Allow me to introduce you to Sabrina Carpenter, a former Disney actress (red flag #1) and current rising pop star. Carpenter has had two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 this year and opened for Taylor Swift on her history-making Eras Tour. Carpenter’s latest single, “Feather,” has nearly 90 million streams on Spotify. She released the track’s accompanying music video, which already has 2.3 million views on YouTube, on Halloween.
Carpenter is petite, blue-eyed and blonde-haired, and her performance outfits leave little to the imagination. Her artist persona is somewhat dependent on the profane; live performances of Carpenter’s song “Nonsense” went viral among Gen Z fans for her ad-libbed, often R-rated outro lyrics. At a concert in Mexico City, for example, Carpenter sang, “I’m full grown but I look like a niña / Come put something big in my casita.” The BBC was forced to cut the ending of her Live Lounge performance early this year after she compared the network’s name to a pornography-related acronym.
All that is to say that it shouldn’t be surprising that her “Feather” music video is more of the same. What is shocking, though, is that Carpenter was somehow able to film portions of the music video in the sanctuary and in front of the altar in a Catholic Church.
The video opens with a shot of the sanctuary at the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brooklyn, New York. A pastel coffin reads “RIP Bitch” and the altar is covered with a drop cloth and various bedazzled trinkets, including what appears to be a prayer candle for the Roman goddess Venus. Throughout the song, men pursuing Carpenter accidentally wind up dead — and then she actively murders one herself. She ends up back in the church, where she dances provocatively in the sanctuary in a pair of sheer tights, a bikini bottom with butt cheeks hanging out, a black veil on her head and a gold cross around her neck. She leaves the church at the end of the video and exhales, as if she has just gone to a deranged version of confession.
I probably needn’t explain why it is a major scandal for a scantily-clad pop star to dance seductively in a church at all, let alone in the sanctuary and in front of the altar. But for those unfamiliar with Catholicism, the sanctuary is considered a sacred space and the altar is representative of Christ’s sacrifice and his real presence during the Mass — it is the surface that holds the consecrated body and blood of Jesus Christ during communion. We believe that Christ is wholly present in the bread and wine during the Communion Rite, so you can probably imagine how offensive it is to see someone degrade that special area for a raunchy music video.
My friend Joe, who first alerted me to this scandal, pointed out that Carpenter’s use of the sanctuary and altar is a major violation of Canon Law:
“These actions appear to plainly and very publicly violate Can. 1239 §1: ‘An altar, whether fixed or movable, must be reserved for divine worship alone, to the absolute exclusion of any profane use.’”
Of course, we can’t expect pop stars to be experts in Catholicism, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for basic decency in a house of worship. I resent having to play to “whataboutism” game, but it’s hard to imagine popular culture accepting such mockery of any other religion. Rihanna was kicked out of an Abu Dhabi mosque ten years ago for an unauthorized and inappropriate photo shoot, and fans excoriated her for her disrespectful behavior. In 2020, she apologized to the Muslim community for setting sacred Islamic verses to music during a lingerie fashion show. Catholicism and Christianity seem to be fair game, though. Carpenter’s fans have labeled the video “iconic” and a “slay.” Remember the 2018 Met Gala theme, “Heavenly Bodies,” when celebrities affixed crosses, rosaries and other holy symbols to wildly immodest fashion pieces? We also can’t forget that there was a literally demonic performance at this year’s Grammy Awards and it was treated like a fun little romp in the park. The LA Dodgers this season honored a group of drag queens that satirizes Catholicism by dressing up as promiscuous nuns.
Again, while it’s not surprising that a pop star would have no issue desecrating a church (it almost seems you have to sell your soul to make it in the industry these days), officials at the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church also had a responsibility to prevent their sacred space from being used for the profane. I reached out to the Diocese of Brooklyn to ask for comment on the scandal, and a spokesperson told me that the parish failed to follow Diocesan policy requiring a review of scenes and a script before content is filmed on church property. However, the parish also claims that Carpenter’s production team misrepresented the content for the music video when asking for permission to film.
“Bishop Brennan is appalled at what was filmed at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Brooklyn. The parish did not follow Diocesan policy regarding the filming on Church property, which includes a review of the scenes and script. The parish reports that the production company failed to accurately represent the video content. Bishop Brennan is taking this matter seriously and will be looking into it further,” the spokesperson said in a press statement.
We will see what comes of the investigation, if anything.
Beyond the obvious offense of seeing a half-naked pop star prance around at a place where you go to pray and worship God, this music video really troubled me because it’s already so difficult to avoid popular culture that is anti-Christian. As I have grown in my own faith over the past couple of years, I have tried my best to limit music, TV and movies that orient away from the Good. It’s such a bummer to feel like you can enjoy the latest pop culture phenomenon that everyone is talking about, only to be hit in the face with some bad messaging. I recently felt this way when I discovered that Taylor Swift was praising fans for “casting spells” during her Eras Tour concert movie. Ick. Carpenter’s music video feels worse, somehow, because she brought her nastiness to the place I specifically go to avoid it. There is something truly insidious about that.
I reached out to Carpenter’s record label to request comment on the incident, including their response to the church’s claims that they lied about the content of what they planned to film. Alas, I have not heard back. You all will be the first to know if I do!