Never in my life did I actually think that I’d write a blog like this. There. I said it. Frankly, it wasn’t even until a few weeks ago did I actually ponder about my blog series as a whole. Was I actually writing about these artists for a year and a half because they were actually influential, both in my very own life and the life of others, or was it on the basis that it was assumed to be influential, even without me listening to the artist? Because more often than not, a lot of these blogs that I wrote throughout this year, were about artists where I’d listen to them almost the very week of. Yeah, poor planning I know, but one thing struck out to me as something I should think and ponder about…was there an unseen assumption that certain artists are influential and certain artists are popular, and was I playing into that assumption? I’ve written 65 blogs so far in this series, and as I glance through who I’ve written about (and who I haven’t), there’s one big striking omission (be it intentional or not, I’m not entirely sure), that I can’t ignore- the absence of female-driven pop. I mean sure, there’s pop in a sense that it is pop-rock or pop-country or just pop-_____ (fill in the blank) on my list: see artists like Delta Goodrem, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Amy Grant, Mandy Moore, Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Amorosi and Colbie Caillat, and you can see that there isn’t necessarily a lack of females on my list investing their music within the pop sonic space, but there is a lack of female representatives in pop in the sense of the dance-pop variety. And herein lies the point. I used to think that pop in the very sense of the word- the 1D pop that is flooding the airwaves since…well, ever; shouldn’t really have a place on my list, whatsoever.
Sure, I did write about One Direction way back in March 2020, but in reality, there’re 1D, and they are influential to a certain generation, even though I’m not part of it. And so I’ve been pondering about pop in the 1D sense of the word, and wondered to myself- can an artist still present music within that vein, and still be popular, and influential, and still remind us that the pop that we’ve grown so much to hate all of these years isn’t as bad as we once thought it was? I know, these questions can either be very philosophical or just plain trivial, but the point of the matter is this. I went out on a limb this week. And maybe I’ll pay off, maybe in a few weeks’ time, I’ll look back and figure out that this was a big mistake. But whatever the case, I took a chance on an artist that I didn’t really even consider to be on my radar at all this past year…until last week that is. No it’s not Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Sia, Dua Lipa or Ellie Goulding…but it is someone along a similar vein (well, kinda!). Carly Rae Jepsen is the artist I’ve taken the plunge in hearing this week, and while it can be weird for me to say that I’m fast becoming someone who is actually enjoying a fair amount of her music, there was a time in my own life where my own preconceived ideas of pop was nothing like how I think about it today. Fusing together pop, EDM, dance, and radio songs galore, Carly’s most famous for ‘Call Me Maybe’…and if you haven’t heard of the song, then I suggest you google it now. Yes, now. I’ll wait…and now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ve realised that I’ve been judging artists on the slither of a knowledge that I know about them. I’ve pigeonholed artists into certain categories, which is fine, but up until now, I’ve lumped all the pop artists together and have made a blanket statement, that how can any of these artists that I’ve placed in my very own proverbial ‘popular’ group, be influential, because they’re not, right? That’s what I did with Carly and her music.
I listened to ‘Call Me Maybe’, and with one brush stroke, painted her whole career like the first song I’ve heard. Wrote her off, and understood, that if her standout song, as chart-topping as it was, is as ‘superlative’ and ‘cheesy’ to me, then the rest of her discography is, right? Yeah…that’s the thing about assumptions. It makes me look back when I realise that these assumptions weren’t based upon evidence, but rather just on a slither of perceived truth, that to extrapolate and call everything this one thing, is foolish and full of folly. Carly Rae Jepsen, a Canadian singer-songwriter/pop artist, has had a hit in ‘Call Me Maybe’, and yes, where it stands right now in 2020, I’d be bold to say that Carly’s music is by far one of the most underrated dance/pop/EDM music I’ve ever heard. Passionate with her vocals and having a bubbly personality, this is an example of an artist who made a big splash into the pool of radio singles and fame, and now its ripples are showing that one big radio single years ago doesn’t really mean that people are going to follow you and appreciate your music, for years upon end. And on the flipside, just because you have a hit song years ago and people aren’t as invested in your music right now, doesn’t mean that your music isn’t good. For about a week or so, I’ve been listening to Carly’s music, and dare I say…there’s some good stuff there. Sure it’s pop, and sure it sounds like every pop song out there on the radio, but it is in the lyrics where Carly’s music is birthed- songs where topics are birthed that aren’t your usual topics when you would categorise pop and the topics typically discussed within the confines of a radio song. Yes, Carly isn’t as famous now, nor do I think she really wanted to be in the first place. But what I’ve come to realise is to never judge a book by its cover. Carly’s music has been a very big surprise, and with her influence being in an industry too focused on image and what people perceive a message to be, than the actual message itself; Carly’s albums, spanning a little over a decade, are such were unfortunately people write them off, because of the radio pop atmosphere of ‘Call Me Maybe’, and people’s own assumptions of what her other music could be like. Believe me, I was indeed one of them.
But it is not until you take the plunge and listen to an artist, that you can truly know the vibe and the heart behind their craft. Until then, you don’t know, you can only assume and make educated guesses. And so here I am, about to embark on this blog, with this understanding, that there is still room for pop in my influential artists list, as there’s room for change for a lot of these artists present that I’ve still yet to hear and write about. And at the end of the day, this is just one man’s opinion. We can ever really get it right, especially a list like this, all the time. There is room for difference and grace- ask someone else and they’d probably tell you a different 100 that they probably reckon are as influential as what I’ve written about. And that’s ok. But one things for sure- Carly’s music is infectious and bubbly, joyous and emotive, heartfelt and compelling. From the bouncy breakout hit ‘Call Me Maybe’ and the collab of the decade ‘Good Time’ (w/ Owl City), to the earworm (in the best way possible) ‘I Really Like You’, the vulnerable ‘All That’ and the compelling and poignant ‘Too Much’; this is an artist who has evolved over time in a good way, refining her sound so that now in 2020, her music is from a much more pop-EDM variety when compared to the radio-pop of a decade ago.
‘…I think everyone is starting to realise that the radio we were being fed all the time wasn’t what everyone wanted to listen to. With Spotify, it doesn’t need to be drilled into somebody, ‘This is a good song.’ Is it though? Or are we just singing it because we haven’t heard anything else? I think there was a period of time where I didn’t like anything that I was hearing on the radio, and so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to belong to that team anymore. Everyone would be stoked on it [music for the radio] and I’d be like, ‘I hate it. Like, it actually makes my stomach turn.’ I walked that road for long enough to be like, ‘Turn around, run in the other direction darling!’ [My stepfather] said to me, ‘What is the point of this if you’re just miserable?’ I wasn’t, but I was tired. I’m not gonna sell out at the one thing that you can’t sell out at, which is the music. Like, do a shampoo, whatever, but the music has to have integrity for me to sleep at night. There’d be nothing worse than putting out what you thought people would love and then to have them hate it. And you hated it too. No one won here! I have to like it, and if they do too, wonderful, and if they don’t, well, nobody gets my weird self and that’s fine…’
Carly’s music has been cycling through my Spotify for the past week or so, and while it may take some time for me to truly see merit in radio pop at the moment, what I’ve nevertheless realised is that more often than not, someone’s music and art is more than one song, or in this case, Carly is so much more than what ‘Call Me Maybe’ made her out to be (and still makes her out to be). In all frankness, ‘Call Me Maybe’ isn’t necessarily the most deep and meaningful song that Carly has recorded, nor is it the catchiest or even the most pop. It is nevertheless definitely the most accessible song on the internet by Carly, and while people can have their opinions about a certain artist based on the one song they’ve heard, what I’ve decided to do is to just throw out all my preconceptions, of Carly, of pop, of radio pop and especially of EDM. And then just listen, for listening sake. Not for any blog per se, just to listen and that’s it. And that’s what I’ve been doing this last week, enjoying music, and realising along the way, that Carly’s music is far better than even I myself gave her credit for. Even ‘Call Me Maybe’, a song about the insecurities someone has when trying to approach someone they have a crush on, and longing and wanting in their mind for a relationship to become a reality and for them to call them (on the phone) at an opportune moment; is a track that when heard the second time, is one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed upon re-listen. Usually with all the hype you listen to a song and upon first listen it doesn’t strike you as being ‘different’? Maybe listen to it again, and maybe, just maybe, you’d be amazed about how much preconceived ideas and notions you had, when you listened to said song the first time.
‘Call Me Maybe’ was like that for me. I mean, a song about giving a number to a person and asking them to call you at an opportune time? And the song went #1 because of that? Upon first impressions ‘Call Me Maybe’ doesn’t do the album, and even the career of Carly, any good. But as we dig a little deeper into the track, we realise how smart and instinctively clever this song is. Confused? Yeah, me too. But what I have been saying all along is this- ‘Call Me Maybe’ is full of strings. Violins, violas, all that stuff. You won’t really notice it when you hear the song or even watch the music video, but the strings and violins actually create the backbone of the song. We see a track not littered as much by electric guitars; and is now presented to us with a sort of symphonic atmosphere, one that hasn’t been popular in radio prior, and not really popular afterward too. The hybrid of symphonic EDM pop is what Carly’s song is, which is something that radio hasn’t had in a long, long time. The song itself is one of uncertainty and insecurity- the persona is wanting to give their number to a crush, and with the words uttered ‘call me maybe’, we see someone still insecure within themselves- am I really good enough for them to call me…maybe? Maybe not? ‘Call Me Maybe’ is called ‘Call Me Maybe’ and not just ‘Call Me’ because of this notion that every person feels insecure about their own lives at one point or another. We worry about what people perceive us to be, worry about our image and about how we are to portray ourselves to the world without being laughed at or ridiculed. This is a song that attempts to place all these feelings within the confines of 3 minutes. Yes, it is radio pop at either its best or worst (you decide), but at the end of the day, ‘Call Me Maybe’ addresses this understanding, that no matter how confident about ourselves we can seem, there’s always this niggling doubt that we’re not good enough. ‘Call Me Maybe’ is a reminder that such a song exists so we can process these feelings of inadequacy, and is not just a track with a great hook and beat, as much as people have been lead to believe.
‘…I’m so happy that my music connects in a positive way, and that’s even something that gets thought of. I think I have a couple different theories. One is: I don’t think I always write great songs. But I over-write – I write until I get to something that I’m proud of. Like, I hustle at it. I wrote 200 songs [for this album], and I’m not even talking about the fact that with one of those songs, I might have rewritten it seven different ways until it feels right. But I’m really passionate about it. I think I’m so passive in other parts of my life, but the one thing I’m really opinionated about is music. And so I’ve really held on to it. I have an idea and opinion when I walk into a room of how I want the music to sound. I don’t know where that comes from, but I think of it as my favourite part of myself. So, I just put in the time, I guess. Does that make sense?…’ It can be fair to assume that Carly’s breakout album was KISS, unveiled to us in 2012 with the chart-topping track ‘Call Me Maybe’, amongst others. But this is not where the story begins for Carly and her music- born and raised in Mission, British Colombia, Carly’s move to Vancouver led to her competing in the 2007 fifth season of the now-defunct Canadian Idol, where she came 3rd in the overall competition. In light of her place on Canadian Idol, Tug of War was born. And as I myself heard this album, I realised this one thing- Carly’s debut sounds folk-pop, and maybe because it is. Released independently and then on a major label once her 2012 album became a critically acclaimed hit; Tur of War feels so different compared to the other album releases of Carly that it almost feels like a different person- dunno if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but regardless, Tug of War seemingly has a few gems to discover, even though the album itself isn’t as recognised by people who know Carly and her music (most probably knowing the artist from 2012’s Kiss onward).
‘Bucket’, the first song on the album, samples the children song ‘There’s a Hole In My Bucket’, as the track itself speaks metaphorically about a dissolving relationship, and likening that to building a castle in the sand with a bucket that has a hole in it. It’s damaged and a failure unfortunately from the get-go, as we see that relationships, when they work, aren’t on the sand, because in metaphorical terms, the wind and waves can wash it all away. ‘Bucket’ is a reminder for us all to invest in the relationships that matter, and no matter how hard someone tries to salvage a relationship they think is going to matter and last a long time, a realisation has to occur, that sometimes it was the ‘wrong bucket’ in the first place, or even the ‘wrong location’. Relationships need to be cultivated to work, and ‘Bucket’ challenges us all to see if our castles in our lives, are on the sand and built from a bucket with a hole, or if its on a much more solid foundation. ‘Tug of War’ also presents this metaphor in wrestling with the rope and pulling back and forth between ideas and beliefs, as the persona in the song is more insecure than what they should be, about a relationship. Worrying that if their man goes out with the boys, she’d wonder where he is all night, and that if he goes out with the girls, she’d wonder if he’d cheat on her or not; ‘Tug of War’ talks about the inner turmoil that often some females have when they’re in a relationship, and communication isn’t really key in it. Such a song were to arise if people in the relationship don’t have healthy discussions- thereby ‘Tug of War’ is a reminder, again to cultivate relationships, but also acknowledge if and when worries about the other person in the relationship, is founded and based on assumptions, or reality. ‘Sour Candy’, track #10 on the album, sounds sonically unique and different compared to any of Carly’s music in forthcoming albums- this track in particular has an acoustic vibe to it, compared to the EDM-pop that was expressed in KISS onward. The song itself likens a relationship breakdown to a sour candy, and a reminder that in some cases, a relationship can be saved, no matter how much you enjoy the candy, you have to acknowledge the sourness to it, and see if the sourness is worth the candy at all. The album also has the John Denver cover ‘Sunshine on my Shoulders’ and presents Carly’s version as a folksy song, and a reminder that a song from yesteryear from a legend of country music (John Denver) can still be relevant and enjoyable in this current period of time right now; while it is songs like ‘Money and the Ego’ and ‘Worldly Matters’, underrated songs from Tug of War the album, and underrated in all of Carly’s career thus far, that remind me of how underrated this artist really is. ‘Money and the Ego’ challenges us to live life for more than just money or ego, to search inside ourselves to see if there’s something worth championing that isn’t material, while ‘Worldly Matters’ presents this understanding that often the things that concern us in the world shouldn’t, that they’re tugging at our hearts when really, we should be concerned about things that will last more in this life- relationships and family, rather than the tangible things that we can often amass at the expense of our family and character.
If you were to pick an album from Carly that I’m sure people have either looked at (whenever they’ve gone to a physical store of CD’s and have picked it up at one point or another), bought, or even streamed in part or full on Spotify, it’d have to be KISS from 2012. While the album itself sonically is a vast departure from the folksy acoustic Tug of War, the songs themselves still have emotion, poignancy and heart, even if the music overlayed feels a little too overproduced, even for me. It is in this moment where I realise that, knowing the calibre of Carly’s song writing- evidenced in Tug of War; that I try to look past all the cliches and musical tricks and ideas KISS decides to employ. It was as a precursor to KISS in 2012, that Curiosity EP was unveiled, and while there’s only 2 songs overlap between the EP and the album (‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘Curiosity’- the title track of the EP), what I’ve found with not only the 2012 EP but the album holistically is that once someone is noticed and signs to a label, their sound changes, voluntarily or not. The acoustic sound on Tug of War sounds great, and a handful of songs on KISS sound good too. Except the general vibe and flow of Kiss seems to differ drastically from her previous 2008 album. Nevertheless, there is a sense of marketability when creating music and songs from a radio-format standpoint, and sure enough, Carly’s reputation climbed through the roof. It’s just that for me, KISS isn’t my favourite album, but I can understand why it can be someone else’s. Regardless of my own views about the 2012 album as a whole, the whole period of the early 2010s was good to Carly. Starting off with her 2012 EP Curiosity; we see tracks that have come from a place of experience and hopeful longing as we continue to unbox an artist that may have thrived better in another musical genre (let’s say, folk) than pop, in the first place.
‘Curiosity’ the song speaks about a girl in a relationship who is treated poorly, and longs for something more from a guy, that may not be able to given her more- with two versions of the track, acoustical and electronic, presented on the EP and the album respectively; Carly’s second radio single after ‘Call Me Maybe’ from KISS is indeed a BOP, and a track that we all need to think about, whether we are single or in a relationship, as we ask and consider this question- who are we surrounding ourselves with that are treating us worse than we know we deserve, even if it is in the most subtlest way? ‘Picture’, an underrated song from Curiosity EP, reminds us all of the surrealness of what a relationship could be, that a picture needs to be taken so that the persona in the song can actually believe that such a relationship is even happening (because of the surrealness and improbability of said relationship occurring in the first place), while ‘Talk To Me’ provides to us all males, the inner thoughts of females, when we often look at them in longingly ways but are too shy to talk to them because we feel like we’re out of their league. ‘Talk To Me’ is a reminder for us all introverts to get out of our shell, and that if we like someone (or at least want to get to know them), then talking to them will be the first step. ‘Just a Step Away’ is a song about commitment and devotion, be it in a loving romantic relationship, or a commitment between friends; a timely reminder to always be by the side of our loved ones, in a way that they can count on us when they need it, while the EP ends with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’, a reimagining, turning the acoustically driven folk track into a dance pop melody. While the reimagining of it can deter some die-hard Joni Mitchell fans for even respecting the new take on the classic, Carly’s way of reintroducing the song to a younger audience is something to behold- and a reminder that words and lyrics still ring true and are ever more poignant, even if the music drastically changes.
While I still even now find myself enjoying songs from Curiosity EP much more than KISS, I do understand the popularity of Carly’s 2nd full length album, even if at times it feels a little too overproduced for my liking. Nevertheless- with songs ‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘Curiosity’ overlapping between the EP and album, there is a little familiarity when hearing this album, although, familiarity unfortunately cannot capture the uniqueness of Carly’s 2012 EP and her 2008 album, in a way that is replicated here on Kiss. Because unfortunately it’s not really. Maybe that’s ok to draw in a different crowd of listeners and followers of her music, but I felt when hearing songs from Kiss, that there seemed to be a lack of intentionality that was present in songs previously. Nevertheless, there’s still a fair amount of enthusiasm and joy in Kiss to pinpoint at- ‘Tiny Little Bows’ starts off the album with Carly’s trademark strings as the song speaks about the complexities of love as we see the persona chasing their crush across the country, longing to be together but realising that love isn’t something that is quantified and thought out- often it just happens with as much randomisation as any other feeling and emotion. To chase around this person that you believe you love, or even to chase love itself, can seem foolish from a glance, but looking deeper, it is what we all do- longing for connection, deeper meaning, acceptance and to be loved, so it’s no doubt people chase it, rightly or wrongly, in a relationship. Most of KISS carries on from this notion and understanding of the first track. The album as a whole in fact relationship based, and because I am still single, I may not be the intended target audience for this album. Nevertheless, by the time you get to the end of the album, you probably seem to be EDMed out, considering the amount of synths, strings and various other EDM sounds that seem to tie these songs together. ‘Good Time’, a collaboration with Owl City, and about ‘nothing really’, just having fun; is ironically one of the bright spots on KISS as this 2012 album; while ‘More than a Memory’ speaks about a heartfelt will-they-won’t-they relationship, something that didn’t fully eventuate the first time, but now has a chance again to maybe start again, even with the hesitancy on both sides of the potential relationship. ‘Beautiful’, a collaboration with superstar Justin Bieber, is a nice ode to honesty, as the persona in the song, though they’re apart from their lover, still admits their feelings and their appreciation and admiration for this person they’re apart from. While the song itself isn’t clear whether the two people singing are still in relationship, or they’re broken up and this song is the residual effects of that; ‘Beautiful’ nevertheless creates a space where honesty and elevating the other before yourself is championed, and a way that we all should move forward, irrespective of whether the relationship in question lasts or not. ‘Guitar String / Wedding Ring’ is a track where it’s plain as day to see that the persona in question is very certain that this person they’re singing to is right for them, so much so that they’re willing to cut a piece of guitar string and wear it like a wedding ring…dunno if that’s desperation (if the other person in said relationship is trying to move on) or certainty, but regardless, you have to admire Carly and the story she paints in the track, one of either a hopeless romantic, or a stalker and a jerk, whichever way you look at it.
It’s songs like these (‘Beautiful’, ‘More than a Memory’, ‘Guitar String’) that really highlight the quality of the song writing and lyrics, and remind myself why I enjoyed Carly’s music as a whole this last week- yes the music is good as a whole, but it is only the by-product of thought-provoking good lyrics. KISS tends to have a few over-produced tracks (‘Tonight I’m Getting Over You’, ‘Hurts So Good’, ‘Drive’), but even though I felt connected to some songs and not others (and with the overall general feel of the album being a little bit disjointed for my taste), what I’ve nevertheless realised about Kiss in particular is how much control the label has initially about the music that you put out. Both 2015’s EMOTION and 2019’s Dedicated seem to have a little bit more of a freedom and control from Carly (and a lot more of the songs on those two albums, I’ve enjoyed and felt that the style on these two is much more Carly than on the 2012 album!), and while that’s not to discount the earnest of intentions from Carly in Kiss…it’s just that for me personally, I’ve realised that pre-KISS and post-KISS are much more enjoyable to listen to than KISS itself. Nevertheless, there is a song that stands out on the 2012 album for all the right reasons- ‘Your Heart is a Muscle’ speaks of this understanding and notion that the heart works in such a way that a lot of your muscles in your body works. In order to keep at it and work in keeping it healthy, both in a physical sense and in a psychological and spiritual sense, we need to carve out time for it, to work at keeping such an organ healthy so that we can live our lives without worry that our hearts are going to give way. Just as the body needs food to work, so too does our heart need to mend from difficulty and disaster. I am reminded very much in the bible of how our hearts can deceive our very bodies and lead us into things that aren’t healthy for us in a spiritual sense. Such a song as this is an encouragement to me, of the necessary things I know I need to do to keep my heart in check, to be grounded not just in feelings, but in what I know is true and a foundation that won’t necessarily rock around with the wind.
I was really searching for what sort of pop music was authentic and made sense to me. Because, essentially, “Call Me Maybe” was the first pop song I’d ever released. So that follow-up album [2012’s Kiss] was very me just dipping my toes in the water of what this was. When I took the time off to make E•MO•TION, I knew that I wanted to really like what I was putting out. I wanted it to be something that felt like I wasn’t trying to follow a trend or do what was expected. So I was very picky about what made it onto the album. I called it E•MO•TION because I was looking to put a positive spin on, and embrace, this word I’d been called in a negative way my whole life—like, “she’s very emotional.” I think a lot of people are very emotional. They’ve been taught that it’s not cool, and you’ve got to tone it down or not feel too much. I was rebelling against all of that. Hopefully people connect to the freedom to tap into their own dramatic emo-ness or whatever it is that they’re feeling, to just go there.
I think that there was a real liberty to feeling like a pop artist and a pop star doesn’t have to be this one cookie-cutter thing. It could be anything. Even when I’m seeing other artists emerging now, that’s becoming more and more evident: you have to look this way or dance this way. I was none of those things. So it was really liberating to be like, “Oh, that’s okay.” It flipped the script on everything I was already thinking about—including aging in this business. With the rooms of people giving me love back, I just deleted [the idea] that there has to be a certain way for this to go, or for my career to look. That pressure being gone? It’s the most joyful I’ve ever been in this business. I think it allows for creativity to really be at its strongest for me, because you’re not trying to manufacture music that works versus music I want to creatively share, and what might connect.
Even now to this day, Carly Rae Jepsen is known for ‘Call Me Maybe’, and maybe that’s the only thing people know. Rightly or even wrongly, Carly’s career is so much more than the one song that everyone capitalised on- labels, critics, even fans. It was Carly’s next album EMOTION (then closely followed by EMOTION: SIDE B), that really challenged the status quo, and showed that Carly was more than just her one song from 2012. While Kiss was created with more a hand-off approach from Carly and much more of a hands-on label initiative; EMOTION and further to that, 2019’s Dedicated, feel more like Carly has taken back some of the control creatively that may have been squashed in the buzz of KISS and the makings of that. What has resulted in the alteration of musical genre from Carly in both EMOTION and Dedicated is a Carly that is much more interesting and her music much more engaging and dare I say it, enjoyable, meaningful, and heartfelt. It is in the albums Dedicated and EMOTION where I find Carly’s influence for her music in a much greater scale than on the songs on Kiss. And while I may be in the minority of people who have thoroughly enjoyed both EMOTION and Dedicated (if everyone enjoyed Carly’s 2015 and 2019 albums, she would be more popular and have much more of a radio presence than she does right now!), I still remain firm in my assertion, that it is because of Carly’s control taken back for the production of EMOTION and albums going forward, that Carly’s impact for people around the world has continued to increase to new heights. While her popularity has seemingly decreased over the years, because everyone is comparing any other song of hers to ‘Call Me Maybe’, her influence amongst people who value pop music with a more deeper level of meaning rather than just a superlative atmosphere, continues to grow with each album release. It is Carly’s career thus far that epitomises the very nature of what it means to be in a music business that seems to want to shape and mould you into an artist that maybe you yourself don’t necessarily want to be, but can’t really articulate it yet. Carly’s genre change in EMOTION for me is a welcomed one- and though it didn’t translate that well in terms of chart success, people who have yearned for pop with meaning (myself included) have welcomed this shift in music from Carly.
‘…it’s OK to just be like, ‘I don’t think that’s me, I’m sorry.’ No one should have more authority over you and your vision and your artistry than your own damn self. I want to have the steering wheel, versus some 50-year-old guy and a group of old people telling me what I’m supposed to wear…there’s not this concept of beauty being one thing anymore. It was drilled into all of us, with Cosmopolitan, like, ‘This is what you’re supposed to look like.’…’
Emotion (both the album and the SIDE B EP) and Dedicated (both the original album and the SIDE B follow-up) both showcase a mature side of Carly; her wisdom and lyrical depth is far beyond her years. At not even 35 in 2020, Carly’s ability to create music that has an emotional pull and remind us all of the complex feelings we all have and to not negate or even downplay our emotions, is something of an art to even cohesively write about, and Carly’s done that with much passion, grace and joy that I’ve heard in an industry that doesn’t have as much joy as I believe it should. The infectious and bouncy earworm (in a very, very good way) ‘I Really Like You’ is coupled with a very odd, but nevertheless very welcome, music video. In it, Carly’s song is being played, and lip-synced, by the famous, but nevertheless down-to-earth Tom Hanks. Yes, its weird and wonderful that Tom Hanks would ever star in a music video, lip-syncing all the way to a Carly Rae Jepsen song. Nevertheless, it’s done for laughs and a comedic funny way of pulling off a video where all you can do is just dance along to the silly, yet equally happy track. It’s a reminder that such a song as this, one where the persona confesses their love (it may be unrequited or not) to another, can be carried out in a way that puts a smile on your face. It’s a beat that you can’t get rid of from your mind, even if you tried (and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask), and Tom Hanks’ likeableness and Carly’s powerful vocal charm (that now when I think about it, sounds very distinctly like Rachel Platten’s voice, or is it really the other way around?) carries the song very well and makes it one of the standout songs in all of Carly’s career thus far. With ‘Run Away With Me’ (the second official single from EMOTION), the exhilaration and joy that comes from meeting up with your significant other after miles apart, is celebrated and declared on this song, sung to the backdrop of synth keyboards, gang vocals, powerful drums, all exuding a 1980s atmosphere; while ‘Gimmie Love’ is a track about the longing and wanting of something more in a relationship, in a way that allows the other person to understand that what you want isn’t an entitlement but something that everyone needs in a relationship- touch, time, presence, things that aren’t necessarily tangible, but can make or break a relationship in an instant. ‘All That’ captures are reflective sound with a retro-80s piano riff that brings us all into a quiet, tranquil moment where Carly declares her need for a steady relationship- it remains to be seen whether it is of a romantic kind, or even a friendship kind, but it’s a reminder to each of us to have people around us who we can always count on (and they can count on us), and we can share life together, highs and lows included.
Carly also invites us into the world of her personal life in ‘Boy Problems’, a dance melody where Carly realises that boy problems (and everything that comes with it) are maybe the least of her problems, and instead of whining about relationship issues, a decision to stay or leave has to be made in a definitive way; while ‘Your Type’ continues along the line of personal story for Carly, as she is willing to alter her own personality and change who she is, so that she can be with a guy that she knows full well isn’t really that healthy for her, all for the sake of infatuation and a crush. Unfortunate the lyrics are, but nevertheless it’s a real and honest portrayal of how some relationships are out there. ‘Let’s Get Lost’ speaks of an internal battle of being in a relationship where you don’t necessarily trust that easily, but still want to feel safe and secure in it, having a longing to surrender control of the situation to just enjoy the ride of the relationship, whatever it comes to; while songs like ‘When I Needed You’, ‘Making the Most of the Night’ and ‘Favourite Colour’ are some of the other standouts on EMOTION– songs that really challenge our own ways of how we believe relationships to go, and what we deem to be important in them. ‘Making the Most of the Night’ presents a predicament we listeners don’t want to necessarily be in- having to take your friend’s mind off a difficult situation they are in that you know you can’t really help them with. The song doesn’t say what the situation is, but that’s beside the point. What do we do when all we can to is to just be with our friend, in their plight? Tough questions, right? The musically bouncy and seemingly ‘joyous’ ‘When I Needed You’ is a self-realisation that the person you may have loved for a long time is actually bad and toxic for your life, and understanding that you don’t have to change everything for this person, when they are not worth our effort; while ‘Favourite Colour’ depicts a metaphorical fusion and collision between two people who understand that their ‘connection’ to each other is something that is willing to be explored, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense.
Emotion Side B, an EP unveiled in 2016, was released by popular demand, with songs cut from the final track listing of EMOTION– comprising of 8 tracks (9 if you would include a reissue of the EP with the 2017 hit ‘Cut to the Feeling’ included), the EP as a whole derives its musical undertones from the 1980s, and feels like it could be quite at home amongst all the other 1980s releases in a jukebox shuffle play at a diner. Emotion Side B, just like its full-length counterpart, continues along a similar vein musically and thematically, about love, heartbreak and relationships, things that don’t necessarily get discussed in depth within the realms and confines of bubblegum/surface pop. ‘First Time’ channels retro-pop and musically sounds similar to that of Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’, while the lyrics of ‘First Time’ indicate a last-ditch effort of the persona to recall on some good times they have had with their significant other, hoping that the crumbling of the relationship doesn’t happen and they can salvage something that will set them on the course of unlikely reconciliation; while the song ‘Higher’ continues with the bouncy ditzy 1980s influence as Carly herself reminds me vocally of Philippa Hanna in this track, a quasi-romantic, quasi-spiritual song, as she sings about this special someone that takes her higher, that the presence of this someone in her life, lifts her up in hope and perseverance, out of the metaphorical pit of burnout and despair (the song can also be seen as being sung to God, thanking Him for delivering us from our lowest of lows). The EP also speaks about the theme of being afraid of commitment and only wanting a friends-with-benefits lifestyle with someone (‘The One’), while also inviting us into the denial stage of a relationship ending and the processing of that (‘Fever’); and letting us understand that in romantic relationships, just like another other, actions often speak louder than just words, that can often be empty and vapid (‘Body Language’). Carly presents a situation of realisation that her significant other in question is emotionally unavailable even though she herself has an unrequited love for them, while the EP ender ‘Roses’ shows us another personal side to Carly- that the unveiling of her significant other as being the person they are, that being together isn’t the right way forward. Friends, they can be, but to move on from what was before, is very, very hard in a lot of people’s cases. ‘Roses’ is a revelation that you can’t necessarily be what you once were before- to break up from somebody makes you new as you move into your future. ‘Roses’ is a heartfelt song that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but nevertheless is a challenge to us to always cultivate our metaphorical gardens, to see if the person we’re with is building us up and making us a better person, or not.
Both Dedicated and Dedicated Side B are really two sides to the same coin, songs that have been birthed in the last few years. It could’ve been unveiled to us all as a double-disc album, and I’m sure we all would’ve been fine with that, but instead, listeners have been given an album unveiled in 2019 and an album unveiled in 2020; and amidst all the calamity and chaos right now, songs like this that mean things to people are just was is needed for hope and comfort to continue to root in us and remind us all that such songs from Carly have a meaningful effect in us, more so than other pop artists of the 2010s decade. Songs like ‘Now that I Found You’, ‘No Drug Like Me’, ‘Automatically in Love’, ‘The Sound’, ‘Right Words Wrong Time’, ‘Real Love’ and ‘Feels Right’ are great standouts on her new collection of tracks- songs that I can’t necessarily do justice writing about: there’s so much lyrical depth and richness on Dedicated and Dedicated Side B that needs a few more listens concurrently, to understand. But from what I’ve heard of these two albums, it has been these songs on her 2019 album that has given Carly a rebirth of sorts, a way for her to live her life with less of a pressure than maybe before. Shedding her persona as a bubblegum pop artists a la ‘Call Me Maybe’, Carly continues to have the vocal pops to assert her place in the current state of pop today, not that she really wants to though. Listen to the album on Spotify if you want so that you can get an overall feel of Dedicated, but what I can tell you all now, is that this is an artist who respectfully wears her heart on her sleeve, all for all the right reasons. ‘Now That I Found You’ is a joyous feeling that you get when you’re head over heels in love, while ‘No Drug Like Me’ is when you’re trying to convince someone you have an infatuation with, that you are the missing piece to their puzzle, someone that can help them in their own lives, as much as they can help you in yours. The 1990s’ feeling of ‘Automatically in Love’ showcases love as an automatic feeling- it just happens when you’re in the presence of someone- it’s not willed into existence, it just happens or it doesn’t; while the song ‘Real Love’ challenges us all to find a love that is real and true, rather than the surfacy lovey-dovey fake infatuation the world tries to sell as love. But it is the songs ‘Too Much’ and ‘Party For One’ that mean all things personal for Carly Rae Jepsen, and that if there’s a couple of songs to listen to from her new collection of tracks, those two would be it. ‘Too Much’ asks the question of whether we believe society if they say we are ‘too much’ for whatever reason, while ‘Party For One’ reminds us all of the self-love and care for our mental, physical, psychological and spiritual selves that we need to practice. Below are two excerpts by Carly about the stories behind these two songs, and the meanings of what she wants to convey through them:
ABOUT ‘TOO MUCH’: I definitely have been called that in the press [too much]. The concept [for the song] actually started from a girlfriend of mine who was explaining a memory that was so vivid to me, like a movie. She was dancing at this party, her boyfriend was there and she was feeling gorgeous, she was really getting into the music and letting loose and feeling like eyes were on her in this really positive way. And then this guy kind of came over and said, ‘Can you, like, keep it together?’ And it was such a subtle but hurtful thing. And I felt like that explained how we all feel. A couple weeks back Lena Dunham posted about what it is to feel like ‘too much’. I sent her a direct message just being like: ‘It’s such a wrong way of thinking.’ And I think this song was me processing my own insecurities of that and getting to the other side. Like, realising that too much is a great thing. And if somebody can’t handle you for all of your colours and wildness and intensity or the way you feel things, then that’s kind of their problem…I think it’s not just a female felt thing. I think men can also sometimes worry about letting loose because there’s this idea that you have to be a certain sort of, I don’t know, ‘together person’. But we are all messy individuals behind closed doors. And I think the more you share that, the less lonely life will be, right?
ABOUT ‘PARTY FOR ONE’: As with most songs that I make, it wasn’t just like “Party for One” birthed and formed in one day. It was over a couple of months. Years, actually? But the spark began the way that a lot of my music begins, which is just like a hotel writing session with my long-time collaborator and friend Tavish Crowe. And we come up with melodies and kind of lyrics all the time, and I had that for a while. Then I went to Sweden, and then life happened, and I went through a breakup. And actually, my kind of breakup came to the final sort of explosion happened in Sweden, and I was in my hotel- my lonely hotel that night- and I had a session the next day with two strangers that I had yet to meet. And I just was waiting for room service to come up, and I grabbed my wine bottle, and I stole that old melody and I went “party for one” and that sort of was what I brought in the next day to the session. Was just sort of that rebellious kind of feeling and how I wanted to create a song sort of around this melody and that sort of content. I mean, “Party for One” has many different emotions to it. It began as a sad party. It wasn’t a happy party for one. But it became sort of rebellious and then sort of empowering too. And it’s sort of what we really wanted to bring out from the music video as well. Was that this was an adventurous song. You can maybe start with a lonely place and sort of end in a kind of victorious place.
Both ‘Cut to the Feeling’ and ‘Let’s Be Friends’ are standalone singles that, after popular demand and a love for these tracks, were placed on EMOTION SIDE B and Dedicated Side B respectively- ‘Cut to the Feeling’ is a joyous melody about cutting through all the things that you often hide behind and getting to the heart of what you’re feeling, be it good, or bad, or just downright raw and honest. It is a moment of realisation that relationships can’t be built and based upon a foundation where we declare that everything is fine when it’s not, and ‘Cut to the Feeling’, a song originally written for the Canadian-French animated movie Ballerina (of which Carly herself voices a character on it), is a reminder of the importance of being real in situations that require it, no matter how uncomfortable it can seem or be. ‘Let’s Be Friends’ is a song that is as awkward as it sounds- trying to see if you can still be friends with your ex after a breakup. Usually the answer is indeed no, because of the awkwardness, but I’m sure some people make it work. Nevertheless, such a song as this, as tongue in cheek as it is, is nevertheless a reminder of the damages and hurt that often comes from saying goodbye to both a relationship and a friendship after a breakup, because more often than not, relationships are spawned from the couple being very good friends first. Carly also gave to us a 2015 Christmas single in ‘Last Christmas’ (a version that I firmly believe can rival Ariana Grande’s version as a great cover of an underrated holiday song), while Carly’s own rendition of The Little Mermaid classic ‘Part of Your World’ is again a great rendition to hear. Accompanied by a unique music video where she and her reflection are side by side through the placement of mirrors around a town where she’s walking in (and the self in the reflection sings while she herself doesn’t!); we see the uniqueness of Carly’s voice, coupled with the joy that comes from hearing anything Disney. It is in these one-off songs where we still see Carly’s enthusiastic passion and zeal for music, as we remind ourselves that Carly’s presence in music, especially pop, is one where it’s necessary for her to be, to provide a bright alternative for people to listen to, who may be fed up with the commercialised radio-friendly pop bouncing on the airwaves at the moment.
Carly’s enthusiasm is infectious, and what we can fault is…well, virtually nothing, if you think that all things considered, the songs on KISS was more of a label-direction issue than an issue of her own doing. Regardless, even with the little mishap with was KISS, the discography of Carly’s still shines bright compared to many others in the industry. Carly has also tried her hand in things other than music- she was the lead for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on stage for the period of half a year in 2014, while her stage presence was once again felt in Grease: Live, a television special performance live on FOX in 2016, also starring Julianna Hough, Aaron Tveit, and Vanessa Hudgens. And it is in these performances where we find the versatility of Carly and her way of being bubbly, joyous, and a ball of energy and fun, regardless of whether she’s singing on albums, or on the stage or the big screen. Carly’s influence goes far beyond ‘Call Me Maybe’, even though a lot of people just listen to that particular song, and don’t investigate more. I know I was like that for quite some time. It was not until recently where I’ve realised that one song doesn’t blanket an entire career. And for that, I took the plunge and listened, and boy I was surprised in the best way possible. While as a whole Carly’s music isn’t as accessible now, nor is it in a way that attracts people now as it did back when ‘Call Me Maybe’ and the surrounding songs were released. And maybe that’s the point- Carly has evolved to become a synth/EDM/pop artist, totally different in every good way to her KISS days. But then again, will she make another folksy album a la Tug of War in the future? Maybe, maybe not.
But what will remain is her heart to create music that matters. Carly’s determination to deliver music that impacts people’s lives and their souls, is what makes her presence much more evident and felt, in an industry that is not really having people’s lives at the centre of their motivations. Nevertheless, we are here in 2020, and Carly’s music I’m sure has impacted your own life at one point or another. It may be in fact ‘Call Me Maybe’ that set someone onto a course of digging deeper in their own lives, and that’s good. Or it could be any one of Carly’s other songs, and that’s good too. And as I finish this post, let me just ask this one thing- which song has impacted you the most out of the songs from Carly’s career? Have you written her off as just a one-hit wonder, only listening to ‘Call Me Maybe’ and that’s it? Carly’s music, from hearing it this past week, is much more than the miniscule lens we look through, and regardless of how puzzled you may be, that Carly herself is in my own Top 100 Influential artists list, as we look deeper into her music, it may not necessarily be the most puzzling of it all. Placing Carly in this list actually makes sense. Her lyrics emotive and heartfelt, her songs catchy but also deep and meaningful. This Canadian is not stopping anytime soon, and if Carly continues to make music in a similar vein to that of EMOTION or Dedicated in the upcoming years ahead, then this world will be all the better for it!
Does Carly Rae Jepsen and her music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Call Me Maybe’, ‘I Really Like You’, ‘Cut to the Feeling’ or ‘Too Much’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!