During one of the sessions for Emails I Can’t Send, Sabrina Carpenter’s 2022 album full of post-heartbreak contemplations, she hit a mental wall. “We were writing, and I was like, ‘This isn’t how I’m actually feeling right now,’ ” the singer recalls. “I had to get outside of my head.”
Over the next two hours, Carpenter and co-writer Steph Jones created “Nonsense,” a cheeky, sumptuous rhythmic-pop track about being so flustered around someone that she gets tongue-tied. But then she shrugged off the song, figuring it didn’t fit with the tone of the album, and nearly left it off the tracklist altogether.
“That laid-back approach,” she reflects now, “is what I think actually made it special.”
Much like Carpenter, 23, listeners didn’t immediately latch on to “Nonsense” — but since the July release of Emails, the song has turned into the album’s biggest hit. Late last year, a sped-up version went viral, prompting Carpenter to release an official accelerated take.
“There’s something addictive about hearing a song sped up,” she says. “It gives it new life and more energy.” She then uploaded a holiday version of “Nonsense” to streaming services, building toward its breakthrough in 2023, beginning with a highly choreographed performance on the Jan. 4 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as well as a TikTok dance routine pegged to the second verse.
The single has reached a No. 56 high on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned 77.2 million U.S. on-demand streams through March 2, according to Luminate. It has also given Carpenter — who released four albums on Hollywood Records before making her Island Records debut with Emails — her best-performing pop radio hit, with four weeks in the top 20 of the Pop Airplay chart.
There’s still more “Nonsense” to come: Carpenter announced a deluxe edition of Emails will be out next Friday (Mar. 17), one day after she kicks off her 2023 headlining tour, and confirms that a remix to the song with another artist is on the way. No matter how high the song climbs, Carpenter says that the unexpected reaction to it has been extremely gratifying.
“When you’re seen for things that feel so close to who you are at your deepest, darkest self,” Carpenter says, “it’s a beautiful thing.”
This story originally appeared in the March 11, 2023, issue of Billboard.