Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ Living Rent Free in Your Head? There’s a Spotify Conspiracy Theory For That

Sabrina Carpenter Espresso
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Sabrina Carpenter Espresso
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Photo Credit: Ayman @eyymanadaf / Spotify

Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ has been the song of the summer — but is that only because Spotify is getting paid beaucoup bucks for you to hear it? Here’s the real reason the disco-pop jam is living rent free in your head.

It seems like Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso” is everywhere, but whether you love it or hate it, there’s some pretty solid evidence to suggest the song’s ubiquity is far from coincidental. There’s a reason that the disco-tinted soft pop jam, “performed by a Polly Pocket-sized former Disney Channel star,” was dubbed the song of the summer from the moment it debuted back in April.

If you’re like many Spotify listeners who let the platform’s algorithms decide what music to suggest next, you’ve probably noticed the track popping up in some unexpected places. Comedian and podcaster Steven Phillips-Horst pointed out that no matter what song he played in any genre — from Taylor Swift to Celine Dion to Morgan Wallen — Spotify would immediately queue up Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso” somewhere on that list.

“How is it that no matter what direction my unique personality takes me in, it leads me back to this same song that I only heard three days ago that I don’t even really like that much?” asked Phillips-Horst on social media. “It’s not an ‘algorithm,’” he posited. “The label is paying for radio play in an old school, industry plant kinda way.”

Other listeners have pointed out that other “newish” entries into the pop genre, such as Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!” and Tommy Richman’s “Million Dollar Baby,” seem to crop up at a notably similar clip. But this only lends credence to the increasingly popular theory that the world’s largest music streaming platform has deals with record labels to boost streams for particular songs and artists.

And why wouldn’t it? The history of pop music has countless tales of “payola” schemes in which executives manufactured a hit by paying for increased play, even after the practice was officially first outlawed on the airwaves in 1960. That certainly hasn’t stopped the rich and powerful (and sometimes the actual mafia) from finding loopholes to work around those restrictions — many of which notably do not apply to the internet in the first place.

While there’s no “hard evidence” to prove that labels are paying Spotify directly to boost specific songs and artists, it’s pretty hard to prove definitively that isn’t what’s happening. Consider the facts: Sabrina Carpenter is a former Disney Channel star, signed under Island Records (a Universal Music Group label), and Hollywood Records (a Disney Music Group label).

Even if Universal didn’t have a long history of exclusivity deals with Disney, Big Mouse and UMG actually have every reason to want Sabrina Carpenter’s budding pop career to succeed. Should Taylor Swift — another Universal artist and the current holder of the pop queen crown — decide to take her career in another direction, be it exploring different genres or focusing on other facets of her fame besides music, who would become pop music’s heir apparent?

That’s that me, espresso.