Arts and Entertainment

Santa’s Sack is a Mixed Bag on Sabrina Carpenter’s fruitcake

Sabrina Carpenter set out to write a “Christ-smash,” to mixed success.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Phoebe Buckwalter

For better or for worse, Sabrina Carpenter is the comeback artist of 2023 that no one saw coming. The Disney Channel child star of Girl Meets World (2014–2017) has spent the years since the series finale releasing a string of moderately successful pop albums and taking on supporting roles in films like The Hate U Give (2018) and Tall Girl (2019). It wasn’t until the whirlwind media circus that ensued following the release of fellow Disney alum Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” (2021)—speculated to be about Carpenter’s relationship with Rodrigo’s ex—that Carpenter made her triumphant return to the spotlight. Carpenter’s highly-anticipated 2022 album emails i can’t send catalyzed her rising popularity, with songs like “Nonsense” peaking at #56 on the Billboard Hot 100. Carpenter’s smashing success continued when Taylor Swift invited her to play at the Eras Tour to sold-out stadiums around the globe. To tie a bow on an undeniably victorious year, Carpenter released her Christmas EP, fruitcake, on November 17, 2023. 

Though most are likely unfamiliar with Carpenter’s past Christmas drops, she is no stranger to holiday releases. From the sweet naivete of 2014’s “Silver Nights” to the sophisticated crooning of the classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (2018), Carpenter has dabbled in the genre but has never released a full EP of holiday music—until fruitcake. The EP opens with “A Nonsense Christmas,” a parody of “Nonsense” originally released in 2022. The ridiculously suggestive innuendos of “Nonsense” already sound like a parody, and “A Nonsense Christmas” only amps up the hilarity further: “I’m talkin’ deckin’ all the halls / I’m talkin’ spikin’ eggnog / I’m talkin’ opposite of small / I’m talkin’ big snowballs,” Carpenter sings. The original “Nonsense” was never designed to be a lyrical masterpiece; Carpenter explained in an interview with Genius, “You really are sort of just making fun of the fact that writing songs can be this…very serious, deep, introspective process, or it can also be ‘what rhymes with me? Ble.’” Carpenter’s rhymes don’t disappoint on “A Nonsense Christmas”—she rhymes “Charles Dickens” with “missus” and “Vixen,” emulating the relaxed R&B flow of “Nonsense” in its Christmas-themed counterpart against a backdrop of jingle bells and electric guitar. 

The next three tracks are sonically unoriginal, relying heavily on jingle bells, horns, and melancholic piano melodies, as they alter rapidly between holiday loneliness and moments of soaring festivity. While their lyrics are humorous, they are not Carpenter’s most sophisticated, causing the three songs to fall short when compared with the rest of the EP and Carpenter’s broader discography. “buy me presents” is a Santa-centric sugar baby anthem, containing the deliciously profane line: “[EXPLETIVE] the jet / Send the sleigh.” The track transitions into “santa doesn’t know you like i do,” which is almost like Swift’s “You Belong With Me” (2008)—if the other girl was St. Nicholas: “Santa doesn’t know you like I do / I know all of your favorite songs.” Carpenter’s mediocre songwriting continues in “cindy lou who,” a glum ballad mourning a lover who has moved on with another girl. The song takes on a more serious tone, but is less successful than Carpenter’s comedic ones, causing it to feel tonally misplaced. 

fruitcake’s highlight is its fifth track, “is it new years yet?,” a pessimistic Christmas basher whose ‘80s-inspired synth is reminiscent of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (2020). The soundscape is complemented by delicate xylophone melodies in the pre-chorus and ironically merry jingle bells in the chorus. Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek songwriting takes center stage as her voice ebbs and flows with the catchy instrumental: “My relatives always know what to say to piss me off / Small talk in the kitchen / Dated, dumb traditions.” Then, Carpenter attempts something risky: she raps the bridge. However, her boastful flow marries perfectly with the track’s sarcastic tone as she chants, “Santa, Santa why do you hate me? / I’m a gift, look how God made me,” ultimately enriching the track.

Unfortunately, Carpenter doesn’t end fruitcake on “is it new years yet?,” but proceeds to cover “White Christmas” as the EP’s final song. As Carpenter herself admits, “The [holiday] songs are catchy but they’re overplayed”—“white xmas” is just that. Carpenter’s vocal execution is technically flawless, but her cover is unnecessary and takes away from the creativity and whimsy of the EP’s original songs. The track also feels needlessly drawn-out, with Carpenter holding the notes for a comically long time at the song's conclusion, national anthem-style. Ending the EP on “is it new years yet?” would have felt like a far more natural conclusion than the sporadic “Jingle bells!” vocalizations at the end of “white xmas.” 

fruitcake is certainly not the next Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas (1994), but it possesses the signature bite of Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics, uplifting her skilled vocals with a bit of holiday charm. Taken at face value, it could be easily dismissed as superficial or empty-headed, butCarpenter’s ironic delivery gives the EP abundant humor. The album is also far more balanced than most seasonal ones, fluctuating between holiday heartbreaks and jovial gaiety. Its more poorly executed moments are largely explained by Carpenter’s clear intention to not write a serious EP; it is undeniable that Carpenter enjoyed making fruitcake and the fun she finds in her work shines through: “Woke up this morning, thought I’d write a Christ-smash,” she croons, summing up the impulsive motivation behind fruitcake and the laid-back manner in which it was produced.