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Sabrina Carpenter and Chappell Roan Saw a Gap in Pop, and Filled It

The caffeinated drink of the summer isn’t cold brew or iced matcha — it’s “me espresso,” a weird and strangely brilliant neologism coined by the pop singer Sabrina Carpenter in her ascendant hit “Espresso.” The track — sugary sweet, fiendishly catchy and meme-ready — has been out for only a month and change, but it is already one of the defining songs of 2024.

It’s also one of the defining songs of Carpenter’s career so far. Last year, I described her as a member of “pop’s middle class”: a group of internet-beloved artists creating music that makes winking reference to pop history, whose celebrity vastly outmatches their commercial success. Although she is a new star in the minds of many, Carpenter, 25, is by no means a fresh arrival: “Espresso” was released almost 10 years to the day after her debut EP, “Can’t Blame a Girl for Trying.” Carpenter was 14 years old then; four more full-length albums have followed.

Her career has been unusually slow-burning in the context of the well-oiled pop machine, and “Espresso” is a bullish breakthrough after a string of songs, including the Billboard-charting “Nonsense” and “Feather,” that had some radio and TikTok success but failed to permeate pop’s center. (“Espresso” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is still in the Top 10.)

She’s not the only middle-class pop star having a brush with more tangible success. Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!” has quickly become her first hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Roan, 26, loosely fits a similar mold: Her music is funny and oftentimes covertly acerbic, and on her 2023 debut album, “The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess,” as Carpenter did with her 2022 breakthrough “Emails I Can’t Send,” Roan tried on a variety of styles that each seemed to pay tribute to a different era of pop, sometimes even a specific diva.

Chappell Roan leveraged the spectacle of her live shows to make herself omnipresent on short-form video platforms over the past year. Credit…Scott Kowalchyk/CBS, via Getty Images

Roan first signed to a major label at 17 and was dropped five years later, a setback that compelled her to move back to her Missouri hometown and work as a barista to fund her career. She has since signed to Amusement, an imprint of Universal Music Group started by the producer Daniel Nigro specifically to release Roan’s music. “Good Luck, Babe!,” a kiss-off to an ex with a queer twist, has been streamed over 106 million times on Spotify since its early April release; for context, that’s far more than any song on Beyoncé’s splashy “Cowboy Carter,” which arrived a week earlier, with the exception of its lead single, “Texas Hold ’Em.”

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