Since the dawn of time, mankind has wrestled with the meaning of pop music. There are certainly moments when a pop song digs deep at our innermost fears and speaks to our soul in the most inexplicable of ways. At other times, it serves as the butt of our jokes and the catalyst for us to throw caution to the wind at a friend’s wedding and dance the night away.
Perhaps pop music is at its best when it falls somewhere in the middle – defying logic by its mere presence, yet offering comfort as the soundtrack to an assortment of life’s memories. Canadian star Carly Rae Jepsen not only struck gold with “Call Me Maybe” in 2012 in terms of commercial success, but also managed to find the perfect balance of sincerity and unabashed youthful indulgence. What are the chances that lighting could strike twice?
Jepsen’s new album, Emotion (stylized as E·MO·TION), doesn’t have a “Call Me Maybe” – and that’s actually a good thing. Instead, her follow up to 2012’s Kiss is very clearly a statement of authenticity and a personal reflection of Jepsen as an artist. The fact that it’s blanketed in sugary-sweet 80s-inspired pop is just icing on an already delicious cake.
If Emotion doesn’t float your boat stylistically, there’s nothing wrong with you – this sort of over-the-top extravaganza isn’t for everyone. However, it’s impossible to deny just how catchy these songs are. Jepsen has already proven her ability to combine bubblegum flavor with innocent ponderings on life and relationships, but her new album takes the entire approach to new heights.
Opener “Run Away With Me” is not only a microcosm of Emotion as a whole, it might be the best song Jepsen has written. The pulsing synthesizers, thumping bass line and sporadic claps scream of the album’s 80s influences. Whereas Taylor Swift splashed drops of the decade onto last year’s 1989, Jepsen dives in headfirst. Her surprisingly sultry lyrics of “Oh baby, take me to the feeling / I’ll be your sinner in secret / When the lights go out / Run away with me” brush away the lingering hints of “Maybe”.
Jepsen shows flashes of influence throughout the album from a number of 80s power pop stars. The album’s title track channels Like a Prayer-era Madonna with a soaring chorus, while “Let’s Get Lost” feels like a Janet Jackson hit. Her wonderfully playful chorus of “Baby let’s go get lost / I like the way that you’re driving slow / Keeping my fingers crossed / That maybe you’ll take the long way home” is vintage-Carly Rae in 2015.
The closest Jepsen comes to the explosiveness of “Maybe” is with “I Really Like You”, a single released almost six months before the album that now feels like a stowaway aboard Emotion. It’s still catchy as hell, but it almost feels like the primer for the rest of the record. Nevertheless, those programmed drums and the song’s massive pre-chorus of, “It’s way too soon, I know this isn’t love” still pop with just as much energy as ever.
When Carly Rae is at her best, she’s able to turn potential train wrecks like “Boy Problems” into thrilling roller coaster rides. A cord-twirling phone call with a friend about boy trouble lags deeply in the lyrical department, but somehow still turns out to be one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album thanks to an incredible melody and an almost audible wink at the camera. The same formula works on “Your Type”, Jepsen’s answer to Swift’s “Blank Space”.
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to throw a perfect game when your only pitch is a fastball. Jepsen tries her hand at a ballad in the form of “All That” but comes up short. The plucking electric guitar and starfall synthesizers come off as cheesy, while the slow pace of the song feels uncomfortably forced. “LA Hallucinations” attempts to tackle the dark side of being an overnight success, but lines like, “Money makes your whole world spin” and references to “Buzzfeed buzzards and TMZ crows” land painfully awkward. Maybe introspection is best saved for tracks that aren’t backed by Nintendo sounds.
Still, a few scattered wild pitches can’t distract from the overall body of work. Emotion could very easily have fallen flat, leaving Jepsen as a forgettable one-hit wonder. Instead, her new album solidifies her as a pop powerhouse at a time when it’s harder than ever to stand out amidst the muddied radio crowd. If Carly Rae’s ability to come off as genuine while driving a glistening vehicle normally reserved for the counterfeit becomes her legacy, it’s not a bad one to have. That seems like the kind of pop music we can all enjoy.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.