Back in the summer of 2012, Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen rose to stardom after Justin Bieber tweeted about her uber-catchy hit single, “Call Me Maybe.” Jepsen was subsequently signed to the same label as Bieber, Schoolboy Records, and released an album (called Kiss) later that year. This summer, she’s back and making waves with several new singles that draw inspiration from Top Gun-era ’80’s tracks and that display an added layer of edginess and maturity that was lacking from her previous album.
Jepsen’s lead single from the album, “I Really Like You“, was another instant success for her. The video, which featured Tom Hanks and Bieber himself, has already racked up over 95 million plays and has the same catchy, bubblegum feel to it as “Call Me Maybe.” The fear that Jepsen couldn’t overcome her one-hit wonder status subsided after the track hit the airwaves and gave Jepsen the opening to begin releasing more songs off the album, one by one, until the release date.
The new album, Emotion, was released in Japan at the end of June so Jepsen, to quell the curiosity of her North American fans, fed them a new track weekly on iTunes if they had pre-ordered the album. The smartest part of this strategy was that it gave Jepsen a chance to hear feedback on the tracks before choosing her second single from the album.
The first two tracks Jepsen released, “All That” and the title track “Emotion,” showed her fans that this album was not simply going to be easy-to-digest pop. Jepsen had a hand in writing both tracks, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they feel more honest and true to form for her. “All That” is the first down-tempo track on the album, but it doesn’t suffer because of that. Jepsen’s heartfelt lyrics help the song reach a satisfying climax at the end that makes you unexpectedly want to come back to track. “Emotion,” on the other hand, starts with a catchy beat right off the bat that continues throughout and is smartly placed second on the album to keep the momentum going after the album’s sophomore single “Run Away With Me”.
The album itself has critics comparing it to Taylor Swift’s mega-hit “1989,” saying it successfully borrows from the same ’80’s sounds. Nowhere is this more evident than in “Run Away With Me,” where the track starts with the wail of a saxophone that drives it all the way through. It’s the kind of song that you want to blare from a convertible as you take a road trip to the beach and has critics calling it the true “song of the summer.” The video for the song seems to draw from the same place, putting Jepsen in cities around the world and looking like she’s having the time of her life. It is also the song that I, personally, have played on the highest rotation.
But the album can’t be compared to Swift’s 1989 unless it’s consistent and delivers on all fronts. After a full listen, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t. Immediate standouts include the infectious “Boy Problems,” that just about every girl or gay male fan of Jepsen’s can probably relate to, and “Making the Most of the Night,” which continues the album’s undeniable summer party vibe. Both tracks were penned with the help of the enigmatic Sia Furler who had last year’s song of the summer “Chandelier” and helped fellow Idol alum, Kelly Clarkson, pen some of the catchiest tracks on her new album, “Piece By Piece.”
But Jepsen doesn’t just strive to create a few earworm-type radio singles from this album. “LA Hallucinations” is a track that shows how much Jepsen has evolved since her previous album. It’s difficult to remember sometimes that the girl behind the high-pitched voice is already 29, older than fellow pop singers Adele and Lady Gaga, as the internet likes to remind us. And while Jepsen’s fanbase mostly consists of younger female fans, she also doesn’t underestimate their maturity. In “LA Hallucinations”, she delves into themes of materialism and questions about what fulfillment and happiness really is – questions that she has undoubtedly struggled with since her rocket rise to fame two years ago. Jepsen also delves into themes about the kind of relationships that just aren’t meant to be in “Your Type” and, on the other end of the spectrum, talks about feeling that deeper connection with somebody in the bonus tracks on “Favorite Color.“
This maturity, perhaps more than anything, is what begs the comparison to Swift’s “1989”. When Swift released her album, diehard fans and casual listeners alike took notice of her new sound and the new maturity in her songs. Yes, she was still singing about guys, but in a different way. Swift had confidence and real questions for her audience and that’s what Jepsen is doing here. She’s giving us a couple of great, catchy tracks, but that’s not enough to get the listener all the way through the album. Sometimes you have to be willing to give them something to think about and give them an array of emotions from cynical angst to feeling high-on-life. Perhaps this is why Jepsen chose “Emotion” as the title of her album. It was a deliberate way of letting the listener know that music and emotion are intrinsically tied for her and for all of us.