Last Summer” arrived.) But “Señorita” also feels more of the moment anyway. Despite Mendes’ popularity, his guitar-driven brand of pop — as much as it has expanded to include new influences over the past few years — has been a little detached from what his pop peers are doing. Here, it feels like he’s coming to play on everyone else’s turf for a moment.

Kevin Rutherford: Definite improvement. “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is an unmistakably fun song, but “Señorita” tops it in production value, songwriting, that hook – all around, really. Looking at it from a data perspective, though, it’s tough to compare them because they came out four years apart, and during that span, Mendes began playing arenas and snagging top five hits while Cabello departed Fifth Harmony and scored huge personal successes in her own right. Had “Summer” been released this year, it would have debuted higher than No. 20, let alone peaked higher. But would it have topped “Señorita”? Doubt it.

Andrew Unterberger: A refinement, anyway. “Last Summer” had a fun energy to it, and its two stars were down to match its breathlessness, but something about the actual songwriting couldn’t help feel a little… well, rushed, and it wasn’t surprising when the same general formula ended up working a lot more successfully for Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez a half-year later. But this time, the titration is immaculate: every word, every note, every sonic flourish of “Señorita” feels empirically correct. There might end up plenty of pop songs this year more inspired, but few will be better executed. 

Taylor Weatherby: I do think it’s an improvement, but I also think it’s better timing in the sense that Camila and Shawn have each established themselves as major pop players in the four years since “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Though their voices don’t sound much different, you can sense that they’ve grown up in both the sultry production and risqué lyrics of “Señorita” (“When your lips undress me/Hooked on your tongue” is definitely not something 2015 Shawn would be singing…). Because of that growth, “Señorita” is both relatable and believable to a broader audience.

4. Dig into the writing credits of “Señorita” and you’ll see a familiar name: Charlotte Aitchison, a.k.a. Charli XCX. What’s your favorite song that Charli’s written for without actually being a featured artist on?

Danica Daniel: “Same Old Love,” off Selena Gomez’s second solo album Revival, is a personal favorite. Not only did I have that album on repeat when it debuted in 2015, but the song was a standout, filled with pianos and snaps and oozing with heartbreak that felt authentically expressed as it left Gomez’s lips. The wordplay of the lyric “you left in peace, left me in pieces” was expertly crafted by Charli & Co. and perfectly summarized the feelings around a painful breakup. 

Nolan Feeney: I’m a huge fan of the last time Charli wrote for Cabello: the icy, Quavo-featuring, Stargate-produced “OMG.” The song came out the same day “Havana” did back in 2017, and if you had asked me then which of the two I thought would have been the bigger hit, I… wouldn’t have bet on “Havana.” But “Señorita” also marks a reunion between Charli and writer-producers Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, who previously worked together on a handful of scrapped songs for Gwen Stefani’s third solo album. Those tracks never saw the light of day, but some of them have leaked over the years — and reader, if you’ve never heard “Hell Yeah Baby” before, let me tell you that it’s the “Hollaback Girl” sequel we deserved.

Kevin Rutherford: That a Buckcherry EP titled Fuck features a writing credit from Charli XCX (“Say Fuck It” is, as you could possibly guess from the title, a quasi-cover of Icona Pop’s “I Love It”) will always be a highlight of the 2010s. The answer to the question is obviously “Same Old Love,” by the way.

Andrew Unterberger: Respect for Ryn Weaver’s 2014 alt-pop mini-masterpiece “OctaHate,” the kind of too-perfect debut single that proves virtually unfollowable and ultimately leads to a whole lot of “Wait, whatever happened to Ryn Weaver?” questions a half-decade later. (The answer: Returning the favor to Charli with a writing credit on her recent BTS duet!

Taylor Weatherby: Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.” I appreciate that it starts out with Selena telling how hurt she is, followed by an empowered verse that says “I refuse to change for you.” Plus, the hook is infectious — there’s nothing like a breakup song that makes you want to dance instead of cry.


5. All right, there’s no getting around it: A big reason for the No. 2 debut of “Señorita” is that Shawn and Camila have become one of the most-shipped pop couples on the Internet, in no small part due to the song’s steamy music video. How real do you feel their chemistry is, and how important do you think it is to the success of “Señorita”? 

Danica Daniel: When two pretty people get within the same vicinity, society can’t help but wonder, “Are they dating? When’s the wedding?” Especially when those two people are young and good-looking celebrities singing together on screen. (Nope, I am not talking about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper from A Star Is Born, although those rumors show no sign of stopping).  Enter Mendes and Cabello: The Grammy-nominees have maintained that they are “just friends” for years but in the three-and-a-half-minute video for “Señorita,” the chemistry is palpable. While I don’t think i’ts manufactured, I truly believe they seem comfortable on screen together because they are friends, not necessarily lovers. Only time will tell.

Nolan Feeney: The steaminess of the video feels too forced for me to take seriously. Shawn Mendes spent a large portion of his recent Rolling Stone cover story addressing rumors about his sexuality and talking about how such speculation weighs on him; that story ends with Mendes taking a woman back to his hotel room in full view of the reporter. So when he and Cabello play on-screen lovers and exchange smoldering eye contact, I don’t wonder about what happens when cameras aren’t there — I just feel bad that his personal life is subject to so much of this kind of scrutiny, and I wonder if this video would have turned out the same in a world where he didn’t feel he had to prove anything and people were kinder about this stuff.

Kevin Rutherford: Coming back to record a second duet after their initial pairing did so well — at relatively speaking for where they both were in 2015 — suggests at least some chemistry; it means neither party had such a terrible experience four years ago that they shook hands and vowed never to let it happen again. So there’s some semblance of verity in their relationship both on- and off-screen, and it shows; “Senorita” is almost effortlessly smooth, Mendes and Cabello playing off each other as though they’d recorded a dozen duets before. And that’s definitely palpable in the song’s early success; aside from both singers’ formidable fan bases, casual listeners are clearly drawn to it – and the steamy music video, of course, helps matters. Had “Senorita” been a clunky, no-chemistry mess, smart listeners would have noticed immediately, and wouldn’t have returned.

Andrew Unterberger: I’d say it’s exactly as real as it has to be. I don’t watch “Señorita” and assume that any of it carries into their off-screen relationship once the cameras stop rolling, but they’re a plausible-enough match on screen that their scenes together do give the song a little bit of an extra jolt. More importantly, their voices pair really nicely; both have a very gentle power to them that suggests real passion without particularly high stakes. 

Taylor Weatherby: The more I watch the video, the more I question if they’re just really good at acting like they’re into each other because they’ve been such good friends for a long time. Their chemistry definitely doesn’t feel insincere, I just wonder if it’s more platonic than romantic (then again, “You say we’re just friends/ But friends don’t know the way you taste” is one hell of a line to sing with someone you aren’t interested in). I also think they are well aware of their shipping and knew they’d make fans go nuts with a video as hot as this one. That all being said, I don’t think they’re using their rumored romance as a money ploy, and they’re awesome collaborators regardless. Shamila is a pretty great ship name, though…