Sabrina Carpenter, the former Disney star and Taylor Swift disciple who is the next big thing in pop

The former Miley Cyrus wannabe has graduated from sugary tween releases and even surpassed her idol on Spotify with new smash-hit release ‘Espresso’

Sabrina Carpenter
Sabrina Carpenter performing in Melbourne, Australia, opening for Taylor Swift on 'The Eras Tour' on February 16, 2024.Graham Denholm/TAS24 (Getty Images for TAS Rights Mana)
Ixone Arana

On August 10, 2009, a 10-year-old Sabrina Carpenter wrote this innocent tweet: “I was trying to enter a Taylor Swift karaoke contest to win tickets and a chance to meet her but they said I had to be 13.” On February 23, 2024, it was Taylor Swift herself who introduced her as “the brilliant Sabrina Carpenter” while inviting her onto the stage to perform a duet at the piano during a concert in Sydney. “9 year old Sabrina singing ‘white horse’ would never see this shit coming!!” wrote the Pennsylvania native — like Swift — on her Instagram profile, where she now has 34.6 million followers. Carpenter has been Swift’s opening act for much of The Eras Tour, and has come a long way since those days of tring to engineer a meeting with the biggest pop star of the age. So much so that on April 30, she unseated her idol as number 1 on Spotify. Espresso, her latest single, surpassed Fortnight, Swift’s collaboration with Post Malone, which had been at the top of the chart since the release of The Tortured Poets Department.

Like many of Swift’s contemporaries, Carpenter cut her teeth in the world of Disney. Before slamming the door on the company as her predecessors Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens did a decade earlier, Carpenter had joined the Disney Channel to begin building her career. In 2011, she came third in a singing competition called The Next Miley Cyrus Project, overseen by Cyrus herself; In 2013, she performed the song Smile on an album inspired by Tinkerbell and her friends, Disney Fairies: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust; she had a recurring voice role in the animated series Sofia the First, on which she also performed the song All You Need, and between 2014 and 2017 she starred in the sitcom Girl Meets World. She has also lent her voice to other animated series in the franchise, such as Phineas and Ferb or Milo Murphy’s Law, something that runs in the family, as her aunt is the actress Nancy Cartwright, known for voicing several characters from The Simpsons, including Bart.

But Carpenter was adamant her voice was not meant to be hidden behind a cartoon. In April 2015, she released her first studio album, Eyes Wide Open, which reached number 43 on the Billboard chart. Then, on the verge of turning 16, her style was described as teen pop with elements of folk. “Sabrina Carpenter has already carved out a niche as the (teen) queen of sugary sweet country-pop,” began a review from the music publication Idolator, who equated her sound with that of “Taylor Swift before her heart was broken by every dude in town.” A year later she decided that the sugary thing was over and released Smoke and Fire, an independent single that was already far removed from the childish aesthetic to which her audience was accustomed and which was not even included on the album she released that year. “I’m so tired / burning like smoke and fire,” goes the song’s last verse. The reimagining of Sabrina Carpenter had begun.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift and Sabrina Carpenter sing 'White Horse' together on the piano during their concert in Sydney, Australia, after Sabrina could not perform as an opening act due to weather conditions, on February 23, 2024.Don Arnold/TAS24 (Getty Images for TAS Rights Mana)

“She can legitimately claim the title of full-fledged pop star,” stated an article in i-D magazine following the release of the album Emails I Can’t Send, in 2022, which debuted at number 23 on Billboard. On the album, with a mix of experimental sound, oscillating between disco, pop and country, among other genres, she sings about being subject to public scrutiny, meeting her ex in a coffee shop or lying to her therapist. Carpenter admitted her previous music didn’t feel “authentic” in an interview with Vogue. “It felt, honestly, more exciting to write the truth, whether that was positive or negative or, like, pretty or ugly or well-received or not. I think it mattered that I was saying what I felt instead of trying to sugarcoat things.”

The album includes a direct shot at her then ex-boyfriend, the actor and singer Joshua Bassett, who in turn was a former partner of the actress and singer — and former Disney girl, of course — Olivia Rodrigo. In 2021 Rodrigo released the song Driver License and many followers perceived references to Carpenter in the lyrics, which narrated the pain she suffered when missing a person she loved and who had left “with a blonde girl.” Rodrigo’s fans then attacked Carpenter, calling her a “homewrecker.” She vented her frustration a year later in the song Because I Liked a Boy. “Dating boys with exes / No, I wouldn’t recommend it / I’m a homewrecker, I’m a slut / I got death threats filling up semi-trucks / Tell me who I am, guess I don’t have a choice / All because I liked a boy,” the lyrics said.

Barry Keoghan and Sabrina Carpenter
Barry Keoghan and Sabrina Carpenter at the Met Gala on May 6, 2024 in New York. Kevin Mazur/MG24 (Getty Images for The Met Museum/)

The boy she likes now officially presented himself as her new partner on the carpet of the Met Gala in 2024: Barry Keoghan, the actor who has generated a lot of buzz lately due to his role in Saltburn. On the Oscars red carpet, two months earlier, there was already speculation about the relationship when Keoghan appeared with a bracelet bearing Sabrina’s name in the purest Swiftie style. “He’s drinking my bathwater like it’s red wine,” Carpenter said in April on her Coachella debut in a clear nod to one of the film’s most talked-about Keoghan scenes.

“I think there is a big difference between me two years ago and me now. Now I’m having fun, which I think is the biggest difference,” she recently confessed in an interview for DJ Zane Lowe’s podcast. That comfort of having finally found her place, filling stadiums with Swift and enjoying her relationship with Keoghan, is now transmitted in everything she does. Even Kim Kardashian defined her as “the pop star of the next generation” when she presented her in April as the image of the new campaign for Skims, her underwear brand, which immediately went viral. At just 25 years old, and barely 1.51 meters tall, Sabrina Carpenter is on her way to the top.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS