On ‘Dedicated’, Carly Rae Jepsen Devotes Herself To Being Too Much
Carly Rae Jepsen is in crush-mode for the long-haul, and we're right there with her.
“I’d do anything to get to the rush,” Carly Rae Jepsen sings on Dedicated, her first album in four years. Her fans know exactly how she feels.
But who are Carly Rae Jepsen fans, exactly? Critically adored but commercially cold, Jepsen’s 2015 album E•MO•TION (and it’s 9-track B-side collection) never quite clicked for the masses in the way ‘Call Me Maybe’ did back in 2012. Its ’80s synths didn’t suit the era’s EDM-heavy radio playlists, but it struck a cord online in a curious way — the source of both a million memes and just as many think-pieces.
At first listen, Jepsen’s music is best described as bubbly, fun, light; words used to describe background pop, rather than something that soundtracked your life’s biggest moments. It’s that supposed lack of bombastic flair that confuses, as if the music makes little effort to grab your attention, which isn’t even something Jepsen shies away from. When teasing Dedicated, she said she was writing music you could clean your house to.
Jepsen herself is notoriously shy, and where the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande (who share her manager Scooter Braun) play and pull from their personal lives to great effect, her PG13 songs are devoid of, not just scandal, but of how we understand a pop persona — that identifiable, sellable quirk. How can stans stan the unknowable?
Well, she becomes the Queen Of Everything. BuzzFeed has helpfully catalogued 268 things fans have called Jepsen queen of on her Instagram, from ‘Queen Of Standing’ to ‘Queen Of Wearing Tank Tops At Concerts’ and ‘Queen Of Orange Wallet’.
It’s certainly a lot easier to say than ‘Queen Of Crushes’ or the wordier ‘Queen Of Ephemerality’, which is essentially what Stephen Pham argues those terms are a stand-in for in his definitive, must-read Jepsen take for The Lifted Brow. But if you can’t, in short, Carly Rae Jepsen will do anything to cut to the feeling, and the ones who get it feel the butterflies as they listen.
And with Dedicated, out today, Jepsen establishes she’s in crush-mode for the long-haul. And with an all-in, thankfully evolved ’80s-synth sound, Jepsen dances without worry whether love actually arrives, so long as it remains on the horizon, shining bright.
‘No Drug Like Me’
Even as a devotee, it’s easy to understand why some might not get Jepsen, or even find her boring.
Take her biggest song as example. Over ‘Call Me Maybe’s dramatic, heart-piercing violins, Jepsen is as bashful in the chorus (‘Hey I Just Met You / And This Is Crazy / But Here’s My Number / So Call Me Maybe / It’s Hard To Look At You…’) as a pre-teen asking out a boy for the first time. It’s sugary and low-stakes; it lacks the grit and mess of real life we’re used to hearing.
Same with E•MO•TION’s ‘I Really Like You’, the album’s clearest shot at reaching the same chart success. The song is so teenager-y, for lack of a better word, propelled by the tension of ‘Late Nights Watching Television’ against the release of finally expressing your crush in the song name-sake chorus: ‘I Really Really Really Really Like You / And I Wonder / Do You Like Me Too?‘.
It’s the feeling carried across her music, which is perhaps that’s why many assume Jepsen is still a teen-idol, rather than in her mid-30s. And for some, that’s the problem: Jepsen’s a little too juvenile and simplistic, aiming for that pop goldmine of the universal but landing in the generic.
But Jepsen’s songs sound like someone in deep like (like, ‘like like’) for the first time because she knows that every time is brand new — if you let yourself fall.
Where past relationships can erode our openness, Jepsen is about embracing every feeling and revelling in its ridiculousness.
Where past relationships can erode our openness, Jepsen is about embracing every feeling and revelling in its ridiculousness. Yes, it’s silly for a 33-year-old to tell someone she ‘really really likes them’, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Discarding acceptable convention of how we’re supposed to date and love, Jepsen’s music, alongside pop-pioneers Robyn and Lorde, is all about feeling feelings — and laugh-crying at your inability to be anything but a cliché.
It’s pop music by those who have read Roland Barthes’ A Lovers Discourse: each comes to their music with the knowledge that we can never quite convey the weight of our loves and likes, of how monumental and soap-operatic they feel. Where some might have an existential crisis over it, Jepsen and co decide to dance.
Jepsen, in particular, leaves her lyrics so open they transport you back into that heady teenage time, where you were all-too willing to flail about over yet another boy — without the frustrations you normally feel. That carries across to Dedicated, where songs like ‘Now That I Found You’ run wild with unashamed ’80s synths and elated lyrics. After all, everything is ecstatic, now that I’ve found you. What’s next? Who cares!
‘I’ll Be Your Girl’
Dedicated isn’t the re-tread of E•MO•TION which early single ‘Party For One’ or 2017’s stand alone ‘Cut To The Feeling’ advertised. They carried the right affect but somehow felt hollow. It was if Jepsen had downloaded her own sample pack, and was mimicking herself.
Across its 15 tracks, Dedicated pulsates with life, warmth, and Big Feelings. The cool ’80s synths of E•MO•TION are still present, but made even more playful with disco leanings, alongside more modern pop-staples — hand-claps (‘Right Words Wrong Time), vocoders (‘Want You In My Room’), 808s in a semi-Latin count (‘Too Much’). It might not result in more radio play, but it’s an album that begs for repeat listens, whether that be while cleaning, crying or both.
Where E•MO•TION could veer off into one-off genre plays depending on the song’s producer (Dev Hynes’ ’90s guitar-slides stand alone on ballad ‘All That’, for example), Dedicated, true to its name, is much more cohesive. Some songs are naturally weaker (‘Real Love’ would be better, of all things, as a Foals song), but overall, there are plenty of pleasant surprises as Dedicated traverses love, loss, and, in a first, erotics.
It’s genuinely shocking to hear ‘Want You In My Room’ for the first time. In the chorus, Jepsen signs “He Needs Me! He Needs Me!”, she repeats through a vocoder, as if she was a dedicated robot, but a bridge sees her explain, for the first time, what that looks like: “You know, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, sexually“. Things are still painted with broad brushstrokes — enough space left for the listener to fill in the blanks.
The album’s highlight, however, has to be ‘Too Much’. Rather than reaching for feel-it-all heights, it stays mellow and shy, as if Jepsen trying to not just contain herself from falling hard and fast, but the song itself. Far more bare-bones, the song’s mostly a simple beat with some oscillating synths — but more layer in the chorus, as if coming out as fast flung as Jepsen’s pre-emptive apologies.
“When I feel it/I feel it too much… I’d do anything to get to the rush… If I love you/then I love you too much.”, she explains, before she asks the big question. Is she too much? Well, yes. Queen of too much!
Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated is out now, via Universal Music Australia.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney. Follow him on Twitter.