When Sabrina Carpenter released her fifth studio album “Emails I Can’t Send,” she knew it could be a career-defining album, or the worst mistake of her life.
“I just hid and went into this hole of a shelter for a year, and then I was like, ‘I’m gonna put it out,’” Carpenter tells Variety, chuckling to herself. “Nobody had a crystal ball for me. Nobody could go, ‘This is how it’s gonna turn out.’”
The album — which came out last summer but was recently re-released with bonus tracks with the awesome re-title “Emails I Can’t Send Fwd:” — was her debut with a new record label, Island Records, and the first that she had released since 2019: “I took my time with it, my fans were so pissed,” she admits. But what made the album such a risk was how deeply vulnerable it was, giving listeners a glimpse into her personal life following a saga that had engrossed pop culture the year prior.
To quote one of her songs, Carpenter is living through “Fast Times,” meeting up with Variety at a West Hollywood hotel after coming back from Paris Fashion Week and gearing up for the second leg of her “Emails I Can’t Send” tour – all while experimenting with new music in the studio.
“Writing for me is such a therapeutic thing that when I’m in the studio a lot, spending a lot of time writing, that’s where I can decompress,” she says. “I still do fun things, and I still have friends and live my life, but I do have trouble slowing down. That’s something I need to work on… or maybe not.”
That confidence and drive apparently has always been with her. She “decided” at a young age she was going to be a musician and asked her parents to switch to homeschooling to make it happen. “I was already this businesswoman that was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna need the time to dedicate to my career’ — at 10,” she says.
Hailing from what she calls the “middle of the woods” Pennsylvania (Lower Milford Township, to be more specific), Carpenter says her chiropractor mom and chef dad “didn’t know anything about this [entertainment] world.”
“I don’t know who put that idea in my head,” the singer says of her early desire to be a star. “It’s one of those things that just kind of picks you.”
Carpenter was a member of Miley Cyrus’ fan club and even placed third in Cyrus’ 2009 singing competition “The Next Miley Cyrus ‘Are You a Superstar?’ Project.” She soon began posting singing videos on YouTube, later making her way to Disney Channel where she starred in “Girl Meets World.” Jump forward a decade, Carpenter has released five studio albums, starred in films like “The Hate U Give,” “Clouds,” “Tall Girl” and “Emergency” and even made her Broadway debut in 2020 as Cady Heron in “Mean Girls.”
It hasn’t all been rosy. While no stranger to being in front of the camera, Carpenter’s personal life was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in 2021 when her rumored relationship with Joshua Bassett left her entangled in a love triangle seemingly detailed in Olivia Rodrigo’s freshman album “Sour,” where people assumed she was “that blonde girl” in the song “Drivers License.” As a result, Carpenter became an easy target for internet hate. She elected to recount the drama in “Because I Liked a Boy” on “Emails I Can’t Send,” repeating the names she was called: “I’m a homewrecker, I’m a slut, I got death threats filling up semi-trucks.”
“Emails I Can’t Send” is what she calls her first “big girl album” and a marked departure from her previous four pop-heavy albums, experimenting with new genres, slower songs and using personal emails for lyrics. The subject matter moves from indignant anger in “Vicious” to imagining a future cordial meet-up with her former lover in “Skinny Dipping” to finally finding her own peace in “Decode.”
Moving from Disney-owned Hollywood Records to Island gave her the freedom to make those moves. “Part of me was able to let a lot more walls down because I wasn’t confined, like I had been in my previous situation,” she says. “I think a lot of my childhood was people telling me what I can and cannot say, or what they think I should be able to say, because I’m supposed to raise their children or something.”
“It’s so weird because I’ve grown up with a lot of fans since I was 14 or 15,” she says. “So now they’re in this place where they’re either in college or graduating college. They’ve gone through some of their first heartbreak. They’ve gone through some of their scariest, most painful moments in life, or some of their happiest, most exciting victories in life. We’re in a very similar place.”
Her biggest song on the album, “Nonsense,” almost didn’t make “Emails I Can’t Send.” As the album’s happiest song, “Nonsense” depicts the artist feeling “so good I had to hit the octave.” At each tour stop, she sang alternate endings of the song (including one singing “this song is not about Joshua Bassett”), which blew up on TikTok. The singer says she started the tour practice because she had so many alternate endings in the vault from creating “Nonsense,” but when she tried it at one tour stop and fans loved it, she had to continue it the rest of the tour. “Nonsense” made it to Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist and surpassed 100 million streams on the app.
Up next are the films “Alice in Wonderland” (“The music is going to make it very special,” she hints) and “Into the Deep Blue,” both of which are in pre-production, and, of course, her second leg of the “Emails I Can’t Send” tour, which is also heading to Europe this time around.
And 10 years later, she still hasn’t stopped speaking her dreams into existence, like she did as a child, even if it takes a while. When she released her song “Paris” in 2018, “I thought if I manifested so hard when I wrote that song, I would get to play Paris so soon,” she laughs. It’s been five years, but it worked: She’s scheduled to the stage at the city’s Élysée Montmartre on June 21.
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