The power of pining and wearing your heart on your sleeve: On Carly Rae Jepsen

The opening ooh! followed by the shimmery synth beats of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “This Love Isn’t Crazy” from the B-side of her album Dedicated is already enough to get you nodding along with an invigorating energy that can summon even the most pop-averse to the dance floor. Another sparkly pop gem, it’s joined by eleven other on-brand CRJ songs that speak of the exhilaration of love, the rawness of pining, and how each feeling being expressed is just as important as the words behind them. Carly Rae newbies and veterans alike, we’ve all come back to life with Dedicated Side B.

Carly Rae Jepsen reached critical fame with earworm “Call Me Maybe” which spawned viral videos and parodies alike. And while many wrote her off as a one-hit-wonder because of the song, she rolled around with Emotion (and its B-side) a few years later, bringing with it the saxophone-y thrill of “Run Away With Me,” the heart-wrenching “Your Type,” and the dreamy-eyed want to linger with the one you love with “Let’s Get Lost.” It cemented her status as more than just repetitive bubblegum cutesy pop, but an artist that sees depth and hurt even in the euphoria of falling in love which is often depicted as all just sweet and saccharine.

I’d like to claim that she’s such a breath of fresh air in a music world that’s now so consumed with subtlety. Here she is with her unabashed 80s-90s-inspired sound, delightfully straightforward lyricism, and punchy turns of phrase. And while her music and instrumentalism resemble a lot of eras, she doesn’t sound like she’s regurgitating anything someone’s done before. Her sound is truly iconic and unique, a glimmer of rainbow in recent music years.

What really gets me about Carly Rae is that all her music makes me feel like I can stand on a table and declare my love for the person I’m taken by, like the possibilities I have for myself never ends. It fills me with a moving power that I simply can’t qualify as anything else. Maybe it’s how she’s so clear about what falling in love slowly or quickly or desperately feels like that has me and thousands of others latch on. She so dutifully pays attention to her descriptions of infatuation, of wanting to be with someone or losing them in the quietest ways that even you would believe you stole someone’s bike and rode all night.

Another thing about her music is that there’s so much overt positivity in the songs that do scream about falling in love that it legitimizes that often-scoffed-at feeling of having a crush or falling for somebody. Many brush away that blushing-schoolgirl emotion of infatuation, say it’s too immature, that it’s too shallow to be made into art. But instead of that, she frames it as beautiful and positive and practically celebratory. Being infatuated makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs, and she bottles that feeling perfectly and executes it without any shame or pretense. Take “Gimmie Love” for example–she years and yearns and even if she repeats “gimmie love” in the chorus, she doesn’t beg. It’s a dizzying energy that’s pushing forward, earnest and charming.

And that’s what’s fantastic about many of her songs, she employs repetition but it never sounds desperate. It’s the thrill of speaking it into the world that you want to savor it and say it again and again. It’s strength manifesting itself, it’s the courage of admitting that you are feeling that much, pining that much, and putting it out in the world to exist and be known. She’s brave enough to bare it all and then give it away. (Touch, touch, touch me!)

This very courage has been a driving force in her music. Music can be incredibly confessional for many but she takes that to the next level. Every song is an anthem for a feeling we can’t quite put into words, anthems for celebration or the devastating pulse of heartbreak. The crushing but acquiescing feeling of always being connected to somebody we can’t be with in “Fever,” the tinge of fear with the quiet wash of love in “Favourite Color,” and wanting someone so bad while acknowledging their power over your vulnerability in “This Love Isn’t Crazy.” All such complex feelings that reveal you can’t have just a falling-in-love song that exists in a vacuum. It comes with fear, it comes with courage, it comes with an energy that truly heralds love as life-changing. And that’s what gives her music such a multi-faceted edge, the kind that would make you laugh, cry, jump, and scream if you sang along with her live.

In a time where we try so hard to be subtle about what and who we love to the point of it being painful, Carly Rae is so unabashedly against that, so wild in her wanting, as loud and proud as the saxophone in “Run Away With Me” or the amazing echoing beat of “Want You In My Room” where she trills “I wanna do bad things to you! (Slide on through my window!)” (The fact that she’s got another window-related song in Side B, as well… legend). Carly Rae has never been quiet about her pining, about her want. And with how reserved so many of us are with these feelings of desire and how much we withhold, she’s so refreshing with how straightforward she is. It’s a fearless admission time and time again, an earnest wanting that doesn’t hesitate and that’s what makes it all work.

In “This Love Isn’t Crazy,” she insists that love isn’t cruel, that this love isn’t crazy, and that this loving could save [her]. And with these statements, it creates a sense of euphoria, a freed understanding of love that isn’t always clean-cut but is never cruel. So many of her lyrics are so gutting, but what’s amazing is that she’s so present in her songs that it feels like she’s there holding your hand to bear it all with you. With Carly Rae’s music, I never feel alone.

When she was here in Manila for her Dedicated tour, I cried when she came out on stage in her beautiful rainbow dress. All of us screamed along every second, no one ever let up. But my favorite moment is when she ended the show and the crowd erupted in chants for more. As she hit the stage again in all her tulle rainbow tiered dress, everyone demanded for “Your Type,” a particularly heartbreaking song that talks about how you’re “just a friend” to a person you’re in love with and you confront them about how you’d let them “break [your] heart and start again. However, instead of launching into the song everyone in the crowd loved to sing along to during drunk nights getting seenzoned by their crushes, she crooned the opening of “Real Love” into the microphone. Instead of ruminating on the pain of not being chosen by someone we love, she bared her heart about wanting real love, about how unsure it is, how she can’t find her footing in it, and admitting how she doesn’t know a thing about it, but, still, soldiers on and desires for a real, true love anyway.

And that’s why we love her.


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