To celebrate the release of her third album, Dedicated, here’s our guide to becoming a Carly Rae Jepsen fan. A Carly Rae Jepstan, if you will.
You, an idiot: “Is that the girl who did ‘Call Me Maybe’?”
Me, an intellectual and someone with a lot of time on their hands: OH LET ME TELL YOU.
Depending on who you ask, Carly Rae Jepsen is the girl who did ‘Call Me Maybe’ or the saviour of pop, music in general and maybe even the entire world. If you’re not convinced, you could feel excluded when your gay friends or your kind of snobby pop music friends talk about Carly Rae Jepsen like she’s the best thing ever. So I’ve taken it upon myself to school you on Carly Rae Jepsen with a few easy steps/YouTube clips:
1. ‘Call Me Maybe’
You know this song. It was everywhere in 2012. I remember so vividly the first time I saw the video for this song. I was napping in front of the TV, which I’d left on the music channel, and I remember being stirred awake by those strings. Who was this siren calling to me? Who was she?
Five years later, it’s not hard to see why this song became a monster hit. Those opening strings, the sweetness of her voice, the easily taglined/madlibbed chorus, the time-ignorance of “Before you came into my life I missed you so bad”. It’s bubblegum teen pop at its best.
But you’ve heard ‘Call me Maybe’. Give it a listen, or ten, then dig deeper.
There are other songs from this era you could listen to, like her collaboration with Owl City or the strange veer into club banger ‘Tonight I’m Getting Over You’, but instead I’m going to give you the deep cut ‘Curiosity’.
Why? The key change in the second half of the song, the one that hits you like a tonne of bricks, is a good place to start. But more than anything, this song from her second album Kiss foreshadows her shift towards the mainstream-yet-indie-darling that she was to become. The song is a little darker, a little weirder, but her vocals are still the same wearied-26-playing-earnest-16 that makes her unique among today’s pop landscape.
Extra credit: ‘Drive’ and ‘This Kiss’ from the same album. The first, a bonus track, is a lovely minor key little ditty. The second takes ‘Call Me Maybe’ and puts the whole thing through a Robyn filter, with excellent returns.
3. ‘Run Away With Me’
This song was not a hit anywhere in the world, which is one of the crimes of modern pop culture. (See also: Everything that happened to Brienne of Tarth in season eight of Game of Thrones, Lemonade losing Best Album.)
‘Run Away With Me’ is what turned Carly Rae Jepsen from that girl who did ‘Call Me Maybe’ into a critical darling, gay icon, and internationally underrated popstar. Why is this song so good? The sax, which was memed to hell and back, the propulsive 80s feel of the whole thing, and its pure unbridled earnest emotion. On Kiss her voice and personality were largely buried under a few trends, but this song from her third album puts what makes her special at the forefront: She feels things more deeply and more honestly than anybody else.
There’s a reason why the album is called E-MO-TION, you guys. There’s none of Beyonce’s glorious stridence, there’s no Swiftian detachment, there’s none of whatever Katy Perry is doing. It’s real and true. When CRJ sings ‘run away with me’ over the synths and sax, she bloody means it.
4. ‘Warm Blood’
E-MO-TION is a huge pop album, comparable to that year’s 1989, but better. (Please send all your hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)
You should really listen to all of it, because they’re mostly all gems (I can take or leave bonus tracks ‘Black Heart’ and ‘Favourite Colour’, but there you go). Picking one song from this album is hard. You could go with the John Hughesian ‘All That’, or the hangover-causing ‘LA Hallucinations’, or the clear attempt at a ‘Call Me Maybe’ follow-up ‘I Really Like You’, or maybe you’re more into Sia’s best co-write ‘Boy Problems’, or the the gay boy anthem ‘Your Type’.
But instead of any of those I’m going to go with the quite strange ‘Warm Blood’. The best thing about E-MO-TION is how it pushes that voice, which is both Jepsen’s best asset and most obvious limitation, into difficult and vulnerable places. The first verse of ‘Warm Blood’ sounds like it was recorded at 3am, after a long session, or maybe it’s the 15th take where she is just over the song. The parts where she’s whispering sounds like she might be reading them straight from her lyric notebook. And it works perfectly for the song, which is about being scared and falling in love with someone and telling them your secrets. Jepsen sounds like she’s pushed to the edge of the cliff and is trying desperately to stay on.
And then there’s the production. The weird pitch effects at the end of the first chorus! The drums which sound like they’re coming from the room next door! The way the music builds slowly, ever so slowly, back up after the bridge.
E-MO-TION is an album where all the songs have this kind of depth and intricacy. I’ll never understand how it wasn’t a worldwide hit, but there’s something that feels special, feels secret, about having it belong only to us rabid fans.
5. ‘Love Me Like That’
This is my pick from the weird side projects that Carly Rae Jepsen tends to do between albums. These include:
- A stint on Broadway as Cinderella, starring opposite Fran Drescher, and it is an act of pure homophobia that this isn’t available to my eyeballs right now.
- A cover of ‘It Takes Two’, for some reason
- The theme song to Fuller House
- A beautiful, heartbreaking cover of Years and Years’ ‘King’ for Live Lounge
- A decent cover of ‘Last Christmas’
- A PC Music collab that is not very good but Jepstans take their Jeppo where they can get it
And this collaboration with The Knocks, which is my favourite of all of these. For one thing, it sounds like it could’ve come straight off E-MO-TION. For another, it taps into my favourite Carly Rae Jepsen: Unrequited Love Carly Rae Jepsen. The production gets a lot by putting her voice right up front of the mix, and the literal thunderclaps throughout are a nice touch. But honestly the best moment of the song, and one of the best of Jeppo’s entire career, is when she goes into her upper register in the middle eight and wails, “You don’t love me. You don’t love me.”
Tears and chills, yo.
A year after E-MO-TION, and with little fanfare, E-MO-TION B-Sides dropped. Jepsen’s been pretty open about how much material she had for E-MO-TION, over 100 songs, and at this point she had a devoted, if not huge, fanbase who were drooling over whatever she had to release. So we got an album of b-sides.
It’s not as strong an album as E-MO-TION, it couldn’t be, but there’s a few gems here. There’s the incredibly weird ‘Store’, which plays like a parody of a Carly Rae Jepsen track, there’s the pining ‘Fever’ and the uplifting banger ‘First Time’. But I’m going with the absolute roof-raiser that is ‘Higher’.
E-MO-TION B-Sides came out when I was travelling three years ago. We were midway through our second month of travelling, and we were in Berlin. It was ridiculously hot and I am ill-equipped to deal with any kind of temperature upwards of ‘wear a light jacket’. I was listening to the album as we walked down some big street in Berlin you’re probably not meant to walk down, and when this song came on I literally stopped in my tracks and went, ‘Oh shit’. I made my friend listen to the song immediately and watched him listen to it.
You know what makes Carly Rae Jepsen special by now. What makes this song in particular special is that it starts at ten and goes to eleven for the chorus. When she sings ‘You take me higher than the rest’, the production goes along with her. It doesn’t stop for any of its 234 seconds.
7. ‘Cut to the Feeling’
And so we come full circle.
A certain part of the internet went insane when this song came out. And to be clear, this is not a big single or the start of a new era. This is just a song from an animated movie that Jepsen happens to do a voice in, called Ballerina.
If ‘Call Me Maybe’ is the peak CRJ as mainstream popstar and ‘Run Away With Me’ is peak indie darling CRJ, then ‘Cut to the Feeling’ is the midpoint. Her voice leaves the verses behind entirely, but then there’s the chorus which demands that you stand up and sing along. You can see her performing this song in an arena while a billion fan machines are blowing her hair back. It’s huge, it’s anthemic, it’s pop at its finest.
And the title sums up what Jeppo does best. Whether it’s the earnest come-on of ‘Call Me Maybe’, the wanton abandon of ‘Run Away With Me’, the pining of ‘All That’, Carly Rae Jepsen is a popstar who – I’ll just say it again – feels things more deeply and more honestly than anybody else.
Carly Rae Jepsen cuts the crap. She cuts to the feeling.
In the years since E-Mo-Tion, a general consensus has formed around Jepsen’s genius and her singles are hotly anticipated as a result. The glow of the three pre-release singles for her fourth studio album glittered briefly, but wore off quickly. ‘Party For One’ didn’t have quite the euphoric feeling of her previous singles, ‘No Drug Like Me’ was more woozy than catchy, and ‘Now That I Found You’ felt like ‘Run Away With Me’ after a bottle of wine: similar, but a bit more sluggish.
But in the context of Dedicated, an album that is less ‘disco influenced’ and more ‘disco sneezed in the direction of it’, these songs radiate outwards and bump into each other. To call it a mature album is to make it sound dull; this is an album that fizzes around in that space where you’re in love with someone while also being entirely over their shit, and even more over the way you feel about them. E-Mo-Tion was the swoon, Dedicated is slowly getting up afterwards.
Which is all to say that this is a triumph of an album, and although it’s too early to compare it to E-Mo-Tion, it feels like a fitting companion piece. It’s more of a grower, but the immediate moments of brilliance – the sing-song throwaway-ness of ‘Happy Not Knowing’, the desperate melancholy of ‘For Sure’ – hit hard. There’s not a single song here that overstays its welcome: not one of them breaks four minutes, they just drop their hooks and fly away.
More than anything else, Dedicated proves Carly Rae Jepsen as an artist worthy of the hype. Even her voice, the supposed flaw that most critics poke at, has become a surprisingly versatile and affecting instrument. She’s not going to belt like Mariah any time soon, but she feels her way through her songs in a way that means more. It doesn’t hit the back row, but it rumbles comfortably out of your headphones.
And that’s her best asset: the relationship isn’t between her and a crowd. It’s between her, your headphones and you. She’s a popstar for the headphone generation – and now it’s time to get her into your headphones.