Even with her strong voice and solid original music, Sabrina Carpenter has struggled in the Top 40 realm post-Disney. 2021 looks well-poised to be the year that all changes. “Skin,” a sultry synth-pop ballad, arrived just two weeks after Olivia Rodrigo’s record-breaking “drivers license.” These two songs, along with Joshua Bassett’s “Lie Lie Lie,” are the sonic counterparts to the greatest Disney love triangle since the Miley Cyrus–Nick Jonas–Selena Gomez love triangle of the late 2000s. Of course, the context adds to “Skin’s” greatness, but even when that context is removed from the equation, the song still holds up.
Written by Tia Schola, Ryan McMahon, and Sabrina herself, “Skin” sees Sabrina taking the reins of the narrative and sharing her side of the story. The sharp first verse immediately references one of the most viral lyrics from “drivers license” (“you’re probably with that blonde girl/who always made me doubt”) with the lines “There’s no gravity in the words we write/Maybe you didn’t mean it/Maybe “blonde” was the only rhyme.” Here, Sabrina reclaims “blonde,” which was perceived as dig by most listeners, and owns it proudly. Lyrically, things pick up in the chorus as Sabrina sings of the dual metaphor of “skin.” While the lover they once shared remains “all on [her] skin,” she won’t let the other woman or her detractors get “under her skin.” The similar vowel sounds in the beginning of both of those phrases, as well as the catchy melody, add a subtle undercurrent of alliteration that makes the chorus all the more effective. Sabrina has always been an expressive vocalist, but she’s really telling a story on this track from the way switches between breathy and full-throated delivery. Her first release under Island Records after leaving Hollywood Records, “Skin’s” production is informed by dark pop and alternative R&B. The overall sound of the song is much moodier than expected, but it works. McMahon’s sparse yet sleek production focuses on one continuous session of building sound as opposed to steady ebbs and flows. The thumping bass and drum start to rear their heads in the back half of the song, but before they can really max out, Sabrina slows things down with a relatively quieter final chorus that adds the perfect dash of vulnerability to the song. Above all, the chorus is what anchors “Skin.” It’s almost anthemic, but instead of euphoria, the synths bring an air of drama to the chorus that makes it feel unique. The year is still young, but if “Skin” and its success are any indication this could very well be Sabrina’s year.