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How Sabrina Carpenter Won the Summer (With Just Two Songs)

Before 11th April 2024, nobody used the phrase “that’s that me espresso”. Over the summer, however, those very words have been sung, spoken and memed beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. On its surface, the phrase means nothing: the twice repeated “that” and object pronoun “me” give the words a nonsensical quality. If you’ve spent any time online, however, you’ll know that this phrase has come to represent all our hopes and ambitions for the summer. The people called for a shot of espresso and Sabrina Carpenter answered. 

The song “Espresso” was Carpenter’s first number one on the Spotify global charts, it was also number one in the UK charts and, as of late, its music video has received 63 million views on YouTube. In the video, Carpenter dances, tans and relaxes on the beach. Pampered by beautiful extras and waving a gold credit card around, she sings with the confidence of a woman who is used to getting what she wants. As she frolics on the beach in full glam, Carpenter comes to represent the dream of what we all wish Summer 2024 could be. This is a land without terrible dates, hard deadlines and bad weather. It is a realm of abundance, beauty and self-assuredness as Carpenter, skipping through the seawater in a summer dress, sings, “I can’t relate to desperation”. 

The lyrics of “Espresso” are the key to understanding its power. They have a nonchalance and easy-going quality that only comes with knowing your own (extremely high) self-worth. Phrases like “Too bad your ex don’t do it for ya” and “he’s thinkin’ ’bout me every night, oh / Is it that sweet? I guess so” speak to a person who holds all the cards but could drop them easily should she change her mind. Her love interest “won’t stop calling”, he “can’t sleep” and is “thinking” about her every night. Sabrina, meanwhile, is unbothered. Her “‘give a fucks’ are on vacation”. In an age where there is so much to worry about, “Espresso” gives you permission to take it easy. It’s a caffeinated pick-me-up, that “me Espresso”, at a time when it is easy to feel drained.   

After the success of “Espresso”, there was speculation about what Sabrina Carpenter’s next single would be. The Reddit threads opened and the articles abounded. What we got was the mid-tempo single “Please Please Please” paired with the celebrity hard launch of the year. When the music video for “Please Please Please” was released, it caused a sensation online. Barry Keoghan, the Academy Award-nominated actor and boyfriend of Sabrina Carpenter, appeared in the music video as her troublesome but charming love interest. In contrast to the supreme confidence of “Espresso”, “Please Please Please” is all about vulnerability. In it, the singer begs her partner not to “embarrass” her, fearing he’ll damage her ego and bring her “to tears” in the process. At the end of the song, she threatens him with a lesson inherited from Taylor Swift: “If you don’t wanna cry to my music / Don’t make me hate you prolifically”. Here, Carpenter is both revealing her insecurities and flexing her musical prowess. She doubts her boyfriend but never herself. Even at her most insecure, she still appears to exist in a state of power. 

Carpenter’s journey to success has not always been straightforward. Starting out as an actress on the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World, it took a while for her to find her footing in the music industry. In an interview with Variety, she reflected on her “slow rise”: “Throughout my life, [I was] being told, ‘Sabrina, you’re the tortoise, just chill,’ . . . In moments of frustration and confusion it can feel like a letdown, but it turns out it’s actually a very good thing. And I’ve really loved getting to know the mindset of a slow rise.” Moments of cheekiness and controversy have propelled Carpenter to further success. After her music video for “Feather”, which was filmed in a Catholic church, received a backlash, the singer responded with the quip: “Jesus was a carpenter.” Meanwhile, her ad-libbed and often explicit outros for her 2022 song “Nonsense” have garnered further attention online. These viral moments, and her supporting of Taylor Swift on the sold-out Eras Tour, have thrust her firmly into the public consciousness. But beyond these moments of social media frenzy, what is the key to Sabrina Carpenter’s success? Carpenter’s brand has become emblematic of one of the summer’s biggest buzzwords: “unserious”. In a time of political upheaval and economic turmoil where people are still reeling from the profound seriousness of a global pandemic, the term “unserious” has become a crutch for anyone seeking levity in these times. With her playful humour, love of dress-up and cheeky sensibility, Sabrina Carpenter has outwardly become the person we all want to embody this summer: fun, carefree, sun-kissed and unbothered. Her humour is very much a part of that brand. At the end of May, Carpenter put up billboards featuring tweets mocking her height (surely a reference to her new album “Short n’ Sweet”). For her twenty-fifth birthday, her birthday cake went viral when fans spotted that it was decorated with a Leonardo DiCaprio meme. Responding to the success of “Espresso”, Carpenter told Rolling Stone, “I just love that people get my sense of humour.” That sense of humour, in all its unseriousness, has brought the levity that the Summer of 2024 demands.

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