O2 Academy Birmingham, 18 June 2023
Shoulder-to-shoulder in the dark, “SUH-BREEN-UH, SUH-BREEN-UH” is the bellowing chant that can be heard echoing the walls of Birmingham’s O2 Academy on a rainy June evening. Some 3500 adoring fans are buzzing with anticipation and energy for the pop it-girl, in no way dampened by the heat or from their belting of Taylor Swift’s Ten-Minute Version of ‘All Too Well’ during the pre-show playlist.
Sabrina Carpenter, initially set to take the stage at the smaller O2 Institute nearby, upgraded venues to accommodate the high demand – a very smart decision considering that it is still absolutely packed, and everyone is very much feeling it.
Carpenter shines brightest in her quintessential pop songs
As if from nowhere, the 21-year-old singer appears on a gorgeous wrought iron balcony-platform hybrid which would be more at home on a romantic Parisian street. With a love heart dress and a gigantic love heart mirror adorned with smart lights to match, everything on stage is on-brand and in keeping with the love and heartbreak that defines the Emails I Can’t Send album and tour.
As it happens, today is Father’s Day, and with a level of (albeit unfortunate) irony, we begin the show with the album’s eponym, a short and emotionally charged piano track inspired by her father’s infidelity. From the get-go Carpenter shows the emotional quality of her songs can only be amplified by hearing her moving and powerful soprano vocals live. It is a special feeling, as though Carpenter has sat in her front room and decided to read an excerpt from her private diary to close friends.
I cannot count how many endearing references to British culture she makes thereafter
It is hardly all doom and gloom, on the contrary, we are only just beginning. In her own words, we are about to kick off the “yee-haw” portion of the show – an incredibly fun ride of her catchiest hits in which we start off strong with the danceable hit ‘Read your Mind’ and the care-free ‘Feather’. Although her slower, more reflective songs like ‘how many things’ temper the setlist nicely, Carpenter shines brightest in her quintessential pop songs like ‘Fast Times’ and the cathartic ‘Sue Me’ in which her ability to command a crowd cannot be understated. If there were a song to mark a clear departure from the star’s former Disney channel image, it is ‘bet u wanna’, with Carpenter’s risqué rendition of the seductive, funky-bass track seeing the crowd erupt in cheers with every hair flip and hip sway.
Both in and out of song, the show feels personal on every level. From balcony to standing, everyone is acknowledged, as the artist goes so far as to comically extend her mic stand into the crowd to hear about the dramatic love lives of her fans. This is her very first time performing in the city – “so built-in, I’m going to remember this night for the rest of my life” she tells us. To be candid, from “Brum” to “slag” I cannot count how many endearing references to British culture she makes thereafter. I can, however, say that the most anticipated “personal” moment is saved for last. As is customary on this tour, Carpenter tailors the outro of her smash hit ‘Nonsense’ to the city she is playing in. Everyone is anticipating this moment. A sea of phones emerge, and the crowd fall silent, she sings – “All the names of British boys im learnin’ em/ Everyone I date I keep returnin’ em/ God I love the accent here in Birmingham” and just like that, the crowd goes wild.
The night closes with the fan-favorite “Because I Liked a Boy”, heart-shaped confetti-cannon blasting into the audience as she hits (and holds) her final high note, some of which I liberate and keep for souvenir. It is rather poetic that the anthem detailing her online hate is cheered back to her by dedicated fans and undoubtedly her most triumphant this evening.
Carpenter is losing no momentum having the rest of her Europe tour to complete and being set to support Taylor Swift on her record-breaking Eras Tour at the end of this year. One thing is clear though, Sabrina Carpenter is a certified princess of pop, and one that is here to stay.