A Soundtrack To Restlessness

by Hazel Cills, Jane Hu, and Jen Vafidis

Jane Hu: E-mo-tions. Who’s got ‘em?

Jen Vafidis: That’s as good a way to start this as any.

Hazel Cills: AGREED.

Hu: OK, first things first. Favorite song from Kiss? That album was such a slow burn, and I feel like this one will be too.

Vaf: “Drive” is my favorite, but it’s also so hard to think about that album as a cohesive thing! Ultimately, Kiss is just incidental to “Call Me Maybe.” “Call Me Maybe,” which I found out recently is the song with the most digital downloads ever.

Cills: Yeah, agreed on “Drive.” Also I still stand by my opinion that “Good Time” is one of the best songs she’s ever done.

Vaf: Her song with Owl City? Wow.

Cills: Yeah, I remember being obsessed with “Call Me Maybe” but weirdly not into Kiss.

Hu: I think my favorite is, at the end of the day, still “Your Heart Is A Muscle,” which sounds like a Britney Spears redux from the Oops!…I Did It Again era. I weirdly was never that into “Call Me Maybe,” even when it came out.

Vaf: That’s legit insane, Jane.

Cills: So “Call Me Maybe” holds a very special place in my heart because it came out my senior year of high school (lol showing my age here) and I think I requested it multiple times at prom? Besides being a good song, it reminds of that period of music/being a teenager like no other song.

Hu: Requesting a song multiple times at prom is maybe the ultimate power move, Hazel. I remember liking the music video because it felt so Canadian, which I also am. #soCanadian

Vaf: Should we all come out with our ages, just to get this over with? Carly Rae Jepsen and I are the same age.

Cills: I’m 21 :p

Hu: I was born the same year as Taylor Swift, so a few years after Carly.

Vaf: LOL okay. I’m not ashamed though, because Jia Tolentino already made me feel fine about the fact that Carly and I are almost 30 and deliberately choosing to listen to / make music like this.

Cills: Yeah, I don’t think there is anything distinctly “teenaged” about Jepsen’s music, although she’s kind of been saddled with a teenybopper rep, no? Was it because of Bieber? Something so exciting about EMOTION is that I think she’s finally away from that, not just her “Call Me Maybe” one-hit past but also like the fact that she isn’t seen as just a musician for youngins. Or maybe that’s how I initially thought of her, could be wrong.

Vaf: That’s not wrong at all! She is definitely past her teenybopper phase. Now she’s in her Robyn Body Talk phase. Or whatever the phase is after teenybopper.

Hu: “Black Heart” is a total Robyn rip. The similarities between Carly’s and Robyn’s inflections seem pretty obvious upon listening to that song, but I hadn’t put the two of them together before. It’s clarifying, too, in thinking about how the whole vibe of EMOTION is differently charged from anything Carly has done before. Like EMOTION, Body Talk challenges the line between maturity and youth, and it also does so by letting 90s “Show Me Love” Robyn seep into the darker pathos of the later stuff. Maybe the difference isn’t one of age so much as one of experience.

Vaf: Some of these lyrics are “raunchy.” Like, Twilight level. JK.

Cills: Hahaha yes! I also think she did a really good job releasing the singles in terms of easing fans/listeners into different sides of the record. “I Really Like You” almost feels out of place on the record compared to songs like “Warm Blood” and “Run Away with Me.” It’s the most accessible, “Call Me Maybe”-esque of the bunch. I also think this album has really dark, almost gothic moments, and that doesn’t come close to Kiss.

Hu: There’s a reason “Run Away with Me” opens the album — and I am really, really curious about the arc of the album. The more experimental and most Robyn-esque songs are, for instance, closer to the end.

Vaf: “Run Away with Me” would be impossible to dance to. Because of that tempo, but also because of all those feelings.

Cills: Agreed. I think it’s more of a “crying while driving fast at night” record, but that’s JUST ME. Kidding!!!!! (Or not.)

Vaf: It’s a soundtrack to recklessness! It’s also aggressively relatable, to the point of erasing any sort of “Carly Rae Jepsen” persona that might have existed before. You can really throw yourself into this situation, without having to check yourself (that often) to be like, “Wait, I’m not a pop star, what am I even doing.”

Cills: Yeah, agreed on the aggressively relatable nature of it. I think when I first heard the record’s title, I was like, well, that’s boring. But there’s something about these songs that cut straight to the point, like it works really well after I listened to the album.

Hu: But don’t you love EMOTION for an album title? I kept thinking, what if this album was titled FEELINGS or AFFECT or INSIDE OUT?

Cills: I do after listening to the record! Before it just felt too blank, like a working title. But the record is VERY feelings! And kind of impressive in how much it mines romantic feeling in different ways, none of the songs feel like copies of the same experiences. “Gimme Love” is different than “I Really Like You” as is “When I Needed You,” all about a needy sort of desire in varying levels.

Hu: It’s by no means a coherent album, but maybe that’s just the nature of ~emotions~. At first I thought: “Is this a falling-in-love” album? But at points it feels like a breakup album (RIP Red), and then, again, at others, like a “fuck you” album.

Vaf: I was actually thinking about Red a lot while listening to this. Mostly because I watched that “the making of EMOTION” video on YouTube, and there were lots of moments where CRJ is sitting in a room with a bunch of people, discussing very intimate feelings. Taylor’s impulse to put that “what’s this pop song about, you know?” conversation in the bridge is an impulse CRJ just doesn’t have. She’s straighter than that. Taylor Swift comes from new money, Carly Rae Jepsen did musical theater while bartending.

Cills: Yeah, Swift is a real storyteller, and she also doesn’t give a shit if people know too much about her love life or being too intimate.

Hu: I was listening to 1989 recently and admiring how much more generic its images are than Red. You no longer get the details of leaving your scarf at your ex’s sister’s house; instead you get scripts.

Vaf: There was this moment two seasons ago on The Voice, a show I love very much, where Tay advised some child by saying people love “a hot mess.”

Cills: Ugh, I DO love “a hot mess.”

Hu: Truth. I think that’s why the current iteration of Taylor is a little… dull? What happened to frenzied Tumblr Tay? She’s also never going to dress for the 1989 tour like she dressed for Red.

Cills: Yeah, my Taylor fantasy is a whole record of “Blank Spaces.” Like Taylor does PJ Harvey.

Vaf: Oh my god. Taylor doing a cover of “Rub ‘Till It Bleeds.” Gross. Amazing.

Hu: The little jabbing details are lacking from EMOTION — the album, as well as the specific track. For instance: “How’s the weather? Am I better? Better now that there’s no you?” Carly’s album traffics in banalities.

Cills: I think as anonymous as EMOTION can seem in those “jabbing details,” there are moments on the record where songs seem to lock together in little themes: driving late at night, looking to the moon for guidance, blood-pumping, etc. There are pairings on the album that I feel like fit together but overall the record is, like we said, not cohesive. Do you think the fact that it doesn’t feel cohesive, that it is sort of scattered, helps it or hurts it?

Vaf: Hurts, at least for me.

Hu: I think helps, just because it embraces its messiness.

Cills: Yeah, agreed. I mean, there are tracks I’d love to permanently delete from the record (hi, “LA Hallucinations”) but overall I kind of like the mess.

Vaf: Oooh, yeah, that song is…not great. What are other hated tracks? I don’t hate “Gimmie Love” or “Making the Most of the Night” but I’m also not wild about them, which is worse.

Hu: I don’t know how many times I’ll listen to the Lady Gaga anthem “Your Type.”

Vaf: Can we talk about how she VAPED to get a “gritty” sound on that song? I kind of love the “oh, 2015” of it all.

Cills: OMG. But also, she kind of has a raspy, scratchy voice to begin with! I don’t know if I even hear the difference.

Vaf: There’s no difference. Poor Carly.

Hu: Do either of you have a favorite song?

Vaf: Threeway tie between “Warm Blood,” “Run Away with Me,” and “When I Needed You,” which is the best homage to “Don’t Come Around Here No More” I’ve ever heard. Acknowledge your debt to Tom Petty, Ariel Rechtshaid!

Cills: I agree totally with Vaf, although I think “When I Needed You” tops my list and really is my favorite. Love that bassline. And I love “I waited for you all night / I closed my eyes and slept for years.”

Hu: You could make an argument for “When I Needed You” as the thematic heart of the album, if there is any? It flirts with the will to disappear — “I thought that it was worth it / To let myself just disappear” — which I think has a lot to do with Carly’s shiftiness in the album, as Jia has already noted.

Vaf: Really? But she also realizes she doesn’t have to change for some dummy! That’s a lovely moment. I’m choosing to be positive here, guys. She’s confidently lacking in confidence. Accepting her neediness.

Hu: I think it attests to one of the keystones of many pop songs: just because the emotions are fleeting doesn’t make them less intense or real. Also, Carly is genuinely altered by this relationship, dummy or not!

Cills: I think needing someone forever is maybe inherently dark, at least the way CRJ paints it in “When I Needed You.” I mean isn’t every song on this record asking the exact same thing of a love interest: do you think we could be together in something that’s bigger than what we are now? Even if it means “hijacking” someone in the night???? Lol.

Vaf: Lol. God, that is so alarming. It’s way more performatively vulnerable than anything Drake does. Jane, you’re right, short-term feelings can be just as intense as the long-term ones. Maybe more so.

Hu: Because short-term feelings often work in long-term desires!

Once upon a time I
thought you were the hero
I waited for you all night
I closed my eyes and slept for years
You kissed me like a sunrise.

That’s some simultaneous chronos and kairos shit inflecting the wish-fulfillment in this song.

Cills: In a way naming it EMOTION is kind of like CRJ saying “Actually, there’s really only one emotion, and it’s NEEDING NEEDING NEEDING.”

Hu: This album is thirsty.

Vaf: Yes. This album isn’t about, like, frustration over a coworker. It’s suspended in this state of boys, boys, boys.

Cills: What do you guys think of “Boy Problems?”

Hu: I like that it spotlights “boys” instead of “dudes” or “men” or even “guys.” That song has one of my favorite lyrics from the album: “I think I broke up with my boyfriend today/I don’t really care/I’ve got worse problems.” PREACH, CARLY.

Vaf: That song reminds me of 2001 Kylie Minogue. Or Annie from Norway. So I love it.

Hu: I also just love how it’s focused around a conversation between two girlfriends. The fade-out is nice too, because it homes in on how repetitively dull — though exhausting — boy problems ultimately get. There should be a catalogue of them for how generic they turn.

Cills: Yeah! A total outlier compared to all the songs we were just talking about, and so peppy.

Hu: And it’s teasing! It’s a rally for “you’re honestly better off.”

Vaf: You usually are!

Hu: Super validating. The subtle gendering of “She’s been giving, you’ve been taking taking taking” makes the song casually sweeping in its generalization of boys. But, y’know. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Cills is right: this song is a relief from most of the other tracks.

Vaf: It’s the most fun track on the album.

Cills: Something that got lost in the CRJ, EMOTION revamp is my association with her being really fun and romantically forward and confident. Which is fine, she can’t make a whole record of “Call Me Maybe”s.

Vaf: I do think “Run Away with Me” scratches that itch.

Hu: It’s a seduction song as well: “I’ll be your sinner, in secret” and then “I’ll be your hero and win it.”

Cills: True! A more adult “Call Me Maybe.”

Vaf: Right. It’s more like “You’re Going to Call Me.”

Hu: irl lol

Vaf: I don’t really know what to do with how this album isn’t…popular? I mean, beyond this internet bubble of whatever. People are into that “Fight Song” thing. But all my friends are talking about CRJ.

Hu: They keep playing “Fight Song” with that car ad that previews the movie previews, and I still don’t know who sings it. I did, however, have three friends independently text me about EMOTION the day it came out, which is an excellent litmus test for friendship.

Cills: I gave it to everyone I knew, my friends all love it, but it’s true it doesn’t seem as popular as I want it to be.

Hu: Same. I think that’s what I love about “Boy Problems”! The track that’s explicitly titled after obsessing over the other sex is ultimately about female friendship. There’s a reason it’s the most peppy and fun album: it’s the least fraught. You don’t drive manically at night to “Boy Problems,” tears streaming down your face. But you might to the presumably chiller “Favourite Colour” — which, I should emphasize, is obviously Carly trolling America.

Cills: Wait, go on!

Hu: The spelling of the title!

Vaf: Canadians.

Cills: Aaaaaah.

Hu: I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious. But you try correcting “Favourite Colour” to “Favorite Color” and then realizing you didn’t have to, and then feeling conflicted about it. But anyway, this song is a spiralling mess dressed up as a chromatic wave of calm. “Hold on now / This is getting kinda serious / This is getting kinda out of control / Out of control.”

Cills: I wish she had swapped “LA Hallucinations” for “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance.”

Vaf: Yeah, that song is at least funny. “I didn’t just come here to dance / if you know what I mean / do you know what I mean” reads to me as “Wait, am I being TOO subtle?” When, like, no, of course you aren’t, that’s the wrong question.

Cills: Haha, god yes. And the rando boys calling her over.

Vaf: How awful is it when she calls out Buzzfeed and TMZ in “LA Hallucinations”?

Hu: She also ALLITERATES in her diss. “Buzzfeed buzzards” is kind of inspired. Maybe I’m just skewing towards the peppier side of EMOTION, but I also really dig “Let’s Get Lost.” It opens with like almost a midi track.

Cills: There’s something sort of ’50s about it, very adorable, like “long way home” means stopping at the Lovers Lane or something.

Vaf: That vibe is the only thing, aside from a few nods in the production, that really reminds me of Cyndi Lauper. CRJ and company have been emphasizing Cyndi as the influence for the record, but I don’t totally hear it. Cyndi is more of an outlier, and CRJ doesn’t have that added “we’re not the fortunate ones” critique of money (there’s no “Money Changes Everything,” sadly). But she does lean into a ’50s adolescence by way of a very light ’80s perversion.

Hu: OH GOD YES. And the sax!!!! There is SO MUCH SAX IN THIS ALBUM.

Vaf: Sweet, synthesized sax.

Cills: Honestly surprised there isn’t a “Careless Whisper” cover or something.

Vaf: Stop. That would kill me. You know Harry Styles has the lyrics to that tattooed on his foot or something? People are dumb.

Hu: George Michael + lots of bass = Carly Rae Jepsen circa 2015.

Vaf: Faith-era GM though. Minus the armpit sniff.

Hu: I think that clash adds to the manicness of the album too. Like, there’s so much 80s throwback happening, but it’s done with not a disco, but a techno, vibe.

Cills: It was Laura Snapes who said that CRJ made a whole record of “New Romantics,” and I really agree/like that description.

Hu: Perfect.

Vaf: Yeah, like with 1989, I’m stuck wondering whose 1980s we are talking about? It’s fine, I guess.

Hu: Whoa, Jen, you’re blinding me with this new insight on 1989, because as someone who was born at the tail end of that year, it is so true, that Taylor Swift is actually a child of the ‘90s.

Vaf: Haha, I don’t think it’s new, but it’s how I feel! “I want an ’80s feel for this record” has turned into “What I really want to do is direct” for a certain subset. Not complaining.

Cills: “I want Ariel Rechtshaid” is the new “‘80s feel.”

Hu: I’m okay with that as well. Teens are doing it for themselves in the 21st century. Ok, I want to think seriously — in the context of the affectively sprawling album — about the final track, “Love Again.” It truly is Carly’s “New Romantics.”

Cills: I love that I don’t know who she’s addressing and if you want to think of this as a break-up record (which it could be) I like that she ended it with a song in which she is talking as much to her listeners as she is to herself? The dummy who won’t be with her? THE MOON?

Vaf: She loves the goddamn moon. I’m going with the moon.

Hu: Cf. our prior yak about “I Really Like You.

Cills: And I guess the record feels like not about a breakup, but the lead-up to one, if that makes sense? Like she’s trying to keep the pieces together on a lot of these songs, like they’re not totally hopeless yet, and “Love Again” is like the definitive “IT’S OVER BUT IT’S OK” song.

Hu: Yes!! That’s beautiful, Hazel. The whole album is gearing up for the inevitable mess, and in doing so, expresses it and also prepares you for it. So by the time you get to “Love Again,” it’s actually kind of a whirl of optimism. The way she sings “Ooopen up your heart to the ceiling.” The word “again” occurs twenty times in the song.

Vaf: It’s a good word. Again again again again.

Popular Music is a regular column about music that is popular.

Previously: Mariah Carey, Pervert and Genius

Hazel Cills is a writer living in Brooklyn. She did NOT just come here to dance.

Jen Vafidis is a writer living in Brooklyn. She’ll be your hero and win it.

Jane Hu is a writer living in Oakland. She usually takes the long way home.