There’s no pop star with a career arc quite like Carly Rae Jepsen.
Emerging with a light folk record, pivoting into mainstream pop, before finally settling on a kind of mish-mash between the two — pop music that has all the brevity and depth of feeling you’d expect from a singer-songwriter project — Jepsen has only ever followed her own instincts.
While other mainstream performers chase trends down rabbit holes, Jepsen has stuck true to her sound and waited — sometimes longer than her record company probably wanted — for the public to come around. It’s impossible to even imagine a Jepsen heel turn, or a pivot towards trap-inflected hip hop. Carly Rae is as Carly Rae does, away from the fracas and headline-grabbing controversies of her peers.
The result is a career at once oddly out of time and also deeply of it; the unchanging soundtrack for a generation raised on nostalgia, full of glittering beats and lyrics that hide just the faintest hint of sadness.
To that end, we took a deep dive into the career of Canada’s own shimmering pop saviour, and ranked every single one of her finely-wrought hits.
#70. ‘Good Time’
At its best, ‘Good Time’ is a fairly predictable radio jingle. At its worst — particularly in its overblown, saccharine and Owl City-featuring intro — it’s the stand-out dud of Jepsen’s career; the one bum note hit during an otherwise impeccable piano sonata.
#69. ‘Sour Candy’
Carly’s style is so unique — so determinedly hers — that her work tends to gel oddly with guest vocalists. ‘Good Time’ is the most egregious example of that trend, but ‘Sour Candy’ suffers from a similar issue. Featuring Josh Ramsay of the Canadian pop-rockers Marianas Trench, it’s one of the most outdated songs in her back catalogue, centred around a chorus so 2009 that it’s moments away from breaking out into its own viral flashdance.
#68. ‘Melt With You’
Best to chalk this one up as a failed experiment. It’s Carly trying to encroach on Taylor Swift’s turf, and it doesn’t work for a second — but hey, clearly CRJ learned from the misstep, and never tried anything like it again.
#67. ‘I Know You Have A Girlfriend’
Proof that there really is an upper limit on the amount of handclaps one song can handle.
A deep cut contained only on alternate versions of Kiss, ‘Drive’ sees Carly aim high and miss the mark. The thing’s just too much, a sonic overload of sweetness that’s proof you really can take a good thing too hard.
#65. ‘Happy Not Knowing’
Dedicated, Jepsen’s 2019 full-length, might be her most subtly ambitious project yet — a gently moving look at self-sufficiency and love. But now and then, Jepsen keeps things a little too chilled — ‘Happy Not Knowing’, though fun, lacks the requisite kick it needs to stay in the memory. It’s far from bad: it just doesn’t stick.
#64. ‘Money And The Ego’
Tug of War, Jepsen’s debut, is far from the misfire that it is sometimes referred to as by the press. But of all its 10 tracks, ‘Money And The Ego’ is the least interesting, a serviceable but fun folk tune that feels more like an Aimee Mann cast-off than a real CRJ tune.
More evidence to support a case for the duets curse, this collaboration with Justin Bieber doesn’t really have the charisma or heft of either of their best work. Still, it’s always nice when Canadians band together.
Slightly too frothy to earn a substantial place on this list, ‘Picture’ still deserves some kudos for just how hard it leans into the treacle aesthetic. Seriously: this one’ll give you cavities.
#61. ‘Wrong Feels So Right’
Much too much, much too fast.
#60. ‘Turn Me Up’
Co-written with Katy Perry’s frequent collaborator Bonnie McKee, ‘Turn Me Up’ is a perfectly lovely pop song — it’s just not a Carly Rae Jepsen song. It lacks the CRJ hallmarks, stripped of her usual, distinctive baroque indie-pop flourishes and filled instead with muted instrumentation. Big hmm on this one.
Now we’re cooking with gas. Sometimes cast as an inferior sibling song to ‘Call Me Maybe’, ‘Curiosity’ is actually one of CRJ’s most emotionally honest dancefloor bangers — as sly a look at intimacy and jealousy as she’s ever released.
#58. ‘Heavy Lifting’
One of the most sedate songs in Jepsen’s back catalogue, ‘Heavy Lifting’ saves itself with a glorious chorus; a daybreak of a melody, casting light over the otherwise gloomy proceedings.
#57. ‘Love Again’
An ’80s-inspired belter with so much joy and chaos that it sounds more like a Christmas single than a celebration of new love, ‘Love Again’ is three and a half minutes of pure, unstoppable force.
#56. ‘Worldly Matters’
A key stand-out single from Tug of War, ‘Worldly Matters’ is the clearest indication of the place the young folksmith would one day end up — that chorus is pure Dedication, even if she would quickly discard those finger-picked scales.
#55. ‘Favourite Colour’
Here’s a typical Carly Rae joke for you: a song about things getting out of control that might be the most subdued and restrained track of her entire career. Shit still slaps, though.
#54. ‘Almost Said It’
One of the shortest songs in the Carly Rae canon, ‘Almost Said It’ sees the Canadian go full bar-room balladeer. The results won’t exactly stick with you, but they’re enjoyably low key.
#53. ‘Tug Of War’
Tug Of War‘s title track is pure 2008 pop froth, complete with lyrics of empowerment and gentle, upbeat handclaps. But just because it’s dated, doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun, and it boasts one of the catchiest choruses of CRJ’s early career.
#52. I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance
Nobody else could take a line like, “I didn’t just come here to dance, if you know what I mean / Do you know what I mean?” and make it sound like a flourish from a Shakespearean sonnet.
#51. ‘Just A Step Away’
A somewhat baffling combination of Tug Of War‘s cardigan-wearing sweetness and the driving beat of ‘Call Me Maybe’, this thing earns a reasonably high place on this list through its sheer oddity. You haven’t heard anything like it.
#50. ‘Never Get To Hold You’
An unusually lengthy Carly banger, ‘Never Get To Hold You’ throws everything into slow motion. For some, that’ll be alienating, but for those who are happy to enjoy CRJ in the comfort of a quiet bedroom in the early hours of a lonely morning, this is a distinctly underrated tune.
All things could considered, ‘Bucket’ should probably sit a fair few steps lower on the list. But despite being almost aggressively daggy, the Tug Of War cut has got it all, from a bizarre extended metaphor about beach-going to a twangy, Fiona Apple-lite riff. Oh, and the music video features Jepsen in a bucket hat, so there’s literally nothing more you could ask for.
#48. ‘Guitar String / Wedding Ring’
‘Filthy’ isn’t exactly the word you’d use to describe most Jepsen beats, but ‘Guitar String / Wedding Ring’ isn’t like most Jepsen songs. A ballad about matrimony hidden inside an electro-pop crooner, the thing is a pure dancefloor banger, complete with one of the Canadian’s rawest vocal performances. It’s a little glib, sure, but play it at a packed party and its pleasures will quickly reveal themselves.
#47. ‘Hotel Shampoos’
One of the most underrated tracks in the Carly Rae Jepsen back catalogue, ‘Hotel Shampoos’ sees the singer tackle longing and melancholy in her distinctly odd way. The results are more understated than some fans might want, but for the dedicated, there is a lot here to love.
#46. ‘More Than A Memory’
The very best of CRJ’s marzipan and fairy-floss stage, ‘More Than A Memory’ bets everything on its dripping chorus, and wins big.
#45. ‘Black Heart’
Carly goes mean, on this, a song that sounds like the theme tune for a children’s cartoon about grumpy computers — in a good way, though.
#44. ‘Tell Me’
Jepsen might have ultimately ditched the theatrical vocal style of her early career, but fans missing the extraordinary and strange things she used to do with her voice should go no further than the underrated ‘Tell Me’ and its rich, jazz pop-inflected chorus.
Full of distinctly Jespen-esque turns of phrase (“I ran into you like a clap of thunder” being the highlight), ‘Sweetie’ is this overclogged, wildly over-the-top marvel. Every second it threatens to buckle under its own weight; every second it stands tall.
#42. ‘Automatically In Love’
A winking anthem, drenched in ’80s reverb and slathered with a siren’s call of a chorus, ‘Automatically In Love’ sees CRJ walk a fine line between Daft Punk-indebted excess and real feeling.
#41. ‘Tiny Little Bows’
‘Tiny Little Bows’ is weird! It’s hooky, covered in strings, vaguely unreal, and it doesn’t really have a chorus. But somehow, against the odds, it works, wrapping its way around your ears like string.
#40. ‘LA Hallucinations’
Only Carly could make the thoroughly un-magical L.A., city of dog hospitals and churches, feel like a place where futures are realised and dreams honestly do come true.
#39. ‘Right Words Wrong Time’
Dedication boasts the finest production of Jepsen’s entire career, a sonic mastery most clear on the rich ‘Right Words Wrong Time’. Feast on those plucked MIDI strings, ye almighty, and despair.
#38. ‘Want You In My Room’
That bassline, holy shit.
#37. ‘Feels Right’
Dedicated‘s version of a pop single, ‘Feels Right’ trades in the glassy synths of the rest of the record for Stevie Wonder-inspired piano rolls and a guest spot from the crooning Electric Guest. If you’re yet to get your dad into CRJ, this is the song that’ll win them over.
Big, brash, and unstoppably upbeat, ‘Store’ is the closest thing that Jepsen has ever written to a musical number — and in the best possible way. That it didn’t make EMOTION is a real tragedy; it’d be a perfect contrast with that record’s simpler, more upfront delights.
#35. ‘Too Much’
‘Too Much’ is the clearest homage to CRJ’s favourite artists — you can hear everybody from Hall And Oates to Prince to Madonna over the course of these short three minutes. Not, mind you, that the song is nothing more than a slavish roll-call; from the work of those she admires, Jepsen synthesises something strange and beautiful.
#34. ‘Your Heart Is A Muscle’
That opening piano riff has more heart and power than the entire discography of most other pop stars, to be honest.
#33. ‘Talk To Me’
There’s not a single other pop star alive that’d be able to pull off a song this sappy — this unrepentantly upbeat — let alone make it sing the way CRJ does.
#32. ‘Everything He Needs’
Only CRJ could slip a Harry Nilsson reference into a mainstream pop song, cribbing parts of ‘He Needs Me’ into this ode to love and dedication.
#31. ‘Your Type’
If you haven’t blasted this one post-break up, dancing alone in your room, then there are fundamental things about the human existence that we do not share.
An underrated banger from one of Carly’s most underrated records, ‘Roses’ swaps out brash melodies for a whispered vocal-line and honest-to-God finger snaps. Let it wash over you.
#29. ‘Boy Problems’
The top comment on the ‘Boy Problems’ music video reads: “there is no heterosexual explanation for this”. I think that’s all that needs to be said, to be honest.
#28. ‘Tonight I’m Getting Over You’
Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t get angry, she gets even, and on ‘Tonight I’m Getting Over You’, she obliterates an ex by completely erasing him from the canon. This is no glum, self-obsessed paean to heartbreak; it’s a glittering path pointing forward, and one of the most viciously sardonic singles in the singer’s back catalogue.
#27. ‘Making The Most Of The Night’
Jepsen isn’t exactly known for her restraint — her very best songs see her throw literally everything at the wall to see what sticks. But the exception to that rule is ‘Making The Most Of The Night’, one of the underrated pleasures of EMOTION, and a song that plays things admirably close to its chest.
This song could last for 10 hours and it still wouldn’t be long enough, tbh.
#25. ‘Sweet Talker’
Carly Rae Jepsen goes full jazz, and the results are admirably bonkers. Of course, this isn’t going to be the one to please everybody, but if you’re a sucker for Carly doing florid vocal scales, this will be your new obsession.
#24. ‘All That’
Opening with a flurry of keys and a bassline that’d make Thundercat’s eyes water, ‘All That’ eventually tumbles into a big, brash rumination on longing and guilt, the kind of throbbing pop pulse perfected by Prince. It’s Jepsen’s take on the sad banger and it fucking rules.
#23. ‘Gimmie Love’
‘Gimmie Love’ might be the most relentlessly Carly Rae Jepsen song on EMOTION. After all, it’s the Rosetta stone of all of her obsessions, bursting with a reverb-saturated chorus, ’80s-inspired vocoder work, and lyrics that sidestep the romantic preoccupations of her peers in order to focus on issues of self-worth and self-respect. Oh, and it’s a banger, obviously.
#22. ‘Hurt So Good’
‘Hurt So Good’ is every single song that played at the ice skating parties you attended as a child condensed into three minutes of pure, unstoppable bop.
#21. ‘This Kiss’
After ‘Call Me Maybe’, ‘This Kiss’ might be CRJ’s only other four quadrant hit — a song that hides her delightfully subversive preoccupations under a radio-friendly sheen. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to love here for longtime Jepsen devotees, from the glittering synths, to the aggressively Jepsen-esque rhyming of “undeniable” and “unreliable“.
#20. ‘Real Love’
Jepsen is one of the least political popstars around, content to focus on matters of the heart and the bedroom rather than the global stage. But with ‘Real Love’, she makes her first foray into reflecting the times in which we live, casting a divided, hurting world as the backdrop for a song about contentment and dedication. It’s a new style for Carly, and it really works.
#19. ‘The One’
One of the barest songs in the CRJ catalogue, ‘The One’ is as sturdy and as unadorned as an old leather armchair. If you’ve got a friend who reckons the singer is all flourish, this is the track to prove them wrong.
#18. ‘Let’s Get Lost’
‘Let’s Get Lost’ is pure cartoon — a technicolour delight that finds grand value in stuffing literally every one of Carly Rae’s talents into the shortest space imaginable. That it’s so underrated is a crying goddamn shame.
#17. ‘The Sound’
Returning to the piano-led emotion of ‘Your Heart Is A Muscle’, ‘The Sound’ is a clear indication of CRJ’s progression as an artist. Her choruses are smarter than ever before; her voice more restrained; her lyrics more pointed. The Queen of Sonic Evolution indeed.
#16. ‘Body Language’
“I think I’m in trouble,” goes the very first line of ‘Body Language’, and things only get more intense from there. Featuring some of the most insistent beats of the singer’s career, it’s a song about being friendzoned that somehow manages to avoid every single negative association with the phrase ‘being friendzoned’. Your fave could never.
#15. ‘First Time’
This should be the soundtrack to every single gym workout you ever do for the rest of your life.
#14. ‘No Drug Like Me’
A big, unstable pop bopper that takes Carly’s usual lyrics of self-love to the next level, ‘No Drug Like Me’ is probably the closest the singer will ever come to the braggadocio of rap. It’s the sound of a musician who exactly knows her worth, and it’s perfect.
#13. ‘Party For One’
We all agreed this song is about masturbation, yeah?
The exact midpoint between David Lynch and Olivia Newton-John, ‘Cry’ hides great oceans of emotion. It’s the sound of someone trying very desperately to keep things together; someone making that doomed, last-ditch attempt to maintain a relationship that ended months ago. Every inch of it hurts.
There is literally no reason we can’t make this our national anthem right now.
#10. ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’
Carly Rae Jepsen’s songs are endearingly asexual. She’s romantic, not horny, and her songs are — for the most part — set in a world where things get about risqué as a light kiss. ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ is the exception to that rule. Led by a rhythmic bass line, topped with one of the most antic choruses in the CRJ back catalogue, this is a shimmering ode to wanting.
#9. ‘Call Me Maybe’
The song that kicked it all off, ‘Call Me Maybe’ is sometimes unfairly derided as lacking in all of the charm and oddness that makes Jepsen so beloved and acclaimed. But don’t let the raft of radio plays it received ruin its magic for you; at its heart, ‘Call Me Maybe’ is as honest a song as CRJ has ever written. “Before you came into my life I missed you so bad,” isn’t just some throwaway ear-worm. It’s one of the purest lines of poetry in the pop canon.
#8. ‘I Really Like You’
If there’s anything that Carly Rae Jepsen does better than any other pop star on the planet, it’s sincerity. Taylor Swift might have once cornered the market on lines uttered as though they’re closely-guarded secrets, but Jepsen is the performer who most feels like your best friend; who speaks with the authority and honesty of someone that you’ve known for years. ‘I Really Like You’ might be a radio friendly unit shifter, but it’s as intimate and unfussed as something pulled from the pages of a diary.
#7. ‘When I Needed You’
The sound of Carly Rae Jepsen shouting “hey” at the beginning of this song is pure, auditory rejuvenation; a glass of warm honey and lemon to treat a soothed throat.
#6. ‘Warm Blood’
Kate Bush and Carly Rae are performers rarely mentioned in the same sentence. But on ‘Warm Blood’, one of the most keenly felt odes to love in Jepsen’s discography, the influence of the British pioneer is painfully apparent. Feast on that echoey, melancholic chorus, and tell me it doesn’t remind you of ‘Running Up That Hill’; that it doesn’t have the same power, and the same crushing sense of sincerity.
#5. ‘Now That I Found You’
At the very start of the ‘Now That I Found You’ music video, we get a list of credits, introducing us to our supporting players. There are three names: Carly’s, a man’s, and a cat’s. In any other pop video, we’d know what to expect: Carly and the man would fall head over heels in love, and the cat would be relegated to the status of a bit player, wandering into the action to underscore the central romance.
Not so. Instead, ‘Now That I Found You’ becomes a paean to feline companionship — a video about loving yourself and, just as importantly, loving your pet. It’s gloriously mundane, a firm rejection of the whirlwind romances that are usually deployed to sell mainstream records. But it’s also gloriously Carly, a reaffirmation of the gentle, sweet, and thoroughly relatable love she has spent her whole career mining.
Oh, and the song’s a masterpiece too, obviously.
Full of dappled Californian light, ‘Higher’ is the soundtrack to a queer reboot of Miami Vice; the music from a gin-saturated workout tape. Fun without ever being slight, its this big, crushing collection of pop hooks, melodies painted in the bright colours of a Matisse. Its chorus will complete you.
So much of the magic of Carly Rae Jepsen comes from the vague contours of her poetry; from her deep resistance to specifics. Her songs trade in universality, reaching out to everyone, regardless of lived experience or background. She’s a master at reducing the human experience to its most base components — to looking you straight in the eye and understanding you, even if she doesn’t actually know you.
That is, except on ‘Julien’, a song that paints in neat brushstrokes rather than broad ones. A testament to the way that real love can expand the perimeters of your life, it’s the best ballad that Carly has ever written, and one of the finest songs of her career.
#2. ‘Cut to the Feeling’
In an age where artists like Taylor Swift are flagrantly chasing the pink dollar, courting a queer audience they know will never leave them, Jepsen is one of the purest, most authentic allies in contemporary pop. She doesn’t queerbait; she doesn’t muddle in deceptive aesthetics. Instead, she makes songs that are so unabashedly, wonderfully camp — so full of feeling — that they naturally worm their way into the language of queer communities, becoming larger-than-life anthems solely on the basis of their passion.
That’s ‘Cut To The Feeling’, a song that doesn’t specifically try to pander to anyone, but manages in its sheer jubilance to become one of the most essential tracks in the queer dance pop catalogue. God bless every single second of it.
#1. ‘Run Away With Me’
That’s it. That’s literally all I have to say.
Joseph Earp mostly writes about horror movies and climate change, so ranking Carly Rae Jepsen songs is a nice change of pace. You can find him on Twitter @Joe_O_Earp.