Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ Was Her Breakthrough. ‘Please Please Please’ Is an Even Bigger Achievement

Summer officially kicked off a few days ago, and it feels impossible to consider that this time last year, espresso was simply a coffee-brewing method and post-dinner option. At the start of spring, none of us were me espresso — were we ever so young?

But then, Sabrina Carpenter went on the type of months-long run that turns an artist into a superstar. Over the past couple months, she played Coachella; performed on the season finale of Saturday Night Live; announced a tour that will make her an arena headliner, after playing opening act to Taylor Swift’s Eras stadium shows just a few months earlier; snagged a top spot at a major U.S. festival, Outside Lands; made her runway debut at Vogue World; hung out on- and off-camera with her movie star boyfriend, Barry Keoghan; and received countless celebrity co-signs as the cool new kid to join their ranks.

After years of Disney-approved studio albums and a gradual reinvention into an adult pop singer-songwriter, the 25-year-old has scooped up several wins reserved for undeniable A-listers in a short amount of time. Of course, “Espresso,” the buoyant single that Carpenter released in early April, helped caffeinate her career. A top 10 mainstay on the Hot 100 since its release, “Espresso” has not only become a defining pop hit of 2024, but got meme’d ad nauseam, sending “me espresso” into the cultural lexicon as other superstars warbled its best parts in viral tribute. As “Espresso” spends another week in the Hot 100’s top 5, it shows no signs of slowing down.

“Espresso” is Carpenter’s mainstream breakthrough — but it isn’t her first No. 1 hit. That honor is reserved for “Please Please Please,” Carpenter’s follow-up single, which climbs to the top spot after debuting at No. 2 last week. It’s an unexpected development following weeks of “Espresso” ubiquity, but for Carpenter, it’s an even more impressive crowning achievement.

“Please Please Please” may contain some typical characteristics of a modern smash — Jack Antonoff produced it, after all, and co-wrote the song with Carpenter and regular hit-maker Amy Allen. Its buzzy music video co-stars Keoghan, in a bit of action-packed celebrity interplay that has racked up 34 million YouTube views. Yet the studio pedigree and must-see visuals don’t mask its idiosyncrasies. The biggest song in America is a sly, low-key, downright weird single; “Please Please Please” doesn’t boast the instant catchiness of “Espresso,” but instead provides an even stronger jolt of Carpenter’s singular persona.

Pivoting away from the confident synth-pop bounce of “Espresso,” Carpenter treats “Please Please Please” like a country-tinged confessional. She speak-sings about past and present errors in judgment over muted guitar and drum taps in the verses. When the hook hits, Carpenter pleads in high-definition, harmonizing with herself in a way that somehow splits the difference between a disco anthem and folksy ballad.

By the time Carpenter’s register dips in the second half of the chorus and she gurgles the threat, “I beg you, don’t embarrass me, motherf–ker,” she’s obviously upended any expectations of an “Espresso” rehash — but also, she’s remained as playful and off-kilter as she sounded when she sang “I’m working laaaate / ‘Cuz I’m a singerrrrr.” Carpenter possesses a wry sense of humor that helped define the songwriting on her great 2022 album Emails I Can’t Send, and after injecting her eccentricities into “Espresso,” “Please Please Please” amplifies them. Her personal and musical quirks can be felt in every line, hook and ad-lib, and they turn “Please Please Please” into a song that no other artist could deliver in quite the same way.

The immediate success of “Please Please Please” — which debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 last week after quickly becoming a streaming juggernaut, then overtook Post Malone and Morgan Wallen’s “I Had Some Help” in its second frame — confirms the breadth of Carpenter’s newfound popularity. After “Espresso” became her first career top 20 on the Hot 100, Carpenter quickly followed it with a song that was a sonic departure but a spiritual relative, and revealed more about what type of pop star she wants to be.

Maybe “Espresso” eventually hits No. 1 and stands as the bigger hit for Carpenter, or maybe its success was simply prelude for a less traditional smash. It doesn’t really matter. Either way, pop listeners are clearly invested in Carpenter beyond her breakout hit’s ultra-catchy refrain and have latched onto the personality that helped power these two hits.

Now, we’re likely about to experience a summer full of two tonally disparate Carpenter singles racking up millions of streams and numerous weeks in the top 10 of the Hot 100. At the end of it, we’ll get a new Carpenter full-length, Short n’ Sweet — after a first half of 2024 full of big-name album releases, it could dominate the cultural conversation during a relatively quiet third quarter. Carpenter commanded the spring thanks to “Espresso”; “Please Please Please” may have set her up for a whole lot more winning seasons.