Sabrina Carpenter on Fan Theories, ASMR and the ‘Vulnerable’ Confidence of ‘Singular Act II’
Sabrina Carpenter continues to pull back the velvet curtain of celebrity shrouding her, revealing the vulnerable young woman standing center stage on her new album, Singular Act II.
If 2018's Act I was an introduction to Carpenter's playful psyche, Act II invites listeners to peer inside her head. The singer's fourth studio album (out July 19) is a glossy, hook-laden collection of danceable pop and R&B that explores the 20-year-old star's intimate perspectives, emotions and internal musings about everything from love to growing up.
Standout tilt-a-whirl electro-pop single "In My Bed" — a play on the phrase "in my head," which represents the feeling of overthinking things too much — perfectly presents just how willing Carpenter is to let us follow along with the racing thoughts inside her mind. In the colorful video, which she likens to "an arts and crafts project," a cluttered, candy-colored bedroom overflowing with toys and tchotchkes represents the tangle of thoughts inside the pop artist's head. Wacky and surreal visuals — like Carpenter levitating over a bed, twerking in a straitjacket and growing googly eyes — hit the point home.
"This song is about being in your head and all the crazy chaos and different states of emotion that you go through when you're in your head and you're overthinking," she explains of the bouncy track. "Sometimes you physically cannot leave your bed because of it."
Below, Sabrina Carpenter opens up about her introspective new album, how she feels about ASMR and fan theories, and why she and her fans are "codependent."
Why continue Singular into a second act? How do you view Act I and Act II side by side?
I think of it as one package but ironically, I decided to split up the album after I already called it Singular. So, now I'm just living with the decision. [Laughs] It's all good, and it's part of the metaphor more than anything, which I love. Life is full of those happy mistakes. I think Act II shows a different side of confidence. Act I was about empowering badass behavior. Bringing it into Act II, I want to show that there are multiple sides to confidence. It's not just, like, great posture or appearing strong all the time; we all have weak and vulnerable moments that are also strong because they show us who we are and show us who belongs in our life. Through those moments, you change.
You can be seen standing on a staircase on both the cover art for Act I and Act II. Is there a significance to the shared imagery?
I had the idea of the staircase as a symbol for being on your way to finding out who you are, and being in the middle of that. On the cover of Act I, you’re amidst the chaos — you feel like you really are the only one who exists in the crowd. I wanted Act II to be the broken-down, less straightforward version of that, and so we found this big fire escape. It was dark, and there were a lot of shadows, and to me those represented the flaws and the negativity that we let into our lives. And it turned out to be very, very beautiful. You can never really plan a shot to perfection; it either happens or it doesn't. I was very happy with how both of them happened in their own unique ways, but I'm glad you realized there's a little bit of symmetry between the two of them.
I noticed right away when you released the second cover. I was like oh, she's doing something with the staircases here!
Some fans thought it was supposed to be like Catwoman, and then I was like, “Aw damn, I'm not trying to be Catwoman,” but I didn’t take it as an insult. [Laughs]
I can imagine stan Twitter coming up with casting conspiracies: “Is Sabrina Carpenter playing Catwoman in the next Batman film?”
They do that every day! It's amazing.
Are there any particular fan theories that have made you laugh or are really memorable?
Oh my gosh, I don't even know if I can remember. There's so many of them that are like, insane. There's just so many theories that they've just... They literally believe I'm with the FBI.
What is the symbiotic relationship between you and your fans?
We're codependent in a sense. I mean, I couldn't tour if nobody came to the shows. The way that I think about music and when I'm releasing music, it's great that I can write songs that are for me, that they're supportive of. But then, a lot of these songs are for them. I want to support them and what they're going through — and let them know that we're going through it together at the same time. I definitely trust that they've been there for me since the very beginning, so I try to be transparent with them. On Twitter, they're so cute. In person, they're even cuter.
Prior to the release of the “In My Bed” music video, you released a promotional ASMR video. What inspired that? Do you watch ASMR videos on YouTube?
I've watched enough of them. [Laughs] I don't like, you know… I'm not like a dedicated ASMR viewer, but I definitely thought it would be really funny to promote “In My Bed” with. I think it went with the theme of the song overall. When you're really in your head about things, you do pay attention to every little detail, every little thing. It's those little things that drive you crazy.
How did your feature with Saweetie come to fruition on “I Can’t Stop Me”?
I think I've always been a little hesitant about features — something on my record, I want it to feel like just an extension me. I want to love the artist I work with and either be friends or a big fan of. With Act II, I really, really wanted a female collab. I wrote this song with Stargate and they were like, “Listen, we know this girl Saweetie, we think she could be a great addition to this song.” I’m a big fan and was like, “I definitely want her on this one but I also want her to love it.”
And she totally did her thing, made it even better, and was able to add that confident and feminine dynamic that I wanted within the song. With features, if it happens and it feels right, then it's great. But I don't want to force anything, you know? It has to happen naturally. This one did and I think a great message for young women.
There's more introspection on this album, especially with tracks like "In My Bed" and "Exhale." Can you talk about looking inward and what those tracks say about your perspective?
Those songs are about being in my own head, asking myself a lot of questions or, you know, asking, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why am I listening to this person instead of listening to myself?” And in the end: “How will I be happy?” Those questions allowed me to be able to write those songs. Hopefully, those songs will be able to help other people that are kind of in the same period in their life. I'm in a normal place for someone my age; it’s that time in our lives where we're just putting the puzzle pieces together — but it's a slow process.
Singular Act II is out July 19. Below, Sabrina Carpenter treated PopCrush to a track-by-track breakdown featuring surprising facts and secrets about each song off the album.
“In My Bed”: I recorded it an actual bed. Yes, I technically wrote "In My Bed" in [producer] Mike Sabath's bed. It seemed like an easy place to record so we just set up a microphone!
“Pushing 20”: This one came from my producer who one day said to me something like, "Damn, you pushing 20 now?" We hadn't seen each other in a second and he was like, “How old are you now?” I was like, “I'm about to be 20.” That's how that song started but then it went into like, all these expectations that come at that age — when you're about to become an adult and the way that people view you, telling you that you should act a certain way.
"I Can't Stop Me": It was originally called "I Can't Stop You" for a long time until we changed the perspective and decided “I Can't Stop Me” was a much more confident and empowering message.
“I'm Fakin”: Honestly, we wrote and recorded that song in like an hour. It was a very quick and easy song to write and for me, one of the most fun earworm tracks on the record.
"Take Off All Your Cool”: That’s one of my favorites. It's been around for a second. I'm happy it finally has its home. The whole song was written around that one riff. The song is about how you get to know people better when you see them for who they really are. I think the lyrics on that song are my favorites.
"Tell Em”: We wrote that one on Valentine's Day because it's an appropriate day for that song! It's very warm and sensual.
“Exhale”: I really didn't know if I was ever going to release it. It was intimate and I didn’t want it to seem like a moment of like, wanting attention in the wrong way. I’m naturally a very confident person but I think it's important to know that even people who are always happy and confident, it's not like that 100% of the time. It's always good to check in on those people. I wanted my fans to have this song so they know that there's a lot of people feeling the way that they are. I think being able to release it was genuinely a symbol of growth on its own. Being able to get that much closer to my fans through performing it on tour is very special.
"Take You Back": Oh my god, it really is the quirkiest song about wanting to take somebody physically back to the store. I just always felt that that was so funny because the title is kinda misleading. This was one of the first songs that I wrote for Act II, so that's a little fact for you.
"Looking At Me": We had the melodies and the production for a whole day but we couldn't think of any lyrics. We just couldn't crack the code for what the song was about... Then I went into the booth and just freestyled and ended up saying that everybody was looking at me, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, this makes perfect sense!" The album is all about that — it's all about that owning your confidence. It's like, yeah, I'm the center of attention right now and I'm gonna deal with who I am and love it. I think it's a message that we don't hear all the time because it usually seems too cocky. It's done in a way that's kind of funny, though. There's definitely a sense of humor throughout all my music, which I like because I think my fans appreciate that. They either appreciate it or they are completely annoyed by it, I don’t know.