The Shapeshifter: Sabrina Carpenter

Brooklyn Beckham lenses the Disney dream turned pop princess.

When I heard that we’d secured teen pop princess, Sabrina Carpenter, as one of our big read features, there was no one that seemed more appropriate to capture her than budding photographer Brooklyn Beckham. Together, they’ve navigated their adolescent years via the blinding glare of the world’s media, having each and every moment scrutinised by those that feel their personal lives are fair game. But while Beckham’s worldwide appeal was basically his birth-right, Carpenter was striving to reach the same level of recognition. When they meet on set, there seems to be some kind of mutual understanding between them; their upbringings are effectively a shared experience that not many of us can relate to.

“[Something like this] is so rare! I don’t get to meet people my own age in this environment a lot,” Sabrina tells me when we sit down post-shoot. She’s already spoken of her shock at how grown-up Beckham looks compared to her, as she stands at little over 5ft and retains pretty much all of her childhood features. She’s sat cross-legged on a table in jeans and a jumper; worlds away from the plethora of characters that we tasked her with embodying as part of the shoot – an homage to her transition for Disney kid to pop princess. While she still looks her age, her persona and demeanour oozes professionalism – but after nearly a decade in the industry, that goes without saying.

Over the past few weeks, Carpenter has been jetting around the world promoting her mega third album, Singular: Act 1. It’s back-to-back bangers, but with a message that seems a little more adult and considered than her previous two releases. “This album was sort of like a different creature,” she says enthusiastically. “I approached it by listening to myself, before listening to other people. There’s a formula with pop music nowadays; you need a catchy short verse to get to the chorus quickly and you need to make sure the chorus repeats a thousand times and the title needs to be in the chorus and it needs to be something that people will remember and that grabs their eye. It’s too much for me to think about at 19 [years old].”

Recorded in studios around California, Singular: Act 1 was a little longer in the making than her previous offerings. The extra time spent nurturing her writing and vocal capabilities offered up the opportunity to dig a little deeper when it came to the storytelling on the record – and it really shows. It’s heartfelt and honest, with the signature Sabrina Carpenter vocal that has come to be recognised by fans around the world. At the end of the creative process, Carpenter had produced so much material that she decided to split the record into two – with the first record dropping in the final quarter of 2018 and the second coming in 2019. “People consume music so rapidly now that I didn’t want them to get lost, and I wanted to make sure that the stories were getting across,” she explains of her decision. “These are my stories, and there’s a lot to take away from [them]. So many people have messaged me saying they feel so empowered listening to this album. It’s just me not holding back and I think you hear that in the music, which creates something infectious.”

Despite now being an established beat-maker with three albums already under her belt, Carpenter started her foray into the entertainment industry at the age of 11 when she secured her first role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A few years later she landed her biggest gig to date, as Maya Hart in Disney’s Girl Meets World. The role catapulted her to worldwide stardom and earned her over 15 million loyal Insta fans. Think about what you were doing aged 11. The biggest decision I was making was what to wear on non-uniform day, while Carpenter was hand-picking acting roles that would benefit her career the most. I imagine that this level of prestige at such a young age isn’t easy to handle, and I find myself questioning whether Carpenter feels her public upbringing has had any impact on her personal life.

When it comes to Disney kids, there’s often a preconceived idea that they’re destined to fly off the rails and land head-first into a deadly addiction. “Well I’m planning my scandal so that it happens efficiently!” She says matter-of-factly when I ask her about the so-called ‘Disney curse’, before breaking into laughter. “It’s interesting because when you’re a kid, you’re like ‘I just want to work on the TV show I like’, you don’t think about how people will take that and creative pre-conceived notions about you for the rest of your life. When you’re living your life in a very different way than most young kids, it’s important that you have a super strong support system around you and I’m lucky to have that. I’m not saying that nothing will ever happen that upsets people in my life, because that’s inevitable.”

Shaking off the ‘Disney kid’ label is not something that she’s overly concerned with. She can appreciate that the opportunity helped her reach to a particular audience that she otherwise wouldn’t have known. She also acknowledges that while it’s opened a lot of doors for her, being a Disney kid does come with its cons. “Lots of successful people have come from it and I think it helped me reach an audience that I probably wouldn’t have been able to reach at such a young age. [Although, some] people will take it in a way that means you’re not serious about what you’re doing or it was handed to you on a silver platter. There’s a lot of misconception.”

There is one thing that is part and parcel of being a Disney darling, and that’s maintaining your status as a role model – and when your social following is as big as Carpenters, there’s lots of underage eyes looking upon her as a big inspiration. She tells me that “everyone has a big following these days” which takes off the pressure, however she does admit that she feels like she has to second guess herself when it comes to the things she shares online. For Carpenter, the permanency of the internet means that if you get things wrong, it’s not something you can easily remove or shake off. “For me, it’s all about sharing a little bit more positivity when I can, because I know that kids my age are going through a tough time where people don’t always want to listen to them and they are trying to figure out who they are. I go through that too, so it’s just about making sure that they know they’re heard and not alone.”

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Whether it’s her emotive TV appearances, dreamy Insta posts or her mega music output that you’re drawn to, there’s no denying that there’s something hypnotic about Sabrina Carpenter. She’s successfully made the transition from Disney teen dream to serious musician who is seriously making her mark on the music industry. Next year, she’ll be back at it again releasing the second part to Singular, as well as appearing in a feature film The Short History of the Long Read. She admits that she can’t have a day off, all because she’s striving to reach her main goal: “To leave something behind in this world that outlives me and, something that I’m proud I created and that changes someone else’s life.” Amen to that.