Capital Summertime Ball: Sabrina Carpenter proves why she’s the Gen Z star of the summer

Sabrina Carpenter at Capital's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium
Sabrina Carpenter at Capital's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium - Matt Crossick/Shutterstock for Global

Since its inception in 2009, Capital’s annual mini-festival has hosted almost every major chart-topping pop act of the last 15 years. Previous line-ups have seen the likes of Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran perform to an 80,000-strong audience of mostly pre-teens and their parents. This year, there were rumours that Swift, who is bringing her Eras Tour to Wembley for three nights later this week, might swing by the stadium early for a surprise appearance.

Despite these high expectations, thankfully the real surprise act – Natasha Bedingfield – didn’t disappoint. Bedingfield has been enjoying a resurgence recently after her 20-year-old song Unwritten was discovered by a younger audience, and her performance on Sunday afternoon united a delighted crowd of mums and daughters.

But of all the names on this year’s seven-hour-long pop menu, it was soon clear who the real star of the moment is (at least according to Gen Z). The most frenzied screams were reserved for US singer Sabrina Carpenter, who has just spent five weeks at the top of the charts with her breezy and addictive hit Espresso, the current frontrunner for song of the summer.

“This is a long catwalk,” the 4ft 11in former Disney actress remarked as she strutted down the stadium’s seemingly endless walkway. Despite her petite stature, there was no danger of Carpenter being overpowered by her vast surroundings. It may be her first time at Wembley, but the singer has stadium experience under her belt thanks to a supporting slot on Swift’s tour (which catapulted her to wider fame). Along with her sugary-sweet vocals, Carpenter possesses a self-assured quirkiness that has endeared her to fans; she regularly switches up the raunchy lyrics to the outro of her song Nonsense depending on where she’s performing, a stunt that has become a much-anticipated part of her act. (Sunday night’s Wembley-related lyrics were censored on broadcast.) In a cheeky acknowledgement of her set’s clash with England’s first Euros match, the 25-year-old brought the crowd along with her by donning a Three Lions top for her final song.

Although the summer has been Carpenter’s, it’s fair to say it’s been Raye’s year. The south-London singer finally got the recognition she deserves when she took home a record-breaking six Brit Awards in March for 21st Century Blues, a debut album she released as an independent artist. While the Summertime Ball is largely a jamboree of fluffy pop hits, Raye added a depth and honesty to the proceedings, prefacing Ice Cream Man, her song about sexual abuse, with a disclaimer: “It’s really dark and deep and not what we came here to do. We came here to have fun.”

Raye at Capital's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium
Raye at Capital's Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium - David Fisher/Shutterstock for Global

No apologies were necessary, though: it was this utterly vulnerable performance that felt like the day’s stand-out moment. Combining her effortlessly register-gliding, powerhouse vocals with chatty asides, Raye is not just a talented performer, but a thoroughly likeable one. Here, she was in a class of her own.

The rest of the afternoon was inevitably a bit of a mixed bag. Charismatic newcomer Benson Boone, whose belting ballads put you in mind of Lewis Capaldi, was a favourite among teenage girls and could well give Harry Styles a run for his money as the world’s next biggest male pop artist. While Perrie Edwards left her Little Mix days behind her with an assured solo debut, one-hit TikTok wonders struggled with the venue’s size and interchangeable dance acts failed to engage the crowd. In between the fillers, though, the new stars of pop proved that they are more than capable of carrying a stadium with them.

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