PART 2 -
By the time EMOTION was released in 2015, Carly Rae had been all but dismissed as a flash in the pan. And indeed, Emotion’s first single, “I Really Like You,” featuring a twee video with Tom Hanks, felt like a bit of a retread of “Call Me Maybe,” covering much of the same topical ground of flirtatious hesitance and a repetitive, catchy hook.
Despite critical success and high spots on many music critics’ year end lists, the album underperformed globally, and subsequent singles didn’t make much of a dent in the charts.
I didn’t know this.
I don’t give a fuck about music criticism.
I listen to pop on the radio, and occasionally find a niche band on YouTube I get obsessed with. I don’t read music reviews or go to music websites or even actively seek out new bands. I am your basic bitch KIIS FM guy.
I watched the YouTube video, laughed twice, and quickly forgot the song, and even the idea that the “Call Me Maybe” girl had a second album. But that’s when the groundswell started. Friend after friend entreated me to listen to the album. “It’s the best pop album of the year!” “It’s better than 1989!” “Max, you love pop YOU WILL LOVE THIS YAAAASSSS!”
The girls and the gays had spoken. I had to at least try. I bought EMOTION on iTunes.
And oh god did I love it. I loved it SO MUCH. Every song on the entire album felt like a single to me. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a breakaway success. I, like my gay friends before me, became near goddamn Evangelical about Carly Rae Jepsen, constantly tweeting praise towards the album and recommending it to anyone who talked to me for more than two minutes in the Fall of 2015.
Right around the time I was shown the light, I was in heavy development on the first season of my television show, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The job was extremely stressful, and I found myself listening to Emotion every day on the way to and from the writer’s room, loving the upbeat vibes. I’d sing along, and it wasn’t long ‘til I knew the entire album by heart.
It was still in heavy rotation on my work playlist by the time I got to Vancouver, British Columbia, to begin production on the show. And it was there that I first noticed something…off, I guess...
Yes. “Off” is the right word for my initial awareness of the pattern. Like, when you hear a creak from somewhere in the house when you know you’re the only one home. You know it’s nothing. But is it? Then why the fuck it creaking like that?
A couple of specific words or images repeated on a few tracks. And even though the songs all sounded cheery, sultry, or sexy, some of them were actually kind of sad. Or like…really sad. Like even the ones that sounded happy sounded weirdly…cautious about being happy, lyrically, even as the pop production blasted out behind them, and Carly’s voice added silly fun.
That was…weird. Like a hair raising on the back of my neck. I started to listen to the album more closely.
At first, playing endlessly on loop in my car, what I’d come to recognize as something much larger appeared as a pattern of things Carly Rae DIDN’T sing about on Emotion. I thought it was funny that I noticed that every song was sung in second person, communicating ideas and emotions to a single audience, a “you.”
This isn’t uncommon for pop, but just for kicks, once I got back to my office one night, I decided to make a list of things pop-stars usually address in their songs, that Carly Rae didn’t touch on the album EMOTION:
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about just wanting to dance and have fun.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about the club/partying unless it’s to escape something.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about looking great or feeling confident.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about openly treacherous boys or being betrayed.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about memorable good experiences.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about wanting to be successful, beautiful or powerful.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about reciprocated dedication in a relationship.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about feminism or empowerment.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about sex or seduction for the thrill of it.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about successfully getting over a break up.
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing songs of vengeful condemnation nor open rejection.
I looked at the list, bemused, and then quickly added:
With only one exception, Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about abstract concepts.
With only one exception, Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about other women.
In my office in Vancouver, I ran through the album on my head, and realized one final addition. That, perhaps most startlingly for a pop star:
Carly Rae Jepsen does not sing about being in reciprocated love.
I felt less bemused. Something actually felt weird, now. Feeling confident, sexy, going out and dancing, these are bones of what pop music is. Singing about good times, being powerful and successful, wanting to have fun, thrilling hook ups
It got me thinking: what does Carly Rae sing about on the album Emotion?
This list was easy to make. I wrote down quickly:
I took a beat, and connected some dots in my head.
Many of the songs contained combinations of these tones and themes, some of them encapsulating all seven. The multiple combinations and recombinations seemed to imply crossover of a single narrative; multiple songs about different parts of the same story; the emotions expressed, the scenarios described, did they add up to something?
It appeared, in fact, that they did.
So, if Emotion was a story, what was the story about?
I took a moment, thought about the lyrics, then typed down in my Notepad file:
“A BRIEF DOOMED UP/DOWN (?) SECRET (?) SEXUAL/ROMANCE WITH PLATONIC MALE FRIEND ULTIMATELY ENDING IN HIS REJECTION OF HER (???)”
That felt weird. It was so specific. Was I imagining things? Lyrics started popping up in my head. That song? Wait, that song too? In context, that next song, and the next, and…
…Now, in fact, the whole record kind of felt weird. These songs all sounded so happy. But when lifted into the light, each of them, even the most upbeat, contained some level of hesitation, possible failure, uneasiness about emotional risk or flat out rejection.
The idea that the “love” she was singing about was somehow dangerous…and almost always, doomed. Again and again and again. Looking at those lists felt, for lack of a better term, eerie. I couldn’t believe that the list of 7 simple themes contained every song, and all seemed to tie into each other. What did that mean?
The album suddenly seemed kind of..for lack of a better word, haunted. The word “Friend” kept showing up. The theme of already having been left behind, of love as an initially thrilling, but ultimately foolish, disappointing and even painful mistake.
It was just a pop album. There was no ghost. Just a creaky floorboard.
But my eyes kept going back to the lists. Her focus felt so specific. So articulate. So utterly disappointed.
I couldn’t help but get a chill. Was there actually something here? I think it could be equated to the feeling some people get from the Mandela Effect, or using a Ouija Board. The difference was, if I sat down and went through the lyrics, I could get something rarely offered to conspiracy theorists: concrete proof.
I opened up Spotify. It had started to rain outside. I thought, I’ll listen to each song, and see how they fit my theory. I mean the two lists I made, the huge amount of things she DOESN’T sing about set against the relatively small amount of things she DOES couldn’t apply to every song on the album, could it?
I sat back in my chair as the opening of Run Away With Me played, eager to prove myself wrong, having no idea of the journey I was beginning. The air conditioning blew in my office. The rain spattered against the window.
I’d opened up Notepad on my laptop, my two lists in front of me.
Of course, at the time, I had no idea that my dumb little lists would apply to nearly every song Carly Rae Jepsen has ever released.