Album Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – “E•MO•TION”


Carly Rae Jepsen has the unfortunate distinction of being considered a “one hit wonder.” Never mind that the term is over-used (even by me), and it technically isn’t true anymore in Jepsen’s case by any actual definition of the term. Still, her career will be forever defined by one whopper of a song: “Call Me Maybe,” the widescreen power-pop sensation that was an unstoppable juggernaut during the summer of 2012. If your career has to be defined by one song, you could do worse than one of the best and most iconic pop songs of the decade.

Even so, it’s stunning that the singles from Jepsen’s latest record have stalled when most of them even better than “Call Me Maybe.” I don’t know how this happened–was the label too finicky with sending them to radio? They certainly got ample promotion and critics adored them. It’s a shame too, considering that E·MO·TION is the best pop record so far this year and in good contention for being one of the best of the entire decade. Every song on this record is fantastic, warm, and vibrant.

E·MO·TION begins with the exuberant “Run Away with Me,” a song that actually manages to outmatch “Call Me Maybe” in terms of being the Platonic ideal of the perfect pop song. Everything in this song is absolutely perfect, from the opening saxophone howl to its humongous chorus that steamrolls everything its wake. The song is pop maximalism at its best and jumps out of the speakers like nothing else right now. A major selling point of the song–and indeed, the rest of the album–are Jepsen’s amazing vocals, which are sweet, confident, and are never overwhelmed by the arena-sized musical accompaniment whirling around them. I’ve already written about my disappointment that this hasn’t become the monster hit it deserves to be, especially considering that it’s radio catnip; the kind of perfect pop song that Top 40 programmers normally drool over.

“I Really Like You” seems to be fated to be the album’s only “hit,” even if it only squeaked into the Top 40 at number 39 due to some Justin Beiber thing (it did much better elsewhere: Top 5 in the UK, number one in Canada). It has another sparkling, expansive chorus that highlights Jepsen’s sweet, lively voice. For me, this song was a grower: I was a little underwhelmed by it when I first heard it, but it eventually grew and clicked as time went on.

The Robyn-influenced, Sia co-written “Boy Problems” is less about the titular boy problems and more about the potentially friendship-ruining consequences that come with nagging your friends about them. There aren’t many songs that are both this nonchalant about the end of a relationship (“I think I broke up with my boyfriend today and I don’t really care,”) nor anxious about bugging your friends into hating you (“What’s worse, losing a lover or losing your best friend?”). The song’s dual chorus is delightfully, musically quirky, lyrically nonchalant, and joyful, and it’s easily one of the highlights of the entire record.

The rest of E·MO·TION is full of terrific songs, and there isn’t a bad one among the bunch. The album’s other Sia credit, the superb “Making the Most of the Night,” is an fantastic whirling roller-rink disco jam that again benefits from Carly’s spot-on vocals and a maximalist chorus. Title track “E·MO·TION” has a chorus out of a Latin freestyle song twinned with guitar pops out of something The 1975 would do. Giddy closer “When I Needed You” sounds like a dream collaboration between Debbie Gibson and Toto.

On E·MO·TION, every chorus explodes, every hook is impossibly catchy, and every song sounds like a Top 40 single waiting to happen. It improves on Jepsen’s previous effort Kiss in every way: her vocals are more confident, backed by music and production that effortlessly compliment them.

The album is a trove of perfect pop; once it’s over, you’re bound to have at least seven of its songs knocking around in your head, competing for space as the earworm lodged in your brain for the rest of the day. Even though E·MO·TION’s singles have confoundingly been disappointments commercially, the whole package is going to be difficult to ignore. It is easily one of the year’s best records and an absolute essential listen for anyone serious about pop music right now.

Rating: 10/10

Ryan Gibbs is the music editor for The Young Folks. He is based in Newport, Rhode Island.