She'd certainly had fun recording 2015's "I Know What You Did Last Summer," the track that netted her a few trophies, a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and the confidence to branch out from her Fifth Harmony roots. It was just, at 18 and only a handful of years into her pop star career, she wasn't entirely sure what it all meant. "I really bonded with him as more than a friend. I think he did, too, but we were both really young, and he was experiencing the pressures of his career," she explained to Rolling Stone last fall. "I don't think we knew what to do with those feelings."
So, she shelved them, even resisting when the Canadian musician approached her with what he believed was another sure-fire hit.
"It took me 10 months to convince Camila to sing this with me," Mendes revealed to V magazine in June 2019 of the chart-topping, multiplatinum-selling, MTV VMA-winning "Señorita." Which, guilty. "This is true," she admitted. "My fans are just absolutely gonna hate me now. They're like, 'She's so stupid.' Honestly, it just takes the right time for things to happen, I feel. You know?"
If ever there was an argument for timing being everything...
Because while the three-time Grammy nominee, a native of Havana, Cuba, was speaking about aligning their professional schedules, once they got back in the studio it was more than their vocals that were harmonizing. "For me, it just brought it back," Cabello confessed to Rolling Stone of recording 2019's third best-selling single with Mendes. The feelings, the chemistry, the voice in the back of her head whispering that it was going to be damn hard to leave him.
And while it took them four years to get there, everything that followed seemed to be at a heightened pace. Because it felt like mere moments after their steamy music video dropped last June that they were spotted hand-in-hand in West Hollywood, then flirting over breakfast in San Francisco and finally making out in Miami.
That last one was enough to officially cement their relationship status. The collaborators were crowned pop music's new "It" pair, complete with steamy performances at the VMAs and American Music Awards, an adorable shared puppy, a mashed-up nickname and the sorts of gushy quotes that have fans rooting for the future of Shawmila.
Like the confession the 22-year-old made in his Netflix doc In Wonder.
"My song comes on the radio or something and I'm like, 'Everything's about you. They're all, they have always been about you,'" he said of his girlfriend, turning 24 on Mar. 3. "She goes, 'What do you mean?' Like, they're all about you. Like every song I've ever wrote."
So credit the Wonder artist with pursuing the spark that Cabello didn't really know how to ignite. "For sure. I, for sure, had a crush there," she allowed while watching one of their 2015 performances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show "We were stupid. I think we both had a crush there. But we were both, like, I don't know, being babies about it."
They were also being, you know, burgeoning pop music sensations, packed itineraries leaving little room for dinner dates. Even when they were on the road together, both Fifth Harmony and Mendes opening for Austin Mahone back in 2014, I never saw him," Cabello told Variety in 2018. "He would go to his tour bus and practice guitar, then go onstage, and then go back and practice guitar. He's the most dedicated, driven person I know."
So she linked up with Mahone ("While we were on tour Austin and I were dating and Shawn was just kind of being a loner!" she told E! News in 2015) and laughed off chatter of her and Mendes' obvious chemistry, even joking to E! News when told they'd make a cute couple, "We actually hate each other in real life. We can't stand each other."
At the time it was a smooth cover for whatever was taking place between them.
Unsure how to address their feelings, they instead brushed them off, riffing about being friend-zoned ("He calls me kid!" Cabello exclaimed on The Late Late Show with James Corden) and why they absolutely, definitely hadn't made out. "Every time I try and make a move, she swerves me off," Mendes cracked to Corden, a joke that perhaps hit too close to home.
"An energy was there from the beginning," she explained to Rolling Stone in 2019. But with their press obligations finished and neither having made a bold move, their relationship was relegated to acquaintance status, the occasional meet-up at an industry event or text exchange about their shared love of Harry Potter.
They were each happy to gush about their friendship when asked. "He's so cute, I love him," Cabello said while on The Zach Sang Show in January 2018. "She is my favorite person in the whole world," Mendes answered a few months later, speaking to Zane Lowe during an April 2018 Beats 1 interview.
But all the mutual affection in the world doesn't make a difference when you're never physically in the same place. As she put it to Rolling Stone, "Our paths just didn't cross in that way romantically until we started hanging out again and writing."
And then suddenly it felt like ooh la la la.
Single following the end of her year-plus romance with British relationship coach Matthew Hussey, Cabello realized it might just be the moment to start crafting her love story with Mendes. "The timing wasn't right before but it is right right now," a source told E! News in July 2019. "They are going for it without holding back. This step in their relationship is exciting for them both. They haven't wanted to be apart at all. It's 24/7 and all out at this point."
Because suddenly the pair were ubiquitous, making out on Instagram and intentionally not making out at the VMAs because some things are best reserved for social media and Miami beaches and 21st birthday bashes.
"Love is the most sacred, precious thing to me. I want to always feel like my love is between me and that person, and never belonging to anyone else," she explained to Elle in September 2019. "As much as I love my fans, and as much as I love people, I like to live my life as normally as possible. In a relationship, it makes me feel uncomfortable to invite everyone in on that."
That being said, when you're in love, it's hard not to gush at least a little. "We've known each other for a really long time… We've always been there for each other," she allowed to E! News two months later. "I think we drifted because we weren't hanging out as as much. It was fun to be able to reconnect and hang out again."
Which is why they were able to change gears so effortlessly from pals to potential soulmates. "It already feels to them like they've been together for a lot longer than they have," a source told E! News in 2019. "They've known each other and been a part of each other's lives for a while so it's all very natural and moving quickly."
Suddenly Cabello found herself swept up in a swirl of emotions. "I think falling in love is the ultimate artistic inspiration because it opens you up," she noted to E! News. "Falling in love, for me, just brings out all of my vulnerabilities. All these things show up for me and it just makes you open. When I am in love I listen to songs and I just cry. I cry easier. That must mean that I'm more open and more in touch with my emotions. All the spectrum of emotions… joy, fear, all of it."
The type of stuff that makes for one damn good sophomore album.
"It's about being in love," she reflected to Ellen DeGeneres of December 2019's platinum release, Romance. "I was basically completely single for 20 years and it was, like, the intensity and adrenaline of my life was in the studio writing about an emotion that I wanted. Whereas this time, it's just been a lot that's happened. And, you know, I've fallen in love and out of love and in love. And that's basically what this album is about. It's just kind of, you know, falling in love and what that feels like."
Because now that she's in it, there are no doubts. As she put it to E! News, "I love him with all my heart and always have."
(Originally published Aug. 8, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT)