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OPINION: In defense of Carly Rae Jepsen



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Carly Rae Jepsen performs Sept. 30, 2012, as she opens for Justin Bieber at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in support of her new album, "Kiss." Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 juggernaut single “Call Me Maybe” soundtracked a lot of my junior high summer. 

I remember being dropped off at the public pool for an exciting day of being an ugly moron. Jepsen sang about ripped jeans while I ate overpriced microwave hot dogs. The drum machines chugged loudly over rusted loudspeakers as my friends introduced me to girls, and I became increasingly aware of my pudgy, underdeveloped body.

At that time I think I clowned on Jepsen pretty hard. I called her a one-hit wonder and disparaged her talent because in middle school violently hating things for no reason was so dope. 

But now I realize the error of my ways. 

Carly Rae Jepsen is the Canadian pop princess we don’t deserve and definitely don’t pay enough attention to.

Comedian Brandon Wardell described my situation perfectly with this tweet:

Honey, I’m guilty.

Jepsen’s music is so interesting to me. Her 2008 folk-influenced, debut album “Tug of War” reminds me a lot of Taylor Swift’s eponymous debut record. Both records feature twangy guitars and lovesick lyrics, but hint at the bright, bubbly pop both would later craft.

Jepsen’s 2012 record “Kiss” features her two biggest hits: “Call Me Maybe” and the sleek pop duet “Good Time” with Owl City. Both of those songs slap so ridiculously hard with earworm choruses and harmonious keyboard synths. They remind me of a much simpler time in my life, a time where everything was immediate. I could ride my bike to my neighbor’s house and waste an entire day.

There are two major things about Jepsen that make me love her music so much.

First, she’s evolved. She’s grown up, and so have I. With her 2015 record “Emotion,” she focused more on the making of an album as a whole, not just trying to have the biggest song. Her work became more mature, nuanced and cohesive. She melded straightforward pop music with synthpop. She went dark with songs like “LA Hallucinations.” She tried new things, and they worked.

Her 2019 record “Dedicated” is her strongest work to date. One simply has to listen to “Want You in My Room” and its '80s-inspired guitars to understand how far she’s come as an artist. The outro features an absolutely glorious saxophone solo that will make you want to dance and praise the Lord.

The other great thing about her music is that it can be completely bonkers sometimes.

“Before you came into my life,” Jepsen sings on “Call Me Maybe.” “I missed you so bad.”

What does that mean? Seriously. What does that mean?

And then we have “Store” from her 2016 B-sides album aptly named “Emotion: Side B.” “Store” is an absolute whirlwind of a song. In the song, Jepsen no longer has feelings for her lover, so she tells him she’s going to the store and never comes back.

She’s the deadbeat dad of pop music.

Jepsen is an enigma to me. She bares her soul about love and relationships constantly, but I feel like I know nothing about her. She makes emotionally intelligent, catchy pop that can also delve into the waters of ludicrousness. But I love that strangeness.

She feels like a real person, not some soulless popstar designed solely to please the masses. People are paradoxes. They’re strange and full of idiosyncrasies. Jepsen’s music is deeply human despite its glossy, perfect sound.

“I don’t need the words,” she croons on “The Sound.” “I want the sound.”

And she brings the sound. Her songs are packed to the brim with dance rhythms, electropop synths and big feelings.

The doe-eyed innocence of “Call Me Maybe” reminds me of the sun-drenched foolishness of my pre-teens. The massive, swing-for-the-fences chorus of “Favourite Color” reminds me of moonlit nights and young love. And “Party for One” with its lush production and celebration of self-love carries me into my 20s knowing that it’ll all be OK.

I grew up with Carly Rae Jepsen’s music, and somehow, inexplicably, it worked its way into my brain and then much later into my veins. She’s no one-hit-wonder.

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