Sabrina Carpenter ‘Dealt with Perceptions.’ Now She’s Making Her Story Crystal Clear

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Sabrina-Carpenter-press-2022-cr-Vince-Aung-1800 - Credit: Vince Aung*
Sabrina-Carpenter-press-2022-cr-Vince-Aung-1800 - Credit: Vince Aung*

It’s not that Sabrina Carpenter was putting up a front in her music before, it’s just that she — a Disney Channel actress since age of 13 — was “programmed” to be confident “till the day I die.” With her new music, Carpenter changes out the Disney-girl chip and lets the unfiltered thoughts in her brain run free, even if it places her in a place to be judged. She’s gotten used to that, anyway.

“I had to fight the urge to do what I normally do — cover it up with confidence — and instead just actually feel those feelings,” Carpenter says of her fifth album, Emails I Can’t Send, out Friday. “The tolerance for bullshit in the last two years really minimized for me.”

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She adds, “When you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to let the words and labels that people put on you affect you and become part of who you are. Once you start to rebel against that, it starts to feel a little bit scarier, but also a bit more freeing. That’s why it felt like growing pains the whole time that I was making it.”

Along with facing heartbreak, the new album deals with the perceptions and sometimes-harsh assumptions that she faced after fans made her into a tertiary villain in a Disney-actor love triangle with Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett.

“Now I’m a homewrecker/I’m a slut/I got death threats…” she sings. “Tell me who I am, ’cause I don’t have a choice/All because I liked a boy.”

The LP, which features singles “Fast Times,” “Skinny Dipping,” and “Vicious,” shows a deeply vulnerable version of the singer confronting her feelings, and coming to terms with the fact that she doesn’t — and never — had control over what people think about her. She feels that her best work comes when she sheds the need to be relatable or fully understood.

“I’m fully aware that even if you try to break it down, really really break it down for people, they still might not understand,” she says.

Most important of all, she’s now seeing things in hindsight, unlike when she dropped her track “Skin” as the Rodrigo-Bassett fire blazed around her in 2021. “I’m not in that exact place anymore,” she says.

“People can say whatever they want to say, but I was lucky to be able to verbalize an experience that some people have been through,” she adds. “Hopefully it has helped them get through their experience with a little bit more strength and understanding. If I can do that, then I don’t have regrets.”

Amid tears when talking about her album (“I’m still scared, very scared,” she says) and sniffles from her cat allergies (“Claritin or no cat?” she laughs. “I’d rather Claritin”), Carpenter broke down five key songs from Emails I Can’t Send.

“Tornado Warnings”

The coolest thing about this story is that it’s so literal. Well, both literal and metaphorical, because I use tornado warnings as a metaphor for being in situations where you know it’s probably going to be bad for you, but you decide to ignore them. But this was based on a true story where I was in the middle of a park on a seesaw with someone that I shouldn’t have been with and then it started to hail. And then I got a tornado warning on my phone and ignored it. The next day I had therapy, and I completely did not tell my therapist anything because I was afraid that he was going to be mad at me. And I was like, “Why am I spending money on this therapy session if I’m gonna lie to you?”

Sometimes you’re just like, “I don’t want to heal yet. I know that if I open up to you, you’re going to tell me what I need to hear.” I went to the studio later that day, wrote up what I thought was this really funny story, and it ended up being this painfully beautiful song. There were a few songs I decided to be a little bit more experimental when it came to the more spoken word-type rhythms. Sometimes it ends up sounding amazing. Sometimes it ends up sounding not great. But this was one of those scenarios where it feels really special. It feels very nostalgic.

“Already Over”

This one happened from a game we were playing in the studio. It was the end of a long week and we were really tired. We split into groups of two and each of us wrote a chorus in 15 minutes, and we’ll rotate so by the end of the hour we’ll have six chorus ideas. If we like any of them, great, we can start that tomorrow. And if not, we don’t have to use any of them. It’s fine. I teamed up with John Ryan, who produced the song. We wrote this slow, Beatles-y-sounding song called “Closure.” And it’s a different melody, but the lyric was “How am I supposed to leave you now that I know you’re already over?” I have this feeling where sometimes I can’t leave my own house. So if you’re here, like, what am I supposed to do? You’re already here, it’s too late.

I just went ham musically. Dolly Parton was a huge reference of mine during this album, but I also wanted it to feel modern at the same time. It was a fun way to write about it in a way that didn’t weigh me down like some of the other songs did. Sometimes writing some of the songs on the record was cathartic and I was crying and it wasn’t fun. This one should feel sad, because it’s such a strenuous feeling that you continuously need closure with a person and it’s never fully finished — but that’s also life. You’re never going to get the perfect closure or ideal scenario when something is ending, because things ending always hurts. Y’know?

“Emails I Can’t Send”

This song reminds me of my childhood. I think anytime you start to process why you are the way you are, maybe because of things that happened in your childhood, it’s always a sad realization to come to. It’s also sad when you grow up and the characters in the storybooks were not who you thought they were. I knew it would be called “Emails I Can’t Send” just purely from the way that I was writing it — almost as if it was a word vomit email. It honestly didn’t even take a lot of thought. It sounds like an email that I’ve written before where I’ve been like, “That’s going in the drafts.” I usually find that those thoughts are sometimes the most universal.

I started to realize that some of those lines and some of those words that jumped out at me from emails that I wrote to myself were songs: verses, choruses, bridges. There were all these things that I wasn’t afraid to say when I was writing an email that I knew no one was ever going to read that I was like, “Oh these are my unfiltered thoughts,” as opposed to when you go into a studio and there’s all these expectations for what you’re supposed to leave the studio with. When I was just writing to myself alone in my room, I wasn’t thinking about anyone hearing it or judging it or liking it or disliking it. It’s always been the hardest thing to name albums for me, so the fact that this kind of came somewhat naturally said a lot to me.

“Because I Liked a Boy”

The most difficult part about this album was that it started from a place where it was reflecting my life at the time. Now, looking back on it, the last two or three years of my life, that song came from a really real place in my life, so it didn’t feel right to not kind of write that song. But at the same time, I’ve had so many people that have heard it tell me how much they relate to it in their own way. Like, “I went through years where people were believing all these things that people were saying about me that weren’t true.” People have experienced that similar situation in a completely different way than I’ve experienced it.

It was very therapeutic to write that song from hindsight and being like, “Wow, one thing leads to another and things can really get out of hand.” Just being able to own it at the end of the day, and not let it determine who you are. My favorite lyric in the song is “Tell me who I am, because I don’t have a choice.” It’s obviously sarcastic, but in the way that people can’t tell you who you are. Only if you allow them to, like really get under your skin. [Covers her face.] But truthfully, you know who you are.

So many people probably have dealt with the situation of being labeled something that they’re not. And it’s frustrating because you want to do something about it. But then if you do something, people are mad; if you don’t do something, people are mad; and you’re like, “What’s the way I’m going to feel happy and at peace with myself?” For me, it was just important to tell the story from my perception. One of my favorite movies is Easy A, and I was sort of picturing Emma Stone’s character because she was labeled to be something. It’s a weirdly empowering film in a sense. She uses humor to deflect her pain and what she’s going through and I do that too. I think this song has elements of that too. It’s also about the Black Eyed Peas!

“Decode”

This one took the longest to get right. At this age, it’s really, really hard to accept anything that’s out of your control. At least for me. To be like, “Why can’t it just be the way that I want it to be in my head?” Being hard on myself and blaming myself for the entirety of the situation that I was going through.

It’s so funny listening to this song now. I’m literally gonna cry. [She starts tearing up.] I hope for the rest of my life, I can use this song as a compass to guide me: “You are past the point of asking questions and asking Whys and asking Hows. It just is what it is.” Sometimes you need to just accept that statement. There’s a lot of power in being like, “I’m not going to look back anymore. I’m not going to question and I’m not going to wonder why. I’m just gonna allow it to be what it was and know that it was meant to happen.”

I think this song will be important for anyone who has been in relationships or friendships in their lives that have caused them a lot of tumultuous stress and caused them to question themselves. My favorite line in it is “Learning from you that I can walk away too,” because that was just a very interesting moment in my life where I was like, “This is an option.” I had never looked at it as an option because I don’t consider myself someone that would easily give up on a situation. I consider myself someone that would stay past the point that I should for love. That was a big moment for me, when I was like, “OK, this is also an option for me as well. And that might even be better for me.” It’s sometimes easier to stay in a situation that might not be good for you than it is to gather the courage to leave.

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