She’s only 19 years old, but all eyes are on Sabrina Carpenter to lead the next generation of Disney stars into becoming household-name entertainers — and with her new single “Almost Love,” she seems poised to do just that.
The upbeat track was co-written and produced by Norwegian hitmakers Stargate, who have crafted No.1 hits for pop powerhouses like Beyonce and Rihanna, and the former Girl Meets World star tells Billboard it’s a telling preview of what’s to come on her upcoming third studio album, Singular. “This wasn’t my first song I worked on with them, it was definitely a couple songs in,” explains Carpenter, who opened a few dates of Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour last year. “So there are more songs that I’ve done with them that I am excited for people to hear.”
Now, the singer-actress — Carpenter will also star in this year’s The Hate U Give, in theaters Oct. 19, and next year’s The Short History of the Long Road — is eager to share with fans the mature new material she’s been working on for almost two years now. “For those that have been following along on the journey, the feedback that I’ve got on this song is that it’s a ‘new Sabrina,'” she says, “which is exactly what I wanted.”
Below, Carpenter tells Billboard about what to expect from her new LP, how she found her danceable new sound, and how she’s navigating the transition from Disney star to grown-up pop star.
What makes “Almost Love” the perfect first taste of new material for fans?
When I wrote this song, I wasn’t going into the studio thinking, “I still gotta write that first single.” I just had fun with it, and we wrote and recorded the song in three or four hours. Listening back to the song when we were done, it had this confidence and this personality in my voice that I hadn’t really had before. Whenever I listened to it, it made me want to physically get up and dance, and I’ve never had a song like that.
I first heard “Almost Love” at the gym, and for the first fifteen seconds or so I thought, “Maybe this isn’t a running-on-the-treadmill kind of song,” and then the beat kicked in.
Exactly, I proved you wrong! When [Stargate] first started played me this track I was like, “How the hell am I supposed to write a song to this? I don’t even know what this song makes me feel.” Because like you said, I wasn’t sure if this was a treadmill song, and then it becomes a flat-out treadmill song. I just had to find it, and they are so incredible at coming out with these really unique tracks.
What else did you take away from your time in the studio with Stargate?
I’ve been a huge fan of Stargate, and I remember going in for the first time working with them — I was scared. Luckily for me, my fear didn’t have an impact on our relationship, which ended up becoming this incredible, collaborative relationship. They were kind of the first people to teach me to not care so much about melodies and just go for it. A lot of times with them, I will just get in to the booth, and they’ll play me something, and I will just go crazy and improvise. We see what we get from it, and then we can find melodies within all of the things that I do.
Will you explore more of that dance-pop side on your next album?
For sure. I don’t have a final track list yet, but I am very close. There’s definitely a lot of heavy bops on this album. I wasn’t really expecting that, because I haven’t had an album like that before, or even a grouping of songs like that. They are all very different — I don’t think that there’s two that are exactly the same or too similar. There are definitely some more treadmill songs for sure.
How do you differentiate yourself in a crowded pop field?
I found that what I wanted out of this album was to write songs that only Sabrina could sing. It’s a really hard, difficult thing to do nowadays, because we are exposed so much to what everyone else is doing. It’s so easy to not realize [that] you’re almost mimicking someone else’s style. So I tried to go into everything with as much of a clean slate as I could. Whenever people asked me what type of music I was listening to, it sounds weird, but it was just my own. I have to be in the zone and focus on my sound.
Is that where the album title Singular came from?
I was randomly having a conversation with someone that I was playing the record for. They said that it sounded “Singularly Sabrina.” I think about the album as a full picture, as I’ll have it for the rest of my life. So I wanted this body of work to really represent this time in my life, and every song stands alone. There are a lot of themes of empowerment and confidence. When you listen to it, I don’t want you to have to question how good you feel about yourself in that moment. So, Singular is a perfect word for that.
Your last album came out when you were 16, and you are now 19. How is the growth you’ve experienced in the last three years being reflected on the new album?
It’s being reflected in every way. I think we forget as we get older how much growth we go through between 16 and 19, or even in your 20s. I think for me, through my writing, my sound, through genre and my style, I went into this without limiting myself at all. I didn’t go into the studio and think, “I can’t sing a song like that.” It was literally, “What do you feel? Put it all on the line.” I think that for the people that have known me since I released my first EP when I was 14, my style has changed and developed so much.
How has the transition from Disney star to pop star been for you? Does a more mature single like “Almost Love” speed up the transition?
I always knew that it would happen organically. “Almost Love” was not forced upon me — it was created by me. It just goes to show you that it happens when it’s supposed to happen. A lot of people don’t know certain artists when they’re 13 years old. And for me, I was known as a fictional character on television with lines that were written for her with an attitude that was portrayed in a way by other people. So for a lot of people, their first impression of me was as a 13-year-old girl [singing] the kinds of songs that she should be singing. Then, flash forward to 19, and people are asking why I am not singing about the same things that I did when I was 13, as if that’s normal.
You’re singing songs that are normal for a 19-year-old.
If I started all of this this year, if I released this song as a brand new artist, I don’t think anyone would question it. But I think that because of my history, it’s always something that I’ll have to deal with and get over. Not in a bad way — in a way that I hope they can digest it and come to like it, like I have.