PART 1 -
I first encountered Carly Rae Jepsen, along with nearly everybody else in America, in 2012, when her break-out hit “Call Me Maybe” exploded into international acclaim, with eighteen million buys putting it down in the history books as one of the best selling singles of all time.
“Call Me Maybe’s” catchy hook, charming vocals, A+ pop production and goofy, self-deprecating lyrics made it a hit, but there was something there in the generic-ness of the pop that felt…odd.
Something about “Call Me Maybe” separates it from the usual Songs Of The Summer; it gives the impression of almost being from another era, or a song created for some fictional popstar from a movie; tonally, it has more in common with the titular song from “That Thing You Do” than it does with “Baby One More Time.”
The cutesiness feels intentionally grating, and somehow self conscious, as though written for a character, or failing that, one specific voice. The song, while sounding like the ultimate in generic pop, still somehow seems like it’s winking at you.
Indeed, upon investigating the lyrics a little further, its seemingly innocuous story of a “chance flirtatious encounter ending in a phone number exchange” starts to show some peculiar deviations from flirty pop cliche.
Hey I just met you
And this is crazy
But here's my number
So call me maybe
It's hard to look right at you baby
But here's my number
So call me maybe
The chorus is the first little piece of our mosaic. Just a tiny piece, innocent enough on its own, but worth taking a moment to examine, because we’re going to look back at it as the Jepsen Pattern becomes more visible.
Unlike most pop songs, especially those by female popstars, Call Me Maybe shyly presents potential rejection of romance as a real, and even probable option. Carly repeatedly states hesitance and fear throughout the song, not even feeling safe enough to ask this man to call her, instead quickly pulling back into a “maybe” to avoid outright rejection.
“You’re overanalyzing this!” I can already feel you thinking. “This is so extra, is the whole thing going to be like this?”
Cool cool cool. Reasonable response. Take a look here, at the second verse.
You took your time with the call
I took no time with the fall
You gave me nothing at all
But still you're in my way
What? No, seriously, what? The verses of the song tell a linear story: she wasn’t intending to fall in love, she became attracted to a boy in ripped jeans at first sight, she gave him her number, and then…This.
He gave her nothing at all.
The lyric sneaks by amidst all the cheery pop music, and is easy to dismiss, without context, as pop nonsense. But when paired with “you took your time with the call,” it very subtly paints a different picture than you’d have at first glance. Instead of being about a hopeful blossoming romance, Call Me Maybe is about an awkward girl that gets rejected after getting caught up and coming on too strong to a boy who wasn’t even that interested in her.
But still, he’s in her way. This boy rejected her, but she’s still thinking about him.
I’m guessing, if you had only listened to the song on a surface level, this take seems sort of odd. The song sounds so happy, but…is it?
Even the video seems to back up this read of the song; it shows Jepsen as a bashful girl next door making a fool out of herself as she gawks and leers over a sexy neighbor. But by the time the video wraps up, it’s revealed her love will forever be unrequited: the neighbor is gay, and ignores Carly in favor of one of her male bandmates, leaving her befuddled, bummed out, and alone.
“Befuddled, bummed out, and alone” are not emotional states that naturally occur when you hear the song “Call Me Maybe;” you think “flirtatious fun.” But the rush of meeting someone gives way to inevitable disappointment and rejection. Seems an odd theme for a pop song.
Let’s take one more look at the end of the chorus.
And all the other boys
Try to chase me
That’s less uncommon of a theme; disinterest in the boys actually interested in you, chasing the unattainable. But it’s worth noting now. Because it will be back.
But hey, it’s just a pop song. It’s not like it means anything.
Like everyone else, for me initially the song went in one ear and out the other. I, along with the rest of the world, assumed Carly Rae was a one hit wonder. All this subtextual stuff in Call Me Maybe was probably just a one time thing, no more meaningful or significant than the bullshit faux-punk screed of Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi.
Of course, bopping in my car in Los Angeles, I had no idea how wrong I was. I had no understanding of what “Call Me Maybe” would eventually represent to me.
A tiny grey spot moving fast on the water.
The tip of of the fin of a massive, larger shark, swimming below the surface.
The faintest trace of a behemoth, moving silently through a catchy tune.