PHOTOS/ NATALIE NEAL
STYLING /JASON BOLDEN @ TACK ARTIST GROUP
HAIR / MATHEW COLLINS @ THE WALL GROUP
STORY / ERICA RUSSELL
It’s been nearly a decade or so since Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato, arguably Disney Channel’s biggest breakout pop stars, made their individual music debuts. In the years that have followed, the trio of tween idols-turned-tabloid-fodder-turned-chart sensations have joined the ranks of some of the music industry’s most recognizable and sizeable pop talents. Now, with a generation of new post-Disney Channel artists on the rise, Sabrina Carpenter—who appeared in 2016’s Disney Channel Original Movie Adventures in Babysitting and starred in three seasons of the short-lived but beloved coming-of-age sitcom Girl Meets World—is leading the pack. That said, her musical breakout has been less tethered to the House of Mouse and more the result of the pop princess’s, sharp wit, intimate connection with fans, a keen ear for forward-facing pop and, of course, ability to churn out an undeniable bop.
Outside of her acting career—which has also included roles on Austin & Ally, Law & Order: SVU, Orange Is the New Black, and an impressive number of voice acting gigs (notably, Nancy Cartwright, the iconic voice of Bart Simpson, is her aunt)—Carpenter first charmed listeners on 2014’s sunny “Can’t Blame a Girl for Trying.” It was a bright, bubblegum folk-pop tune not unlike the summery, airy early hits of Colbie Caillat and Sara Bareilles, and offered a promising peek at Carpenter’s delightful brand of relatable quirk. Two years later, she surprised fans and critics alike with a decidedly more electronic sound on her sophomore album, Evolution. Driving dance-pop singles “On Purpose” and “Thumbs” revealed a mature, fresh new edge to the then-17-year-old, and rivaled the output of the cool pop juggernauts sitting atop the Top 40 at the time. Yet Evolution was just the beginning of her transformation.
In November 2018, Carpenter released her third album, Singular: Act I—a classical art-inspired record loaded with eight of the year’s glossiest, most interesting and idiosyncratic pop tracks. From the big, attitude-laden R&B-pop of “Sue Me,” a fabulous fuck-you anthem of Elle Woods proportions, to the swirling synths and dreamy romanticism of “Paris,” Act I introduced a dazzlingly confident new side to Carpenter’s personality. But no song encapsulated this more obviously and immediately than “Almost Love,” a humid, intoxicating lead single that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early 2000s Britney Spears CD. (Spears, another one-time Disney darling, would undoubtedly be proud of the song’s fiercely choreographed music video, which sees the young artist shimmying and seducing a boy in a lush mansion setting, turning him to literal stone in the process.)
“You definitely won’t find any other videos of mine that look like that,” Carpenter admits, laughing about the campy, glam visual. “The song is supposed to make you feel positive, even though it’s about a negative, tedious situation,” she adds. In many respects, the performer’s new music harkens back to the feel-good, frothy pop of decades past, but there’s a good reason for that: “A lot of my fans will say to me, ‘We want sad songs, we want emo songs, we want songs we can cry to!’ But secretly, I want to give them songs that make them feel empowered without them realizing it. I try to transform negative stories—situations that were such woes in my life—into positive memories through song.”
Speaking with Carpenter, it’s crystal clear how integral fans are to her craft. Everything she does is for them. “They’re the only reason I can do the things that I do. If I was just doing all this for my own benefit, I would feel pretty worthless,” she says. “The fact that I can reach people and talk to them and see them in person when they come to my shows makes me so happy … Wherever they come from, wherever they’ve been, whoever they love, whatever they believe in, I want them to listen to my music and feel like they can be themselves and not be afraid. I hope that they feel love and acceptance in everything that I do.”
Now at the age of 19, acceptance is also a large part of Carpenter’s personal journey as a self-actualized artist, one who is coming into her own both as a creator and as a young woman. Four years after making her debut, she’s truly found her voice. “There was definitely a lot happening in my life [while recording this album]. I had to be comfortable with my own voice and I had to be comfortable with my own thoughts and my own opinions,” she explains. “I think we all look for validation to make ourselves feel like we’re doing okay, but at the end of the day, we know that the only voice that we really listen to is ourselves. Throughout the process of this album, the more I listened to myself, the songs began to sound more confident.”
As Carpenter’s album title suggests, Singular: Act I is just one part of a larger narrative. Another eight-song album (Act II) is due out in 2019, and it’ll be interesting to see where her second act takes her. After all, this pop princess has only just taken center stage. “Working on this album, I wasn’t really thinking about writing any sort of specific kind of song or style of music. I just was writing about things that I loved and things that made me excited and things that were already happening in my everyday life. I’m very young and I’m still figuring life out, but if I can make something that I really love and make something that feels really personal to me, there’s a good chance that someone else out there has gone through those exact moments in their life.”
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