Shut Up and Listen to Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ Right Now


“Genius” is a word that should be reserved for brilliant scientists and whoever created Dairy Queen’s brownie earthquake. When the word gets tossed around as a descriptor for anything other than Darwin or Dilly Bars, it makes me irrationally angry. Genius, huh? So words just have no meaning anymore—got it. I’ll file that away with “iconic” losing all significance, what with it applied online to classic films as often as it is to Lady Gaga’s flying dress barely floating two inches off the ground on one random day in 2013.

I am, however, reconsidering my stance now that Sabrina Carpenter has defied even my own high standards for prodigiousness. With her latest single, “Espresso,” the 24-year-old pop singer has fully come into the cheeky, overly literal lyricism and slinky throwback sounds that her debut album, Emails I Can’t Send, promised last year. The single, released last Friday seemingly as a one-off gift to her fans before her first of two Coachella performances, is funky, flirty, and rocketing up the charts. It’s already tracking for a big debut on next week’s Billboard’s Hot 100 chart when it finishes its eligibility period.

The song’s equally coquettish video has been clogging up user timelines on X and Instagram, and Carpenter’s doll-like visage becoming an unavoidable sight. “Espresso” has everything going for it to become the song of summer 2024, but it’s the tune’s brilliantly absurd chorus that has me ready to elevate it to genius status.

If you’re unaware, like I largely was until last week, who Sabrina Carpenter is, you need only consult Olivia Rodrigo fans. Back in 2021, Carpenter was embroiled in a love triangle scandal after Rodrigo’s hit song “Drivers License” referenced what many believed to be her relationship with fellow Disney star Joshua Bassett. (Carpenter, Bassett, and Rodrigo all crossed paths during their time in the Disney universe; Carpenter was one of the stars of Girl Meets World, while Rodrigo and Bassett rose to fame on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.) The drama became the talk of the moment, elevating Carpenter’s status and eventually putting her in the eyes of (alleged Rodrigo enemy) Taylor Swift, who had Carpenter open for her Eras Tour, where she made her song “Nonsense” into a viral TikTok hit with suggestive lyric changes. “Espresso” being so good—and becoming so immediately popular—is a long-awaited inflection point for Carpenter as a capital-C celebrity, not just a musician. Consider her here to stay, which is fine, considering how fantastic this damn song is.

“Espresso” kicks off with the kind of earworm that was inescapable back in the mid-2010s. The song’s production, handled solely by Julian Bunetta—most famous for helming a bunch of One Direction songs that couldn’t be more different than Carpenter’s track—has the kind of groovy, modern rhythm that likely has had Calvin Harris punching holes in his walls for the last five days. Carpenter begins the song by talking about a lover (perhaps beau Barry Keoghan, who tailed her at Coachella over the weekend) who can’t get enough of her. “Now he’s thinkin’ ’bout me every night, oh/ Was it that sweet? I guess so,” she coos in the song’s first chorus, preparing to deliver the silliest lyric of the year. She continues, “Say you can’t sleep, baby I know/ That’s that me espresso.”

When I heard this lyric for the first time, my world crashed around me. I consider myself to be a fairly self-aware person, but I had no idea that I could be pulled into a singer’s orbit so quickly. Usually, it takes a little more effort; even my beloved Addison Rae didn’t win me over right away. In Carpenter’s case, it took many months and several stan tweets to push her into my orbit. I haven’t gotten into Carpenter’s music all that much other than her single “Feather,” largely because I was intrigued by how she ignited the ire of the Catholic church by filming part of the music video in a church, wearing a barely-there pouf dress. Unlike most post-Gaga pop stars, Carpenter’s invocation of religious iconography didn’t feel forced, thanks to how nonchalantly she implemented it in the visual. The same goes for the chorus of “Espresso,” which arrives with such a confident wink that it’s impossible not to be charmed by it.

In “Espresso,” Carpenter bucks the Sia-fication of modern pop tunes. Instead of taking one object or noun and building a metaphor around it into a full song, Carpenter inserts herself into something that already exists and has its own culture: coffee. She likens her sexuality and her affection to the velvety smooth taste and habit-forming properties of specialty java. And like espresso, Carpenter’s love is chic, finite, and reserved for consumers with a higher standard than your average caffeinated rush job.

Sabrina Carpenter’s Horny ‘Nonsense’ Outros Are an Eras Tour Highlight

This sultriness continues in the song’s verses as well. In the first verse, Carpenter tells her listeners, “I can’t relate to desperation, my give-a-fucks are on vacation.” When she sings this, her casual tone mirrors how the song was released. Carpenter dropped “Espresso” with only a few days of preparation for her fanbase—whom I would assume are called Little Woodworkers or Carpenter Connoisseurs—which is a far cry from how pop songs have been released lately. A recent article on LinkedIn, of all places, details why artists like Troye Sivan, Camila Cabello, Charli XCX, and more are waiting weeks, if not months, between the announcement of their new singles and those songs’ actual release. But for Carpenter, “Espresso” needn’t mirror that irritating new industry pattern. There were just three days between the announcement of “Espresso” and its release, and the song is already a major hit. She just can’t relate to desperation!

It helps that the song is bolstered by a video as fun, rewatchable, and lethal as the clip for “Feather” was. In it, Carpenter once again commits some insouciant violence against boneheaded men. Rocketing through the water on a speedboat at the beginning of the visual, Carpenter is annoyed by the muscle bro trying to get up in her space while she’s driving the vessel. Makes sense; I’d be vexed too if I had to go through the hassle of getting a boating license just to have a man disrespect all the hard work I went through for some nookie. In response, Carpenter makes a sharp turn—just as she’s singing, “Switch it up like Nin-ten-doooohh”—and sends him flying off the boat, pulling onto shore with the man’s wallet and the craft’s sole lifebuoy.

The video is sun-drenched and filled with fun ’60s-era beach movie choreography that’s more referential of the period it’s alluding to, instead of being altered too heavily for TikTok copycats—another refreshing element of this song’s entire presence. And the video’s storyline becomes as saucy and laugh-out-loud hilarious as the song’s lyrics, too. When her shipwrecked man finds his way ashore and points the authorities to the girl who threw him off the boat, Carpenter first thought is to simply cover her eyes with her hands, as if that will sufficiently hide her from the police. In the end, she simply shrugs: “That’s that me espresso!” Just another day at the beach for this caffeinated crooner.

How no one has thought to liken themselves to coffee in a pop song—well, at least in this very front-facing, chorus-forward capacity—is a mystery I don’t want to solve. And, you know what? If someone else, somewhere, did do it first, I’m sorry. But I’m not apologizing for being wrong, I am only sorry that they didn’t do it as well as Carpenter and her team. The TikTok era of pop has stripped us of this kind of silliness. Everything is so commodified, try-hard, and phony. But here is Sabrina Carpenter with a song so perfectly ludicrous that it avoids those trappings entirely. And just when you think it can’t get any better, she reminds you that she’s in on the joke, pausing two minutes into the song and giggling, “Stupid!” From her mouth to the radio airwaves, Spotify charts, grocery store sound systems, and God’s ears. “Espresso” will be the song of this summer.

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