Carly Rae and My Road to Jepsenism
By Thomas Rex
Almost everyone in 2011–2012 was ready to say “call me never!” to Carly Rae Jepsen. The Canadian singer’s megahit, Call Me Maybe, topped music charts all over the world, being certified diamond in the United States and multiplatinum overseas. After hearing Jepsen chirp away happily on the cutesy pop track, many never expected to hear from the Canadian Idol alumni ever again. Jepsen had another hit with Owl City on his track, Good Time, but it wasn’t anything spectacularly different, style-wise, from any of Jepsen’s other work. But in the year of our Lord, 2016, is when I was formally converted to Jepsenism.
In 2015, her third album, Emotion (stylized as E•MO•TION), hit the market with mediocre success. I didn’t take notice at the time because I, along with many other gay teenagers, was more interested in the uprising of Italian-American pop star Ariana Grande. But one night at my computer, I was scrolling through my dashboard on Tumblr when I saw it. It was a post with a link to Carly Rae Jepsen’s music video for her song Run Away with Me. I had seen the song floating around for a while, with a lot of devoted fans calling its parent album the Pop Bible.
What? Impossible! The Call Me Maybe girl can write good music? I didn’t believe my fellow gays. No, I didn’t want to believe them. I couldn’t let myself think that Carly Rae Jepsen, the writer of the overly catchy, cheesy, bubblegum pop nightmare that was Call Me Maybe could produce something worthwhile. I scrolled passed the link to the video, I was too stubborn. But little did I know that was only the beginning of my religious conversion.
Slowly, all my gay friends wouldn’t shut up about it (by “all my gay friends” I mean one, I only knew one other gay kid besides me in high school, we were a sparse community). He joked that I didn’t know a real gay icon when I saw one, so I caved. And in that moment when I first heard the nostalgic saxophone introduction of Godly Slay Jepsen’s, Run Away with Me, was the moment I was baptized into Jepsenism. My eyes widened and my pores cleared, I could feel Heaven flowing into my eardrums as Carly floated down from her celestial seat next to Christ, her son. She took my hand to bring me to pure musical bliss, and I was reborn. Something felt so relatable, happy, sad, memorable, emotional with every chant of “Take me to the limit, I’ll be your sinner in secret” coming from Jepsen’s voice. The song is an audible representation of what it feels like to want to run away with someone. From what? Who knows! But Jepsen gets it.
Needless to say I liked it. But I still had doubts, the rest of the album can’t be as good as this song! So I listened to the deluxe version of Emotion, track by track, telling myself “Okay, this song is ALSO good, but the next one won’t be!” And I was continuously proven wrong. Between the iconic opening song, Run Away with Me, to the track, Favourite Colour, there was not one song that didn’t resonate with me in some way. “Boy problems, who’s got ‘em?” I do, Carly! Pretty soon I found myself poorly singing Warm Blood in the shower, crying over boys to Your Type, and wanting to go clubbing to I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance.
The album is an ode to 80’s pop music, using many similar sounds and beats familiar to the era. While heavily influenced by the pop scene of the past, the album carries an air of originality through each track, something very hard to do when writing an inspired piece. Carly’s songwriting is smart: she knows how to write songs that catch the ear with sleek sounds and even smoother lyrics that seem overly simplified, until you read into them more.
My personal favorite off the album is the Sia-Carly Rae collaboration, Making the Most of the Night. I had never heard anything like it when I first listened, which is what initially intrigued me. Then I paid attention to the words and read the lyrics and was truly inspired. Instead of being the typical bubblegum pop ballad of craving someone who doesn’t love you back, or someone who’s left you or hurt you, it’s about cheering up a loved one who’s sad. It’s about understanding someone enough that you know exactly what to do to make the most of their night.
Jepsen took three years to write the album to make sure it was the pop masterpiece she planned it to be, and it is. With 26 six major music critic publications ranking Emotion among the best albums of 2015, 2 publications ranking her efforts at #1, and a Metacritic score higher than Adele’s album, 25 (this year’s recipient of the coveted Album of the Year Grammy award). Many fans and critics were understandably confused when the album didn’t receive any Grammy nominations.
But that didn’t stop Carly. In 2016, on the anniversary of Emotion, Jepsen released Emotion: Side B, an EP consisting of 8 of the 200+ songs written for Emotion that were cut from the final track list. The EP was well received by fans and critics, accumulating an even higher Metacritic score than its predecessor, leaving fans outraged that the Grammys ignored Jepsen’s work again when the list of nominees were announced earlier this year.
I’m writing this as someone who was once ignorant in my ways. I didn’t think that Carly Rae Jepsen was anything but a one hit wonder, but I realized that her previous success has nothing to do with her current career. And in all honesty, I still jam out to Call Me Maybe, it’s catchy! While no singles on Emotion came anywhere close to the commercial success of Call Me Maybe, fans and critics know how far Jepsen has come. So now it’s time for the mainstream media to give Carly Slay Jepsen the credit she deserves.
And although I’m biased I implore you to giver her music a try: you can listen to Emotion on Spotify or Apple Music, with some songs available on her official YouTube channel.