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


Both Roan and Carpenter have taken relatively patient approaches to their careers. Carpenter, in particular, has shown a remarkable flexibility when it comes to self-promotion: She has been a constant presence on TikTok for nearly two years, adjusting her promotional strategies to the whims of the platform. She has toured basically nonstop since the release of “Emails,” generating fresh viral moments in ad-libbed live outros to “Nonsense” that are often irreverently bawdy and, in the style of “Espresso,” self-consciously stupid. (It didn’t hurt that one of her tour mates was Taylor Swift.) And “Espresso” has been inescapable on streaming, where it seems to have wormed its way into the algorithm.

Roan, like Carpenter, leveraged the spectacle of her live shows to make herself omnipresent on short-form video platforms over the past year. Her tour in support of “Midwest Princess” was filled with moments for fans to share online: dress-up themes in each city; a choreographed dance to the song “Hot to Go!”; a rousing call-and-response during the cabaret-on-crack empowerment anthem “Femininomenon.” While many members of pop’s middle class share Roan’s over-the-top aesthetics, few can approximate her powerful, operatic voice, which she’s trained to uncannily recall, at various turns, Lady Gaga, Patsy Cline and Kate Bush, giving her music an unsubtle edge over her compatriots.

Roan also fits squarely into a broad, hazily defined canon of what TikTok often refers to as “gay yearning” music, alongside artists like boygenius and Muna. Many of her songs feature lyrics about embracing her own bisexuality or feeling spurned by women ashamed of theirs. “Good Luck, Babe!” juices all these elements, tapping into a Cyndi Lauper-esque ’80s bounce and ending with cathartic, Bush-style wailing. The “Babe” of the song’s title is a former lover who leaves the song’s female narrator to be with a man; in writing an explicitly queer narrative and casting it as an ’80s-style diva ballad, Roan nods to the way L.G.B.T.Q. people have often read deeply into classic pop music in search of queer meaning.

Both songs are endearing, idiosyncratic pop breakouts during a time in which such a thing is increasingly rare. With the exception of Swift, who has commanded a good chunk of the Hot 100 for multiple weeks now, pop by women has been failing to crack through: Singles from Dua Lipa’s “Radical Optimism,” an album it was initially thought might dominate the summer, have fizzled; Ariana Grande released her seventh album, “Eternal Sunshine,” in March and then seemingly dived straight back into promoting her big project of the year, an adaptation of the musical “Wicked.”

As they’ve made clear over the past year, Roan and Carpenter seem poised to fill the void.



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