Sabrina Carpenter interview: “I just want to be able to make music that makes people feel something”

Originally featured as the cover interview of Volume 20 of tmrw

Sabrina greets me with a “hello” on the phone so bright, breezy and casual that it felt like I was answering a call from a friend I’d been meaning to catch up with for the last week, but we kept missing each other’s calls.

And that is how the rest of our phone conversation went, as if we were updating each other with the goings on in our life as per usual. Except Sabrina was describing a whirlwind and I was barely a breeze.

Sabrina Carpenter is an 18-year-old singer-songwriter, who isn’t afraid to quote High School Musical even though it’s “dumb”, who notices she lives in a generation that demands the world at their fingertips, and who is “the biggest Beatles fan ever”.

She answers my very first question with a blatant yet humorously charming sarcasm. I had asked her what she had been up to, bearing in mind she was about to open the first night of her 30+ date North American tour, the De-tour, to which she replied: “you know, just chilling”. This is the tongue-in-cheek allure which Sabrina has mastered. She tells me how she had just got to Canada, and that is was 11:34am where she was. When I told her it was 7:34pm where I was, she raised her voice in shock, “I always forget how much later it is” before continuing, “I’ve been in a million different time zones, I just got back from Brazil a few days ago and I still don’t know where I am.”

When Sabrina talks about her music, growth is a clear theme that surfaces. Her first album, ‘Eyes Wide Open’ was released when she was 15, with a three-year gap before the sophomore record, EVOLution, was released. Arguably, teenage girls will grow and change drastically between the ages of 15 to 18, so it is not surprising Sabrina’s first two albums reflect that. “When you’re making music, so much of it is when you’re growing as a person, so obviously the music is going to grow. As I hear music that inspires me, as I’m constantly travelling to new places, seeing new cities, meeting new people and creating new relationships – all of that affects my song writing.”

During the three years between her two albums, Sabrina was constantly working on new songs. Once she had a group of songs together that felt like they belonged together, she said, “I realised the cohesive theme tying them together was my growth, so it was a bit of an *pause for dramatic effect* evolution”.

Sabrina tells me there was a lyrical difference between the two records, with EVOLution taking on more metaphorical meanings, whilst ‘Eyes Wide Open’ was straightforward. “But at that time in my life I was 13, I was writing songs about friendship and self-empowerment. Where as in EVOLution, I was starting to feel things.” These ‘things’ weren’t necessarily relationships she had had, and “it wasn’t just love in a way that it was romantic”. The album explored different types of love, because she wanted to offer something for all of her fans to relate to.

Her fans span far and wide. Sabrina started acting when she 11-years-old, and went on to play Young Chloe on Fox’s The Goodwin Gamesand Maya Hart in the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World, a remake of the 90s show Boy Meets World. This means her fan base is pretty unpredictable. “It could be a ten-year-old girl or it could be a college guy who would tell me, ‘I used to love boy meets world’.” (Who isn’t mad for a slice of 90s nostalgia.) But because of the varying fan demographics, she enjoyed that fact that when she began to write music, “I [could] just write for where I am in my life, because everyone is going to be there or has been there at some point.”

When I mention the amount of interaction she has with her fans on Twitter, she said, “I, unfortunately, am growing up in this world right now, this time period, this generation, and this generation likes to have the world at their fingertips. They like an immediate response. The most important thing for me is that I’m not giving too much of myself, but at the same time, it’s important they know I’m there for them. I want them to know I’m taking their thoughts and opinions into consideration because if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be able to even make music”.

‘Thumbs’, a track from her second album, stands for embracing your individuality. Sabrina said, “it’s so dumb to quote high school musical, but you don’t have to stick to the status quo. Don’t do something just because everybody is doing it”. Sabrina is basically that guy who loves to bake crème brûlées, and he’s finally admitting it. She tells me, “lyrically, [‘Thumbs’] was written in a way that said stop listening to what everybody else is saying, stop letting people hold you back, if you love something then go for it, don’t sit around and wait for other people, make things happen for you”.

“Because the world is at our fingertips, we can see what everybody else thinks whether we want to or not. I think it’s good to think for yourself and to appreciate other people’s minds but to also have your own.” Sabrina feels it is a sign of knowing who you are, a type of self-empowerment you hold within yourself.”

Sabrina toured with The Vamps in the UK, her eloquent sarcasm pops up again replying, “it was terrible, the absolute worst” when I asked how it was. During the tour, Sabrina celebrated her 18th birthday in Paris. She tells me, “I didn’t go up the Eiffel tower, I didn’t go to Louvre, but I saw everything. I just walked around. I went to a bookstore and I ate macaroons. It was as cliché as it gets”. I asked her if she wore a beret. “I was going to, but then I was like ‘no Sabrina, don’t be that person’. I did carry around a baguette with me though”. That’s cliché enough for me.

Sabrina realises she has the Disney Channel to somewhat thank for her broad range of fans. She noted how when she was 10-years-old, some of her biggest inspirations were the girls on Disney Channel, who were so young yet so passionate about what they did. Is there a 10-year-old out there who wouldn’t want to be on a Disney Channel show? But she does note, “it is sometimes a negative connotation which makes me have to work a little bit harder. But I’ve always like working hard, and sometimes it’s the best thing in the world to prove people wrong.”

Sabrina recently released her new track ‘Why’, which she co-wrote with Jonas Jeberg and Brett McLaughlin. Of being able to co-write her new music, she said, “Luckily no one has stopped me. As a younger artist, sometimes it’s harder to have your voice heard because, I guess when you’re younger its easier to mess up. But I think that’s the beauty of it all, I’m still figuring everything out and I think that comes across in the music”.

We talk about how ‘Why’ is barely comparable to some of her the tracks on her first album. Sabrina tells me she realises it’s different, but how the shift in sound also feels very organic. The song begins “You like New York City in the daytime/ I like New York City in the nighttime/ You say you like sleeping with the air off/ I don’t, I need it on” and continues, “I don’t ask for you to change, baby no no no/ And you don’t ask for me to change”. Sabrina tells me, “It’s interesting those little quirks are things we don’t even think about, these minimal details about all of us. Whether you have something in common with someone you love, or different, it doesn’t change the fact there are so many more things that you love about them than the amount you hate that little annoying trait”. I give the example of leaving teabags on the side. Sabrina outs me – “That was so British, what you just said”, and completely unintentional.

As our phone call is nearing an end, and as Sabrina needs to prepare for the first night of her tour, I ask her about her favourite artists. She tells me despite Lorde releasing her second album, she is still listening to the first like it was released yesterday. “I feel like once you see Beyoncé, you’re not done, but it’s a different level. And as far as music goes, obviously Beyoncé is still at the top, but there’s a lot of others too. Seeing Paul McCartney live was an experience”. I’m a little shocked by her Beatlemania as she exclaims, “I am the biggest Beatles fan ever. I was really annoying when I went to the UK for the first time. I had a show in Liverpool and I went to the museum across the street from the arena we were playing in”.

At the risk of entering an existential crisis about the vastness of time, Sabrina talks about how “your music never goes away. Everything you release is part of your narrative and your timeline. It exists in the world for people to listen to no matter if it’s new or old”. With ‘Why’ out now, and a hints towards a third album, Sabrina told me, “I just want to be able to make music that makes people feel something”.

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