Halftime Leisure

Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso” is a shot of amorous, retro pop

April 23, 2024

Courtesy of YouTube

Sabrina Carpenter’s “‘give a fucks’ are on vacation.”

Ahead of her Coachella debut this past weekend—a feat in and of itself, given the elite status of the music festival—the 24-year-old singer-songwriter released a single the night before.

“Espresso” falls perfectly in line with Carpenter’s current brand. She’s Gen Z’s latest pop princess, embracing femininity in her music, glittery, delicate sense of style, and the diva-like confidence that defines her stage presence. Between emails i can’t send (2022) and emails i can’t send fwd: (2023), every song in Carpenter’s recent discography fits cohesively into that theme. Sometimes it’s heartbroken and vulnerable (“decode,” “emails i can’t send”), other times it’s sultry and self-confident (“bet u wanna,” “Feather”)—but it is always, without a doubt, girly pop.

While “Espresso” is no different, it ups the ante by establishing itself as the song of the summer. Carpenter herself envisioned a quintessential beachy, pin-up bathing suit, melted ice cream vibe when the song came into existence: “Since the day I heard the song, I saw a beach atmosphere—and more specifically this kind of old school [and] modern environment,” she said in an interview with Vogue.

The music video embodies this retro theme beautifully, opening in black-and-white as Carpenter steers a motorboat accompanied by a clingy, polo-donning boyfriend…whom the femme fatale promptly sends overboard and steals a credit card from. After being imbued with color, the rest of the video channels the essence of a ’60s beach party: rows of ladies sport vibrant ’kinis and cat eye sunglasses, surfer boys don their pastel-colored shorts, and striped towels, twirling umbrellas, and vintage cars make an appearance in the background. Carpenter wears a silk headscarf with her bikini, adding a chic layer of luxury to her look.

In a twist on the actual ’60s, the men in Carpenter’s world are at the beck and call of these beach babes, endlessly eager to offer neck massages and sunscreen galore. The ladies are languid and blasé; they’re flipping through novels, soaking up the sun, and shimmying in stylish swimsuits. They are, quite frankly, wholly uninterested in the men so desperate to please them. Carpenter ends the music video in a police cruiser, arrested for the credit card theft she so effortlessly pulled off earlier. Yet she is far from concerned, lounging with her stilettos on the dashboard as the officer struggles to start the engine.

Beyond its storyline, the music video is visually striking. Every scene incorporates the symmetry and warm color grading typically found in a Wes Anderson film, amplifying the vintage theme further. Carpenter is almost always in center frame, flanked by two ladies on either side as they lie on towels in the sand and perform dance numbers. The choreography ingeniously incorporates everyday gestures into dance moves, and every action is directly on beat—the girls whip their heads toward the camera, swing their legs, and take a lick of ice cream in perfect sync. Carpenter may be the star of the show, but the cinematography is so cohesive and aesthetically pleasing that every last detail catches your eye.

Instrumentally and lyrically, “Espresso” is on another level of genius. Similar to its music video, the single draws on old-school elements to emulate the theme of retro pop. A groovy bassline underscores the melody, grounding the electric guitar carrying the song. The consistent kick-snare combo is a pop staple, and a faint synthesizer can be heard in the background, with a few whimsical notes here and there to lighten the tone. It’s an infectious, bubbly combination, like Carpenter has taken her girly pop aesthetic and blended it with funk. The intro and ending are slightly muted, almost as though we’re listening to “Espresso” on a staticky radio, further enhancing the song’s nostalgic atmosphere.

The song opens by jumping into the chorus: “Now he’s thinkin’ ’bout me every night, oh / Is it that sweet? I guess so / Say you can’t sleep, baby, I know / That’s that me espresso.” The message here is simple: Sabrina Carpenter has someone wrapped around her finger, and boy, does she know it. She’s his equivalent of caffeine, keeping him up all night in more ways than one. The chorus is cheeky, catchy, and upbeat, probably owing to its use of the trustworthy call-and-response technique—the verses act as statements that can be responded to, like fill-in-the-blanks for the listener. Carpenter then moves into the pre-chorus, singing, “Too bad your ex don’t do it for ya / Walked in and dream-came-trued it for ya.” As we’ve seen in her countless iterations of the “Nonsense” outro, she’s got a knack for lyrics that are creative and rhythmic, even when the content isn’t all that deep (see: “I know I Mountain Dew it for ya” and “Switch it up like Nintendo”). Ad-libs like “stupid” and “holy shit” are also sprinkled in, a little treat that highlights her snarky persona. Her addictive, humorous energy is why, time and time again, Carpenter can craft feminist pop anthems that take the charts by storm.

“Espresso” is undoubtedly a prelude to the next Sabrina Carpenter era. Whether or not her next album will follow in the single’s footsteps, blending modern pop with old-school motifs, remains a mystery. Regardless, one thing is for sure: our sparkly, sensual pop princess knows what she’s doing.

Nikki Farnham
Nikki is a junior pre-med in the College of Arts & Sciences, and a Leisure Assistant for the Voice. She has been known to speak at great, impassioned lengths about Greek mythology (thanks, Percy Jackson), and enjoys philosophical conversations about not-very-philosophical things.

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