Music Reviews

Music Criticism: Four Men Talk Carly Rae Jepsen’s DEDICATED

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Originally, our long-suffering music editor envisioned nearly 10 writers sharing their thoughts on Carly Rae Jepsen’s DEDICATED. As with most music criticism, it ended up being four dudes. You win some, you lose some. 

Ryan Moloney, Staff Writer

Favorite Track: “Julien”

Decades are often defined by select moments. Often times, they’re revelations of truth or discovery. In the ‘50s, we learned that the moon is real. The ‘60s taught us that boomers are really bad at taking acid. And without the ‘90s, we would’ve never known how cool it is to get frosted tips and listen to Oasis, Nirvana, and *NSYNC while you shop for your 14th pair of JNCOs (one for each day of a half-lunar cycle). And now, it is time for me to reveal the greatest secret of the decade: Every single song Carly Rae Jepsen has ever made is about me.

“Wow,” you are saying to yourself. “He’s right. Every song Canadian recording artist Carly Rae Jepsen has ever written is about Ryan Moloney.” I thank you for saying that. For those one or two doubters who didn’t, I assure you that “Run Away With Me,” “Higher,” and yes, even “Call Me Maybe,” are all about yours truly. And guess what? Miss Jepsen has blessed us (and more importantly me) with 15 new songs… about me! But today, I’ve chosen to write about just one, “Julien.”

Now you may ask, Ryan, why did you not choose “Want You in My Room” or “I’ll Be Your Girl,” tracks on which she pines for your pipe quite explicitly. And to that I kindly ask you to fuck off. Sorry, but this is my byline and I make the rules, however birdbrain they may be. First of all, it would be quite crass. Secondly, I’m a sweet perfect angel who is not one to brag. I’m an honorable man, kinda like Jon Snow except the blonde woman I pledge fealty to that millions call Queen makes pop bangers instead of genocides cities (bet you haven’t seen enough Game of Thrones recently—you’re welcome for mentioning the show we all loved so much and are so very sad is gone, even though the final season was perfectly paced, coherently written, and did not end like a Disney movie. Congrats to Game of Thrones, you went out on top).

Now you may ask, why then, out of ALL the songs, did you pick the ONLY one in which she literally uses another guy’s name. Reader, art is deep and complex. It’s not my fault that you are merely observing the surface. A name is but a name, a red herring in this case. To truly unlock the Code of Carly, you must open your mind to the ~vibe~ of the record, for this is what really matters.

And sure, it’d be fair of you to ask for me to point to specific examples, tangible proof, that this and all 90 of her other songs are about me. A hook, a rhyme pattern, even just the fact that her work is heavily disco-influenced, which of course is not explicit confirmation that I’m the subject of these songs, but I like the synths, so that would count as proof if I were to mention it. But I’m not going to mention it. Because I am humble.

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Thomas Seraydarian, Editor-In-Chief

Favorite Track: “Now That I Found You”

Now that the dust has settled on the, oh, 25th listen or so, I can confidently state that DEDICATED is our beloved CRJ’s crowning artistic achievement overall. Nobody else, not even herself, can top the transcendent joys of “Cut to the Feeling,” and there’s arguments that EMOTION and even KISS may have the stronger overall accumulation of “bangers,” but as much as we stan our Queen, I can’t deny in good faith that her albums do tend to drop off in their later halves. Not so for DEDICATION, which doesn’t have a single weak track on it. We know we’re in for a different breed of Jepsen from the first notes of “Julien,” by far one of the most artistically layered and complex tracks in her discography, understated and seeing both her and the production operating in more smoky, reserved parameters than we’re primed to expect—to reach for this as the first track and not the more obvious choice of infectious late ‘18 single “Party For One” is extremely powerful, made all the more so by the fact that “Party For One” isn’t even included on the physical release. But I digress. Emotion always has and always will be tied to the Carly Rae brand, at first lobbied as a detractor by pop-phobic journalist types, and rather boldly reclaimed on the release bearing the name of the concept. What I find so fascinating about her fourth time around the merry-go-round, however, is the exploration and presentation of emotion through the subdued and quiet moments as opposed to the colorful, elevated indulgence of her past (the sole exception in this regard, “Now That I Found You,” perfectly holds course with her best, for the record). Most of these tracks can generally be considered “ballads,” at least in overall tempo and conceit, and yet CRJ is still able to masterfully command a room, slinking through sleek bass bounces (“No Drug Like Me”), choruses that focus on the spaces in-between instead of overbearing pastel bombast (“Too Much”), the unabashedly sexy and longing Jack Antonoff blowout of “Want You In My Room,” and whatever the heck is going on on the deliciously bizarre, chipmunk-flipped “Everything He Needs.” It’s by far 2019’s flagship pop effort, and I truly don’t see any other albums bumping this from my number one spot from what we’ve heard so far this year.

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Adam Cash, Staff Writer

Favorite Track: “Want You In My Room”

Folks—I don’t even know what to say about CRJ that hasn’t been said already. She’s fun and pop-friendly in a way that feels openly defiant, she makes music that feels simultaneously retro and undeniably of this moment. Her public persona is both ruthlessly, intelligently calculating and carefree. There’s no way she didn’t know someone was going to hand her a sword on stage eventually, because she seems way too fucking smart not to, and yet I immediately buy her reaction of “Oh wow! A sword!” as genuine. And in a time when so many pop stars are fighting against the brutally short memory of the public eye in order to achieve “icon” status, Carly Rae Jepsen just doesn’t seem to care enough to deal with that junk. BUT, in doing so, she achieves that status! DEDICATED is confirmation that Carly Rae Jepsen can do whatever the hell she wants, possibly for the rest of her career, and still be ruthlessly and shamelessly beloved by her fans, like a quick-witted and highly respected B-list actress. This record is about Jepsen taking the biggest swings she can. Even though EMOTION has a roster of wall-to-wall bangers, DEDICATED reaches higher highs than most of EMOTION can, and feels like a riskier record than EMOTION. Most obviously, there’s a lot more sonic territory explored here, and even for a seasoned fan, DEDICATED is surprising in how many interesting places it goes. The early 2010s pop sound of “Party For One” and the Queer Eye-core of “Now That I Found You” don’t feel like stretches, but I sure as hell never thought I’d hear Carly Rae Jepsen make a song that sounds like The Sugarcubes until I heard “Want You In My Room.” Sometimes those risks mean a loss of cohesion—not here though. A more confident version of the CRJ spirit runs through DEDICATED. If EMOTION is permeated by feelings of puppy love, of finding a stranger at a bar and feeling an instant spark, DEDICATED sounds like a more established relationship, with solid communications and deeper feelings and good sex. The intensity of the record is still just as high as anything she’s ever done, but she’s growing up with her fans, and it sure as hell doesn’t seem like there’s anything we can do to take her down at this point.

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Jacob Martin, Music Contributor

Favorite Track: “I’ll Be Your Girl”

The undisputed queen of the unpopular pop stars, Carly Rae Jepsen stunned the music world with her 2015 release EMOTION, an incredible collection of infectious and winning material colored more by ‘80s synthpop than by the contemporary sounds of present-day pop music. As wonderful as EMOTION was, the million dollar question persisted: could she do it again? Well, our questions were answered, and DEDICATED proves that Jepsen was not only capable of replicating the excellence of her last record, but also, in some ways, capable of improving on it. I’m not quite ready to make the claim that DEDICATED is a superior record than EMOTION, but it’s very close.

Leaving behind some of the bombast and overt excitement of her previous work, DEDICATED trafficks a bit more in pastels, insofar as uptempo synthpop music is able to. Carly has always thrived the most in the margins of relationships, her songs largely existing in a limbo space either just before or just after love, harnessing some of the most powerful emotional states available to the human psyche. Jepsen possesses a lyrical touch that many have tried but few have mastered, an ability to write in generalities in a way that is specific and revealing enough to remain unique and interesting, but vague enough for any listener to fully insert and immerse themselves into her songs. As a result, her music is able to reach down and evoke almost primal and fundamental feelings from the listener, music that seemingly compels some deeply buried element of your subconsciousness into dancing alone with reckless abandon in your own bedroom. It’s cathartic, powerful, essential.

Sonically, DEDICATED is far more adventurous than its predecessor. It certainly has its fair share of straight-up-and-down pop bangers that you’d expect from Jepsen; “Now That I Found You” rivals just about any other track in her catalog in terms of unbounded excitement and joy, and “Party For One” closes the album with a triumphant declaration of self-love and empowerment in the face of heartbreak. However, Jepsen is pulling from a much wider array of influences and styles on this record than she has in the past. Songs like the opener “Julien,” the somewhat confessional “Too Much,” and second-half highlight “The Sound” make use of wonkier, sharper, and darker synth palettes than Jepsen typically dabbles in, reminiscent of modern day art pop. The Jack Antonoff-produced “Want You In My Room” and the irresistible “Happy Not Knowing” both feature exceedingly ‘80s guitar and synth touches while also making use of a vocoder and sleek, modern production. “Everything He Needs” and “I’ll Be Your Girl” both feature melodies and vibes reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s solo work, effervescent and bubbly pop tunes with sly and subtle undertones and well-thought out, layered arrangements. “Real Love” is an album highlight, coming towards the end of the runtime and featuring an explosive and anthemic climax that all but forces you to get up and move your feet. Like EMOTION before it, DEDICATED suffers from a slight lull around the tracks 10-12 range, but it hardly disrupts the flow of the record or taints the experience in any way. DEDICATED is a more-than-worthy successor to EMOTION, and solidifies Carly Rae Jepsen as one of the premier voices in contemporary pop music of any style. If somehow you still only think of her as “the ‘Call Me Maybe’ girl,” do yourself a favor and listen to both of these records right away, because pop music with a vibrancy and purity of this caliber is difficult to find.

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