Why Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Short n’ Sweet’ Rollout Is So Genius

The 'Espresso' and 'Please Please Please' singer is true at every turn to the sly, witty persona she's crafted

Published Time: 27.06.2024 - 19:31:24 Modified Time: 27.06.2024 - 19:31:24

The 'Espresso' and 'Please Please Please' singer is true at every turn to the sly, witty persona she's crafted.

The pop rollout is a tricky thing to nail. And few, lately, have done it better than Sabrina Carpenter.

The 25-year-old is preparing to release her sixth album, “Short n’ Sweet,” next month, but it’s already a breakthrough — this week, she notched her first Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Please Please Please.” Some of the song’s success may be owed to its video, which stars Carpenter and her rumored real-life boyfriend, the much-memed Irish actor Barry Keoghan, as a mismatched pair,ane’er-do-well anda regretful partner: He robs banks, as she looks on with sorrowful recognition that she’s in love with a criminal. This follows on the remarkable success of “Espresso,” which — though not quite topping the charts, peaking at No. 3 — managed to carve a phrase into the zeitgeist in a manner that recalls “Hollaback Girl” or “Wrecking Ball.” If the song gets stuck in your head at some point this summer — well, that’s that Sabrina espresso.

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The songs are strong. But songcraft alone isn’t quite enough in the age of virality, and few have lately proven themselves as adept at surfing the waves of public attention as Carpenter. An early sign, perhaps, was her late-2023 and early-2024 booking as the opening act for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in Latin America, Australia, and Asia; the mere fact of the gig was one thing, but Carpenter cannily turned each night into an event. Her single “Nonsense” ends with a slightly blue, rhyming three-line joke, and each night of the tour, she came up with a new one, referencing the language and culture of wherever she was visiting. (To wit, in Buenos Aires: ​​“When I’m in the bedroom I feel sexy / He’s having a ball, he call me Messi / Argentina, will you be my bestie?”) This was showmanship designed less for the stadium crowd than for PopCrave. And it worked, continuing up to her “Saturday Night Live” performance, in which she joked about a guy being “30 Rock hard.”

Something, here, recalls what Katy Perry once referred to as her own “soft-serve sexiness”: It’s a gleefully innocent raunch, delivered with a wink that brings everyone, Carpenter included, in on the joke. (The “Nonsense” outros are either stupidly intelligent or brilliantly dumb, and they’re always delivered with slyness and control.) A key difference with Perry, though, is the overarching sense of strategy and cohesion. Perry, when launching an album — as she’s currently doing, showing up in Paris in a dress with a 100-yard-train bedecked with the lyrics sheet for her next single — will try just about anything. (Most notably, perhaps, was her 96-hour “Big B -

rother”-style livestream promoting the 2017 album “Witness”: It was a can’t-look-away spectacle that seemed, ultimately, to do little for the music.)

And it’s hard to blame her: For those with lower profiles than Taylor Swift — which is to say, for every other working musician — figuring out the right angle of approach on an album rollout is tricky. In recent months, Dua Lipa pumped out content, live performances, and various pre-launch singles ahead of her new album “Radical Optimism”; Billie Eilish, by contrast, withheld any singles ahead of “Hit Me Hard and Soft.”

For Carpenter, the music has connected so far, but the primary work she’s done has been establishing a persona and not deviating from it. Her tweet celebrating “Please Please Please” hitting No. 1 poked at a music fan who’d said she’d “fumbled a second single.” While there’s a power dynamic at play when an artist complains about their critics by name (and when, resultantly, their fans swarm), her feeling of vindication is understandable, as is the sense that, in a world where people speak with increasing freedom about celebrities, those same celebrities can and will speak back. On a lighter note, Carpenter’s team set up Times Square billboards featuring social-media jokes about the singer’s (diminuitive) height — this felt less like clapping back than acknowledging that she’s aware of, and in on, the joke. Just like the album title says, she’s short and sweet.

The past twelve months or so have seen a number of emergent stars pop, many following a similar playbook. In music — as noted in several articles already — Carpenter has been joined this summer by Chappell Roan, whose compelling live performances and understanding of both songwriting and ornate aesthetics have made her into a burgeoning A-lister. And in film, new stars including Glen Powell, Sydney Sweeney, Ayo Edebiri, and (especially) Keoghan himself seem both hyper-image-conscious and un-vain, remaining aware of how they’re perceived in order that they might perpetually undercut that image, remind you that it’s not that serious. This seems to be the dominant mode of culture right now, and it’s an appealing one — and one that Carpenter, on track for a major career, intuitively gets. She takes the writing and performing seriously: The outro, for instance, always rhymes, always tracks. But she never allows it to get, you know, un-fun. It’s a roll-out, all right. But it doesn’t feel like a campaign.

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