So have her fans, says Carpenter, many of whom are still young and supporting the former Disney star through a transitional year as a songwriter. Before “Skinny Dipping,” Carpenter released “Skin,” a barbed single that was widely perceived to address a rumored love triangle (more on that later). She also released a video snippet labeled “Intro,” in which Carpenter sits down at a piano and delivers a series of wrenching lines full of damaged love and cynicism. If emotional pain has indeed helped Carpenter find her voice this year, she’s reveling in the way it’s upended expectations for where she’s heading.
“I do feel a new sense of freedom,” asserts Carpenter. “I think the fans just don't know what to expect -- which is kind of what I've always loved about making music.”
Carpenter has always seen herself as a musician first, even as Girl Meets World -- a Boy Meets World spinoff in which she played Maya, the self-assured best friend of series lead Riley (Rowan Blanchard) -- was enjoying its run on the Disney Channel, and prominent roles in films like The Hate U Give and Tall Girl kept coming. “Music is the only career that is fully, 100 percent me,” says Carpenter, who was posting covers on YouTube as a 10-year-old -- songs by Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera, but also Ozzy Osbourne and Sinead O’Connor.
When Carpenter released her debut single on Hollywood Records, “Can’t Blame a Girl /for Trying,” she was 14, a natural performer still feeling her way through the beginnings of a career. Her Hollywood output skewed toward general-audience pop-rock with smatterings of bubblegum and balladry, with more mature gestures on later songs like “Looking at Me” and “Exhale” -- and a stage show heavy on live instrumentation, with covers of songs by Arctic Monkeys and Twenty One Pilots tossed in to demonstrate a wider range than her albums carried.
Looking back on her four full-lengths with the label -- which have earned a combined 745,000 equivalent album units, according to MRC Data -- Carpenter believes that her gradual desire for more input was a natural symptom of her artistic development at the end of her teens. “Creatively, I was still able to grow, because I think people did see that transition still even when I was with [Hollywood],” she says. “As I would get older, I was just more comfortable in my own skin and my own ideas.” Yet that confidence would lead to frustrations about the direction of her album campaigns, according to Carpenter: “The amount of times that I really believed in a song? Those weren't the songs that had music videos.”
Ultimately, Carpenter, who describes herself as “somewhat of a private person,” believes that entering the world of songwriting sessions as a teen was always going to be a difficult process. “A lot of the time, you're getting introduced to these songwriters, and it’s like speed dating,” she recalls. “I was meeting someone, and then having to tell them all about my life in 30 minutes, and then writing a song, in one day. It felt so impersonal, and I never felt like I was telling the truth.”