A transformation story set to the sound of 12 tender tracks
On May 21st, amid whispers rooted in pattern and her own inability to keep secrets, Carly Rae Jepsen dropped the 12-track B-side to her 2019 album, Dedicated. Like a call to a truce, Dedicated Side B came into the picture and for a rare moment, the Twitterverse was in impeccable harmony. That evening, timelines were filled with happy tears and happier cheers. There was euphoria, clear as day, bubbling behind each word.
This is exactly the kind of brilliant energy that starts the album off. The first few seconds of This Love Isn’t Crazy, with high-pitched hums and a thrumming beat in the background, are a telltale sign of just how feel-good the song is bound to be. And true to form, that’s exactly what it is. Dazzling and infectious, it forces you to smile, maybe because you can hear a smile behind the lyrics. I should probably point out that this song was my turning point, the very first track off the very first Carly Rae album I decided to give a shot in years.
Not to sound totally blasphemous, but I was a CRJ naysayer. I didn’t fall into the charm of Call Me Maybe in the early 2010’s and thought that I Really Like You sounded less like a pop song and more like an elementary essay desperate to hit minimum word count. I didn’t do much more exploring into Carly Rae’s discography after that, refusing to even listen to the rest of E • MO • TION (a big mistake, I’ve recently discovered.) But This Love Isn’t Crazy—with its pulsating rhythm and a chorus that makes me want to pick up my dog and dance around the kitchen—reset my compass, redirecting me north.
The rest of the tracks lay the groundwork for what is, by my standards, a solid pop album. Window finds footing in its vibrant bass lines and high-on-love bliss. Felt This Way and Stay Away, sharing glaringly similar lyrics and matching 3:37 durations, present two sides of the same romance—the emotionally charge and physical electricity. Summer Love’s synth-heavy sound and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!-esque instrumental bit drips pure nostalgia. Let’s Sort the Whole Thing Out is what I’d expect to hear from Carly Rae Jepsen as a follow-up to Call Me Maybe or I Really Like You—only I’m no longer the 15-year-old who would have disliked it back then. Upbeat and saccharine, this elation swells, almost tactile, before taking a more ruminative turn in Comeback.
The album wraps up with Now I Don’t Hate California After All, which, with all the ambient dreaminess it’s swathed in, sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a long drive or a beach trip in the summer warmth. It makes me feel like if I believe hard enough in the words she repeats like a mantra (who knew “love on the beach and the tide is high” could stick so obstinately to the inside of one’s mind?), a margarita will manifest in my hand and I’ll find myself in paradise. Or at the very least, get an abstract slice of it: sitting in the back of a car, stuck in traffic as the sun descends, painting Manila pink—the very picture of a love-hate relationship with this city before corona.
To set the record straight, Carly Rae Jepsen’s singing isn’t exceptional. As Jia Tolentino points out in this 2015 article on The Awl, she can quite easily—and quite often—sound like someone else. But it doesn’t take a dedicated (lol) CRJ fan to see that vocal chops aren’t her strength nor the reason the gals and the gays stick around waiting for another release to obsess over. As her previous records prove, the clincher is in the feeling. The infatuation, the fire, the loving with abandon. Excuse me if this has been written before (because I’m sure it has) or if you’ve read it before (because if you’re a fan, I’m sure you have), but as a newly christened convert to the Church of Carly, I feel it needs to be said. Her songs are special because of the way she distills moments and feelings. She clings to love like a lifeline. She doesn’t just just feel feelings. She throws herself into them, cradling and illustrating and penning the emotion straight into pop music history.
This is something you see not only in slower songs like Heartbeat and Comeback, but even in her more cheerful and brazen tracks. Her lyrics are honest to a fault, tender if a little reckless. Yes, I just met you but here’s my number anyway, so call me. Yes, I really (really, really, really, really, really) like you. Yes, I’m falling in love. Yes, I’m grinning-to-my-ears, dancing-around-my-room-alone happy. Yes to all those things, because there’s no room for pretense here.
Am I falling for the appeal of Carly Rae Jepsen (and Dedicated Side B) just because everyone is head-over-heels? Is this change of heart happening because, in an unexpected turn of events, I finally know the taste of the love she sings about so brightly? More importantly, who the fuck cares? This album is one of those safe spaces that makes you stop and think: Man, thank god for love. And for lyrics that make the feeling a little more tangible. And for music that can make us remember what it’s like to get up and dance, undoing the curse of quarantine-induced zombiedom if only for 43 minutes.
Carly remains a pop powerhouse, and I’m a woman changed.
Art Alexandra Lara
Special thanks to Universal Music Group PH