Carly Rae Jepsen… Pop star. Short hair enthusiast. Queen. For someone whose career could’ve easily been tarnished by the massive success of “Call Me Maybe”, enough people took notice of how great the rest of her breakout album Kiss was to give her the time of day for her 2015 masterpiece, Emotion. During the final weeks of summer, Jepsen released all of the cutting room floor tracks from those sessions in a compilation release entitled EMOTION SIDE B, and, unsurprisingly, there are some pretty great songs on it.
With EMOTION SIDE B comes a few conversations – the first is the all important retrospective look back on Emotion. As has been pointed out in interviews and in thinkpieces in the time after Emotion’s release, the label wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. There wasn’t a “Call Me Maybe”, much to their chagrin, but that didn’t stop them from trying to make “I Really Like You” a big, forced, “song of summer” type, anyway. The consensus, and I think Jepsen in her imaginary Behind The Music in 20 years would agree, was that “I Really Like You” did more harm than good. It made Jepsen’s music feel devoid of nuance and style and instead presented her as wholly singular and blandly one-note. It’s the simplest song on that record and, while great, certainly presented Jepsen as a one-trick horse to the general public to the point of detracting from her other more complex singles. In a Stereogum retrospective on Emotion, Jepsen almost admits as much:
To be really honest, I was gunning more for ‘Run Away With Me’, but I was unanimously across the board getting told ‘I Really Like You’ was it, and I was like … “Alright, as long as we do ‘Run Away’ second.”
The second, and more exciting/less depressing conversation to have, is how great EMOTION SIDE B makes Jepsen look. Both the tracks included on Emotions’ Deluxe Edition, as well as the B-Sides comp, are totally worthy of Deluxe Edition/B-Sides comp status. All of them are, at their worst simply okay, at their best incredible one-offs, but none of them actually demand to be reckoned with the same way Emotion does. And this was true of Kiss before it: Jepsen and her team have a great understanding of how to pick and choose which tracks work for a record. I won’t go as far as to say EMOTION SIDE B is worthy of stand alone status the way, say, Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered. is, but as far as B-side compilations go, this is certainly sitting on a higher tier.
All of this, naturally, led to me wondering: Could you cut down Jepsen’s relatively limited (but quality) discography down to make one simple concept album? Certainly an argument could be made that Kiss and Emotion and, even her debut Tug of War, are all concept albums about “love” the same way that most pop albums are about love – falling into it, falling out of it, boys, girls, etc etc. But what if we took every Carly Rae Jepsen song ever, and tried to consolidate it down into a 12-track concept album that tracked the beginning of a relationship to the end of a relationship and that generally featured a sort of movie-esque narrative? We don’t have to go full rock opera with it, but Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs or, to a lesser extent, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid are good enough templates.
Every song was considered. Never mind that “Hotel Shampoos” is a song that you didn’t know she wrote, and never mind that the theme to Fuller House was considered – it was all listened to and considered for this piece.
Caveat to that last point: Remixes were not considered. Flow matters on concept albums and for that, I had to limit SOME things. That said, her guest appearances (like some song named “Rest From The Streets” by some band I’ve never heard of named A Friend In London) were considered. Because when it’s Carly Rae Jepsen, it’s always a good time.
There has to be a beginning, middle, and end to the concept albums depiction of the relationship (something I had trouble with, you’ll see), but there also has to be ebb and flow to it as well. So while “Run Away With Me” fits the part of the relationship where things are honeymoon-y and exciting, so do a bunch of Jepsen’s songs and like the Highlander, there can be only one.
Purpose: Our female hero and her mysterious man (or woman!) admit to (kinda sorta) liking each other
Key Concept Lyric: “It’s way too soon, I know this isn’t love, but I need to tell you something.. I really really really really really really like you”
Purpose: Our future couple exchanges numbers
Key Concept Lyric: “Here’s my number, so call me maybe!”
The first thing we need to consider here is that Carly Rae Jepsen really loves meeting boys. Her two BIGGEST songs by a country mile are “I Really Like You” and “Call Me Maybe” and both of those songs nail an often neglected element of the relationship story – the moment of meeting. Because “How did you meet” is a great question to ask but a really boring topic when you think about it. No one has ever cared about how another couple met unless it involved live tigers chasing you or Jeff Goldblum’s wedding. And this is the first place where our fictitious narrative begins to unfold cinematically; while pop music tends to cut to the quick in regards to love, a romance movie or novel could never do that. We have to start at the beginning.
We’ll start with “Tiny Little Bows”, fittingly the first track on Kiss. In the overarching romance narrative we’re weaving here, “Tiny Little Bows” kind of has to be the first track, in that it opens with the line “Cupid, draw back your bow.” On top of that, it’s working as a love song about the places she’s meeting all these men (L.A., New York, Paris, London and probably a lot more – she’s Carly Rae Jepsen.) And the scene? A bus stop. This will come into play later. “I wish we could be holding hands, dancing really high, dancing really slow.”
I like to imagine this is the moment she see’s some other guy. If this were like, a Kate Hudson movie from the early 2000’s, there’d probably be a lot of terrible dialogue at this bus stop, and it would be raining, and I’m guessing some wacky thing happened that lead to her meeting Matthew McConaughy or Matt Dillon or Mark Ruffalo (for my money she missed the bus, the bus kicked up all the rain water on her, she was on her way to an important meeting, and he gave her a jacket or something – but remember how I said no one cares about how people met?)
So that’s our chance to jump into “I Really Like You”. There’s no time to beat around the bush here, Jepsen is just going to internally go wild over bus stop guy. “I Really Like You” is primitive in nature, and even a bit simple – it’s one of the big knocks on that song in the context of her album Emotion. But when the endorphins are rushing, love is kind of primitive and simple. And then, of course, numbers are swapped and, well, we all had “Hey I just met you,” stuck in our heads for the better part of 2012, so I think you get the gist.
Purpose: He called!
Key Concept Lyric: “I can not control it, the way you’re making me feel”
“Warm Blood” serves two purposes. It has to be on this list because it’s by far her sexiest song. It’s pulsating synths are downright breathtaking, and not breathtaking like a sunset or the Grand Canyon are breathtaking. But beyond that, it’s also a song about giving into your feelings and so “Warm Blood” appropriately fits right after you’ve done one of the most vulnerable things you can do: Give your number to someone you’re interested in. Of course, we know this Chris Pine/Chris Hemsworth type to be the kind of guy who will call (duh) but she doesn’t, so this is Jepsen’s low point.
Purpose: They can’t be stopped! The relationship is perfect.
Key Concept Lyric: “It’s just like, we don’t try, we just fit, you and I – we’re super natural”
“Sweetie” is notable mostly as a bonus track off of Kiss, but for some it’s remembered as one of the great deliveries of the word “Sweetie” in pop music ever. I think she’s trying to rush past the fact it’s a two-syllable word but it kind of works because the way she says it is pretty memorable (even if it’s kind of awkward.) Also “Sweetie”, as far as deep cuts are concerned, is a great example of how great both Kiss-era Jepsen was (and how little credit it got) and how any of her songs could’ve been radio hits in the same way “Call Me Maybe” was.
But “Sweetie” opens on a retrospect about how they met (the bus stop, etc) yet quickly transitions into a dinner date and a glass of wine. Things moved! It happened, albeit pretty quickly, but it nonetheless happened! Truth be told, we’re now at the point where we could insert about a dozen different Carly Rae Jepsen tracks with the “Our relationship just started and it’s great” section, but I’ll go with her 2016 track “Super Natural” just because this concept album needs a healthy club banger in the middle of it and her guest work on Danny L Harle’s song fits to a T. Also it acknowledges that the drastic leap we made in “Sweetie” to the dinner and wine “isn’t normal, not at all” but they “just fit” because they’re “super natural”.
Also considered for the “Our relationship just started and it’s great” section: “This Kiss” and “Emotion” but both of those featured a degree of cynicism and headiness that feel like it would kind of undermine how invested she is in the whole thing. Also “Making the Most of the Night” was a super obvious pick because that song bumps so hard and it was maybe one of the best songs of 2015.
Purpose: They’ve fallen into the relationship and our female hero is now realizing how scary dependence is.
Key Concept Lyric: “Don’t go out with the boys tonight, I won’t sleep a wink wondering what you’re doing”
Purpose: Perhaps this has moved too fast. Maybe it’s not working. Maybe it’s time to move on.
Key Concept Lyric: “Tell me and I’ll say goodbye…”
Time for a pair of Tug of War tracks. Remember Tug of War? Her debut album?
It’s the one she made after that Canadian singing competition? It’s very early 2000’s but also kinda Radio Disney-esque without being either?
Okay well whatever. I mean if you don’t remember Tug of War that’s fine but you’re embarrassingly deep in a Carly Rae Jepsen article to not know that. Singer-Songwriter’y Carly Rae Jepsen actually works pretty well for our purposes. “Tug of War” is our logical beginning-of-the-end transition song where she acknowledges that it might be too good to be true, and realizes how scary dependence on another person can be. “Don’t go out with the boys tonight / I won’t sleep a wink / Wondering what you’re doing.” And “Tell Me” is all internalized. Just like “Warm Blood” internalized vulnerability, we return to that sentiment only this time, she’s beginning to over think, or reconsider, the relationship. “Tell me baby, is it yes or no / You’ve got a face that just don’t show / What’s going on inside.”
It’s at this part of the exercise that I have to admit that going through every Carly Rae Jepsen song, lyrics open, has revealed a telling truth: CRJ hates the relationship itself. The monotonous comings and goings of emotions while you’ve been in a relationship for more than a cup of coffee are uninteresting to Jepsen. Many of her songs aren’t really about being IN the actual relationship – they’re about lustful beginnings or lingering endings, joyful pursuits or aching hearts, but very rarely are the songs actually ABOUT being in the relationship. I suppose this is for good reason, because that element of the relationship is rarely dynamic – especially in regards to pop music. So while I could grasp at straws to keep Ms. Jepsen’s concept relationship album’s content to a healthy equal thirds (meeting, doing, breaking up), I think keeping her in the relationship and happy for as little time as possible makes the most sense.
Purpose: Airs out her boy problems (with a friend, of course.)
Key Concept Lyric: “Don’t know what to do, I think I broke up with my boyfriend today”
The Daft Punk techno drops at the top of “Boy Problems” are probably a bit misleading, and tone aside, I think “Boy Problems” (like other moments in our final act) perfectly define the CRJ concept album as something that moves quickly out of sadness and into positivity. The most telling line here is “I think I broke up with my boyfriend today” and we’ve all had the moment when “Tell Me” is our internal song and then we’re lead to the logical conclusion that, even if we haven’t actually TOLD our significant other yet, it has to be over. In movie speak, our Kate Hudson-type movie protagonist is calling her BFF and they’re dishing on how terrible their boyfriends are. I’d love to say that the friend is played by Rachel McAdams, but I know it’s Rebel Wilson. Fucking Rebel Wilson. It’s always fucking Rebel Wilson.
Purpose: Reckons with all her boy problems
Key Concept Lyric: “I never really know when he’ll be leaving and even with hello I hear goodbye”
“Cry” is the side B to “Boy Problems”’s and “Tell Me”’s side A. She’s finally going to take it all out and admit to herself (and to him, in the chorus) that he’s an asshole. Because Hugh Grant/Hugh Dancy/Hugh Jackman isn’t right for her! It’s not a sad song, necessarily. She’s coping. We’ll hear the sad song next. But like, men are dumb! And they don’t deal with their emotions well. And sometimes Carly Rae Jepsen/stand-in-double Kate Hudson has to tell them that. Because no matter how dreamy this man is, he has to be told that. And just like that, it’s over.
Purpose: It’s a less sad (drunker) ending! Key Lyric: “I feel the cool wind coming in before the summer rain. Eyes to the sky staring into the blue like it’s not gonna end. Remember we needed all our days and nights to get enough of us to satisfy. We played that out a thousand times.”
But wait! Life goes on. This is a fucking Carly Rae Jepsen record, or did you forget because I self-referentially inserted a weird low in my life that I’m not going to expand upon? We have to end positive! So if we’re going to reference the impending sound of thunder, let’s do it with her feature on The Knocks’ “Love Me Like That”, where she opens saying “I hear thunder in the distance / And it hits me in an instant / Crashing through my heart and I’m blown apart / You don’t love me like that, you don’t love me like that.” Sure, the sentiment is pretty much the same, but rather than looking at it as a girl alone in her bedroom alone and crying, let’s transition the sadness to the next logical step: The rebound! Her feature on the Knock’s track is upbeat, and build around dancing in self-pity, not wallowing in it. This is Chandler bursting into the room drunk and yelling “Slut!” in Friends. This is Andy going out to the club and thinking that everyone was right after doing two shots in 40 Year Old Virgin. This is Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn bringing the partyto their house in The Break Up and thinking THAT’S a good idea while they still live together. This is me forcing myself mid-tears to listen to something other than “Pictures of You” by The Cure because 20 times in a row was deemed “inappropriate” by my neighbors. Still just me? Got it. Anyway. This is Does it hurt still? Sure. But there’s something to partying in the face of tragedy and if Carly Rae Jepsen’s songs strive to achieve something, it’s that.
A Carly Rae Jepsen album with the pieces doesn’t have to end on happiness. This is where the album starts over. Even though each of Jepsen’s albums are focused on similar pieces, when put together, a story can easily start to emerge through the many variants and textures of her dazzling pop aesthetic. Make a concept album about love, Ms. Jepsen. For me?