This week on the Billboard Hot 100, Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” is parked at No. 1 for a third frame. But about halfway down the list is a new song that probably wouldn’t exist in quite the same way without “License.”
Sabrina Carpenter‘s “Skin” is the highest debut on the chart this week, bowing at No. 48. The song — which marks the first Hot 100 entry for the 21-year-old multi-platform star — is likely at least in part a response to “License,” which is widely believed to be written about Rodrigo’s rumored ex Joshua Bassett and his supposed new flame, Carpenter. (Certain lyrics in “Skin” seem to call back to “License,” including “Maybe ‘blonde’ was the only rhyme.”)
How successful is “Skin” as an answer song? And will it help establish Sabrina Carpenter in the pop mainstream? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. So, a No. 48 debut: Certainly not as resounding as Olivia Rodrigo’s historic entrance, but much more of an impact than Joshua Bassett’s bubbling-under bow. If you’re Sabrina Carpenter, how happy are you with that debut, on a scale from 1-10?
Stephen Daw: Considering that “Skin” was a surprise release, and the fact that this is Sabrina’s first Hot 100 entry, I’d say that I’m at a solid 7. No, the song did not perform nearly as well as “Driver’s License” (although how could it?), but it’s faring significantly better than Bassett’s “Lie Lie Lie,” which is worth something. That being said, I do think that Sabrina was aiming for a massive win here — I would not be surprised if she’s happy, though a bit underwhelmed, by the track’s performance.
Lyndsey Havens: I’d say an 8. “Skin” effectively brings Sabrina into the consuming conversation surrounding this Disney love triangle of sorts, and I think a top 50 Hot 100 debut is just an added bonus.
Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a 7. Let’s remove the “Skin” debut from the context of the preceding bows from Rodrigo and Bassett — this is Carpenter’s first Hot 100 entry, to launch her career on new label Island Records, so a nice step forward in the next phase of the former Disney star’s career. It’s too early to say if the perceived drama surrounding it has propelled the song to an inflated debut, but regardless of what happens next, an important (and long overdue) barrier has been crossed for Carpenter.
Mia Nazareno: I’d be at a 7 — mildly pleased by cracking the top 50, but secretly hoping that it would’ve been closer to the top 20.
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say 7.5. There’d definitely be a part of me that’d love to see the song really rival the bow of Rodrigo’s opening salvo — though I’d realize that’s a tall order, considering how historic her first-week numbers were — but first Hot 100 entry, top half of the chart and highest debut of the week is all very good news by just about any standard.
2. How do you feel about “Skin” as an answer song? How would you feel about it removed from all other knowledge about “Drivers License” and the accompanying behind-the-scenes drama?
Stephen Daw: On its own, free from any of the speculation, “Skin” is fine — the melody is catchy, the songwriting is pretty good, and the production, while somewhat understated and maybe a little lacking in some places, fits within Sabrina’s established sound. But with lyrics like, “Maybe you didn’t mean it/ Maybe ‘blonde’ was the only rhyme,” it’s very clear that Sabrina is leaning into the drama of it all. The lyrics are certainly direct and tell a compelling story, which is a positive in its favor for me — that being said, it does feel a bit like someone clapping back in an argument that isn’t fully about them. Overall, the song is good — not great, but certainly not bad.
Lyndsey Havens: Even with the made-for-TV plotline unfolding, “Skin” is an excellent song — and one of Sabrina’s best. “You’ve been telling your side, so I’ll be telling mine” immediately grabs the listener and pulls them in, because even if you somehow don’t know the details… now you want to. Compared to past hits, from the uptempo dance-pop “Almost Love” (off Singular Act I) to the more stripped down “Exhale” (Singular Act II), “Skin” manages to hit that sweet spot between raw writing and grandiose production, resulting in an enthralling listen.
Jason Lipshutz: Obviously “Skin” becomes more compelling when digested as an answer song — “Maybe blonde was the only rhyme” doesn’t work unless you’ve heard and know the backstory of “Drivers License,” but once you have, damn, what a line! — but even removed from its status as a response track, “Skin” is one of Carpenter’s sturdiest pop tracks to date, with a chorus that caters to her higher register. Carpenter has long been a promising pop vocalist without the right type of sound around her, but “Skin” is certainly a positive step forward.
Mia Nazareno: I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the song feels like it’s capitalizing on the explosive success behind “Drivers License.” The lyrics sound too much like a direct clapback at Olivia (“You been telling your side/ So I’ll be telling mine”) to think about it removed from the context it was born out of. Outside of the drama, the track sounds like another generic synth pop song released by a Disney Channel darling. It’s not bad enough to press skip, but not good enough to Shazam if you heard it at the grocery store.
Andrew Unterberger: I was impressed by “Skin” as an answer song. It’s hard to do one of these without sounding petty or just kinda in too deep, but “Skin” had just the right touch of hurt and bitterness (and yeah, maybe a touch of smugness at being the love triangle “winner”) without coming off as totally engulfed by the drama. And I think also think it’s just a good pop song: strong chorus, strong vocal performance, just the right amount of detail in the production. My one grievance: Olivia Rodrigo never actually used “blonde” as a rhyme in “Drivers License.” Hot line though.
3. This is Sabrina Carpenter’s first Hot 100 hit, and the first time that a lot of folks are hearing about her. Do you think it’s a good illustration of her strengths as a pop artist, or is it a sort of misleading introduction to her?
Stephen Daw: I don’t know that “misleading” is the right term here — the song has a lot of elements of her previous work (electro-pop production, excellent vocals), but is still different enough to be noteworthy. I don’t think it’s an all-encompassing picture of what she does, or of what she’s capable of, but I certainly do think that it is an easy gateway into her catalogue for fans who are finding her for the first time.
Lyndsey Havens: Now here is where it’s a bit more important to remove all other knowledge of the behind-the-scenes drama, because as a song this is a great introduction to Sabrina the pop artist. But because of said drama, new fans — especially those who rallied behind our current Hot 100 No. 1 — might be quick to dismiss, even though she’s already had a years-long career at this point.
Jason Lipshutz: Carpenter has released some gems in the past (justice for “Why,” her great 2017 single!), but “Skin” finds her at her most self-assured, still residing in her mid-tempo, major-key comfort zone but now with more gravity in her voice and words. It’s not a coincidence that “Skin” is her first single outside of Disney Music Group: Carpenter sounds like she’s ready to get the next phase of her career going on the track, and that confidence becomes a new strength for her.
Mia Nazareno: I think it’s a bit misleading to be honest. I’m sure Sabrina doesn’t want to be known as “that blonde girl” in Olivia’s song. I totally get the appeal of releasing a song right after Olivia and Josh — it’s a surefire way to have YouTubers talk about you in the comments — but I think it would’ve been a good idea to wait to release a project that she was especially proud of. That way, she could’ve carved out her own identity on her own terms free from the “Drivers License” phenomenon.
Andrew Unterberger: I doubt it’s the song she’ll want to be known for forever, but as far as a foot in the door of the larger pop discussion, I think she could do a lot worse. More importantly, she’s taken a situation that could’ve been disastrous for her career — being known forever as just the rumored “Other Woman” in the most popular heartbreak ballad of 2021 — and turned it into a triumph. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
4. Do you think “Skin” has much chance at becoming a long-lasting pop hit beyond this first-week debut and the general interest in this story, or do you see it quickly receding from the charts from here? (And do you think we’ll see Sabrina Carpenter again on the Hot 100 this year?)
Stephen Daw: “Skin” is a good enough song that I can see it staying on the charts for a few more weeks, but it definitely has a shelf-life. The interest in the story behind “Driver’s License” is already on the outs, with fans now feeling invested in the song itself. “Skin” has novelty, in being a new POV of that initial song, but when interest in this story wanes, I think that the interest in this song will as well. However, I would not count Sabrina Carpenter out: “Skin” could easily serve as an appetizer to get fans interested in her music, with an even bigger pop single still to come. I think there’s a very good chance that we’ll be seeing more of Sabrina on the Hot 100 this year, and I don’t think it will be with “Skin.”
Lyndsey Havens: “Skin” will likely fall from the charts at a moderate pace, though that’s not to say it will be immediately forgotten. As Sabrina’s debut song on Island, I think it sets the tone of what’s to come and as a result, will surely hold a place in her and fan’s musical hearts — and hopefully, one day, on her setlist as well.
Jason Lipshutz: No and yes — that is, I have reservations about “Skin” lingering around the Hot 100 for months on end, but this is definitely not the last we’ve heard from Carpenter on the chart in 2021. Even when the interest in the backstory of “Drivers License” has quieted down, Carpenter will still be there as an engaging pop artist with a built-in fan base, and a priority for her new label home. Let’s hope “Skin” is just the opening shot of a busy year.
Mia Nazareno: The only song titled “Skin” I’ll be listening to in the future is by Dijon, so no, I don’t think Sabrina’s debut will remain relevant once the drama subsides. However, the consolation prize for releasing a pop song amid the drama is Sabrina’s name has been introduced to a much bigger audience. She now has a wider reach, and down the line, the door is open for her to release a chart-topping song that has both the relatability and authenticity of a long-lasting pop hit.
Andrew Unterberger: I actually wouldn’t be shocked if “Skin” had more endurance than we expect on pop radio — I could see it slotting into the same kind of top 40 rotation spot that Selena Gomez’s “Lose You to Love Me” occupied around this time last year. But even if not, it does seem likely we’ll be hearing more from Carpenter on the chart this year, and that it’ll be onwards and upwards for her from this back-and-forth in general.
5. What’s a pop song from the past that never received a proper musical response, but which you’d still love to hear an answer song to?
Stephen Daw: I have kept myself up at night thinking about the unreleased Britney Spears response to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” There is the speculated-about Britney track “Mona Lisa” that seemed to be a clap back at JT on her 2009 singles collection, and there are a number of other songs by Britney that some would speculate are throwing serious shade at her former flame. But it still feels like we never got a definitive response to “Cry Me a River,” and I for one would absolutely welcome a 20-years-later response on the song’s anniversary next year. Let’s get petty and rehash some stale, 20-year-old drama for no reason, Brit.
Lyndsey Havens: I still think SNL missed an opportunity to spoof all of Pete Davidson’s exes with a “Thank U, Next” digital short. I also will forever be waiting to hear back from the infamous (and somewhat fictional) “Jolene.”
Jason Lipshutz: I always wanted *NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick to release a solo response to Eminem’s out-of-nowhere cheap-shot diss in “Without Me.” I still want this.
Mia Nazareno: Not to be mushy, but I’d love to hear an answer song from a pop star’s significant other! It would be a love song, and not a diss track. It wasn’t a fan favorite on Lover, but “London Boy” was a cute song IMHO. I’m curious to hear Joe Alwyn’s response — especially since Taylor has revealed that he co-wrote (under the pen name William Bowery) some songs on Folklore and Evermore. I’m sure there’s a market for love songs dedicated to American girls.
Andrew Unterberger: Wouldn’t mind getting a G-Eazy “I Am Pretty Sad, Actually.”