Music

How Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Feather’ Became the Biggest Hit of Her Career

In the summer of 2022, Sabrina Carpenter released her Island Records debut album, emails I can’t send. Last March, she released its deluxe edition featuring four new tracks — including standout single “Feather,” which has since become the pop star’s biggest hit to date. 

Following a controversial music video for “Feather” that arrived in October, for which Carpenter filmed the risqué clip inside a Brooklyn church (with approval, of course), the song has now reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Airplay chart after a 24-week climb — and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. 

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This moment has not only been a long time coming for Carpenter, but also her manager, Janelle Lopez Genzink. The exec recalls how emails I can’t send came out just one year after the launch of her “female-focused” Volara Management firm (which operates under the Red Light umbrella), calling it “a very special season.”

“During that year, I was laser-focused on building out Volara with a series of strategic hires that focused on digital strategies and overall artist brand building, while also maintaining a close watch on data and analytics, which transformed Sabrina’s career,” she says. And now, those years of hard work are paying off — and have helped Lopez Genzink earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week. 

Here, she talks about the success of “Feather,” Carpenter’s opening gig on Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and more. “Coachella is next up,” she teases, “and the rest you’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Feather” has become the highest-charting song of Sabrina’s career, reaching No. 1 on Pop Airplay after a 24-week climb. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

The song was written and recorded right ahead of Sabrina embarking on the North American leg of her tour. When tour rehearsals began, her live performance of the song made it clear to all of us that it was a record that would quickly resonate with her fans as well as the larger pop music audience. But instead of going straight to radio, we took an approach that was way more reminiscent of a traditional pop single campaign. She went on tour and shot a meaningful video which ultimately gave the song the momentum and recognition to take to radio. These more traditional steps supported the song’s growth and helped us continue to tell the story of Sabrina as a holistic artist.  

Its music video made headlines for being filmed in a church, which led to the removal of the monsignor who approved access. How did that conversation help drive interest in the song early on — and how have you helped sustain that interest?

Every pop music star has a controversial story in their back pocket. Although not intentional, the setting of the music video clearly drove additional exposure and a pop culture conversation that reminded us of those from some of our favorite pop divas. Sabrina’s witty and intelligent humor in interviews continued the conversation and drove the social story to continue and grow the audience. As we now all know, “Jesus was a carpenter.” 

“Feather” was released on her album’s deluxe edition, emails I can’t send fwd:. How has the deluxe release helped sustain this momentum?

The deluxe version of the album allowed us to breathe additional life into the campaign. Alongside the release, we strategically lined up an extension of the tour in North America, while launching Europe and Asia dates to keep the album campaign feeling fresh. The thoughtful timing of the deluxe release, aligned with the active “Nonsense” single campaign, gave us a chance to speak to both current and new fans of Sabrina’s music. 

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“Nonsense” was a single from Sabrina’s 2022 album emails I can’t send, which was her first release on Island after years with Hollywood Records. How did you help guide that trajectory and transition?

We took a look at each piece of Sabrina’s business — e-commerce, touring, publishing, publicity. Each area needed growth and we worked hard to evaluate and put partners in place that could support an A-level career. For Sabrina, this meant aligning with UMPG for publishing, CAA and AEG for touring, Merch Traffic for touring merchandise and Bravado for e-commerce. With these changes, we saw significant growth in all areas, including a 500% increase in sales with specially-curated merch drops — spearheaded by Sabrina and her sister Sarah — around music releases, holidays and special fandom moments. 

The Island team — led by Justin Eshak, Imran Majid and Mike Alexander — worked closely alongside us for the release of emails and the early success and significant streaming story of the album gave us insight to the level of growth that Sabrina was seeing. The October 2022 emails I can’t send tour marked the beginning of Sabrina’s custom city-specific outros for her song “Nonsense,” which racked up millions of views on TikTok, a music video and a top 10 U.S. pop radio single. This launched Sabrina into a sold-out worldwide tour in 2023 that included a festival slot at Hyde Park alongside Blackpink, Lollapalooza and ended the year supporting Taylor Swift on her Eras Tour in Latin America.

Even as “Feather” climbs, “Nonsense” continues to make headlines for those city-specific outros. Did the response from fans influence which song to push heading into this year?

I think “Nonsense” in so many different ways was a fully fan-chosen hit song. It’s track nine on her album and wasn’t highlighted as a single going into the campaign. The contrast of the lightheartedness of a song like “Nonsense” on an album with a title track that’s so deeply emotional and personal made it an obvious standout to fans. Once she started doing city-specific outros, the song really took off. And once we released the Christmas version with a video spearheaded and shot at home by Sabrina and her sister Sarah, we knew it was going to be huge. I think that’s the beauty of a lot of our story with Sabrina’s rise — how the fans have played such a massive role in choosing the songs we ultimately focus on. It feels collaborative in a lot of ways. 

As you mentioned, Sabrina has also been supporting Taylor Swift on her Eras Tour. What kind of boost has she gained from that exposure?

Being a guest as an opening act on the Eras Tour has been such a gift in so many ways. Sabrina has been a true fan from such a young age and being able to see that dream realized was incredible as a manager. Being able to tour internationally at that level has allowed Sabrina to play her music to so many people in such a short window of time and we’re so grateful for all the ways that has impacted her music and career.

What’s the key to managing a pop star today?

Flexibility, care and strategy. It’s about understanding your artist and knowing when to say yes to the right things and when to say no, even when it’s tough.

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