Carly Rae Jepsen Mixes Bubble-Gum Pop With Ache And Anguish On 'Emotion'

Sep 10, 2015
Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Carly Rae Jepsen has a new album. You might remember that she scored a big hit in 2011 with her song "Call Me Maybe." The video for the song has been viewed more than 700 million times. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the challenge for an artist with a hit single is to channel that popularity into a career that lasts longer than the life of one song. Here's his review of Jepsen's new album, "E-mo-tion."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GET LOST")

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) I was never one to want to put my trust in someone else completely. And I was always one to want to up and run when someone said they needed me. But you, you could be the one. Yeah, you could be the one. Baby, let's go get lost...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Having one huge hit song is a blessing and not exactly a curse. Before "Call Me Maybe," few people outside of Canada knew the name of the third-place winner of "Canadian Idol," that country's version of the abominable singing competition. But once Carly Rae Jepsen's hit became happily unavoidable, the album she tucked it into, 2012's "Kiss," was excellent, but sold less than 300,000 copies. So good for Jepsen that she put her head down and opened her ears and started writing and working with an array of producers who've worked with everyone from Vampire Weekend to Taylor Swift. The result, "E-mo-tion," broken into syllables on the cover - "E-mo-tion" - is an album that is adventurously diverse in both its sounds and its sentiments. Consider the languid melancholy of this album's standout ballad, "All That."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THAT")

JEPSEN: (Singing) I want to play this for you all the time. I want to play this for you when you're feeling used and tired. I want to make the best of you and more. Just let me in your arms. Just let me in your arms. I'll be the magic you won't ever see. You can always rely on me to help you do what you want to do. I want to be the best you've ever known. Just let me in your arms. Just let me in your arms. Show me if you want me...

TUCKER: And since it's always a bad idea to turn your back on the audience that made you a star, let it also be said that Jepsen hasn't lost her interest or touch for bubblegum pop in the tradition of "Call Me Maybe." Consider this refined sugar called "Boy Problems."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOY PROBLEMS")

JEPSEN: Listen, just leave or stay, but I'm done listening to it.

(Singing) If you're going to go, then go. She said to me on the phone, so tired of hearing all your boy problems. If you're going to stay, then stay. He's not going to change anyway. So tired of hearing all your boy problems. I know she's right, and I should not be offended. Yeah, I know what it looks like from the outside. I know that she's right, and I should not be offended.

TUCKER: "Call Me Maybe" was a irresistible hit for its catchy chorus and Jepsen's winsome but not cutesy vocal. The sentiment it expressed captured a certain mood not often written about in pop music - the casual come-on, hiding some of your interest in someone by trying to seem nonchalant, even as there's a lot of roiling emotion just below that oh-so-casual surface. On this album, Jepsen drops the studied nonchalance, but she doesn't go all moody or rebellious or self-conscious on us. The music stays, for the most part, swift and airy, yet strong enough to carry weightier strategies. An example of this is "Run Away With Me," which begins by throwing you off-balance with its honking saxophone before launching into a request to a lover to both escape and commit to each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUN AWAY WITH ME")

JEPSEN: (Singing) You're stuck in my head, stuck in my heart, stuck in my body, body. I want to go, get out of here. I'm sick of the party, party. I'd run away. I'd run away with you. This is the part you've got to say all that you're feeling, feeling. Packing a bag, we're leaving tonight while everyone's sleeping, sleeping. Let's run away. I'll run away with you, oh. Because you make me feel like...

TUCKER: It's tempting to hear this album, "E-mo-tion," as Jepsen's struggle to avoid being a one-hit wonder, but that's the wrong angle to come at this work with. Rather, it's one very smart musician's attempt to expand the notion of what disposable pop can sound like. On no song is this more clear than one called "Your Type." Listen to the lyric that shimmers up to the forefront.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR TYPE")

JEPSEN: (Singing) I used to be in love with you. You used to be the first thing on my mind. I know I'm just a friend to you, that I will never get to call you mine. But I still love you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I love you. I didn't mean to say what I said. I miss you. I mean it. I tried not to feel it, but I can't get you out of my head. And I want you to miss me when I'm not around you. I know that you're in town. Why won't you come around to the spot that we met? I'm not the type of girl for you.

TUCKER: The yearning expressed in "Your Type" explodes all the pretty computer programming to achieve a real ache and anguish. At a time when female pop singers are supposed to come on strong and independent, to be all about empowerment, it's almost shocking to hear Jepsen give herself over to the subject of this song, wanting a guy so badly that you open yourself up to him completely, acknowledging that you blew it with him the first time around, asking for a second chance, admitting that you'll rearrange your life for him. But one key reason the song is so good is because it transcends male or female roles. Anyone could sing the sentiments of this song. Taken together with all the different styles and moods she controls so impeccably throughout "E-mo-tion," well, that's just another way of saying she's more than just a one-hit wonder.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Carly Rae Jepsen's new album, "E-mo-tion." Coming up, Maureen Corrigan review's Elena Ferrante's new novel. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.