A few weeks ago I was riding on a bus to Chicago on a scholarship trip, listening as I often do to Carly Rae Jepsen’s seminal album “Emotion.” As I was listening to it, I came to a sudden realization about the lyrics of a lot of Carly’s songs. They toe a delicate line between pop and alternative and do a wonderful job at grabbing the positives of both sides.
So I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at these songs to examine just how they manage to pull off this careful balancing act, and why they’re just great songs overall.
One of the most notable features of pop music is that they tend to be generic. In an attempt to appeal to the largest amount of people possible, lyrics tend to say as little as possible while also appealing to generally experienced themes. It’s why you see a lot of songs about partying and love and heartbreak without any specific details to identify exactly what sort of party or what sort of person you love or what exactly happened to cause the heartbreak.
As much as it sounds like a knock on pop music, it does make sense. If you want to sell a lot of records to a lot of people, it makes sense to be relatable to as many people as possible. And people tend to relate more to generic themes than very specific situations, right?
Well, not exactly. Everyone knows the feeling of finding that song that just seems to speak specifically to their own situation. I can name quite a few songs that feel like the songwriter took notes on my life and wrote a song based on it. These songs are rare, but infinitely more special than the mountains of more generic songs I enjoy but maybe don’t connect to as much.
All that being said, Jepsen’s music can best be described as pop music. It makes use of a lot of the same sounds and lyrical themes as pop music. But I’ve always found her songs interesting for how specific they tend to get with the themes they employ. I think it’s one of the reasons her music connects with people so well. She strikes a balance between being able to appeal to a wide audience and also making deep connections with those who relate to her music. Let’s take a look a little more specifically at some of her songs.
I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance
This is the song that tipped me off to this particular trait of Jepsen’s music. It’s your essential “I met this cute guy at a party and I want things to go further” song, but with a very important twist.
“It’s you, boy, you in the corner,
Something is taking me over,
I only came here for you.”
Yep, that’s right. The object of her affection is a boy who very much doesn’t enjoy the party. And that’s a pretty common thing, right? There’s a lot of people in this world who don’t enjoy parties, and I’d assume not all of them are eternally single.
All that being said, though, this song sounds pretty much like a regular party song. The chorus of “I didn’t just come here to dance” could be a euphemism for something else just as easily as it is a reference to the object of Jepsen’s affection not being fond of dancing. But at the same time, for those who aren’t as big into partying or dancing, they might find this song to be a kind affirmation that they’re not unattractive or weird.
Either way, you get a dual appeal of both more general and less general lyrics. People just looking for a fun party song will get their fun party song, but those who are (or love) someone who isn’t too fond of dancing they’ll find an extra connection to this song.
My favorite song off of “Emotion” is also an excellent example of this lyrical principle of Jepsen’s music.
“LA Hallucinations” is a song about Jepsen’s character having a one-time affair with someone. Just like before, it’s a pretty standard topic, and even Jepsen’s implication that her lover is similarly famous isn’t that shocking for a song of this genre either. No, instead it’s the consequences Jepsen describes that set this song apart.
Buzzfeed buzzes and TMZ crows,
What can I say that you don’t already know?
The affair that Jepsen is in goes public, of course. While I won’t say that a lot of people out there probably relate to this situation personally, most would be familiar enough with the situation – a torrid love affair between two public figures – to understand the specifics Jepsen is describing.
Even more interesting is the mentions of the websites used to publicize the affair, Buzzfeed and TMZ. It was surprising to hear Buzzfeed’s name particularly in a song, but it makes sense. It’s a huge and widely read website, providing another easy point of connection rooted in the specificity of Jepsen’s lyrics.
This song from the B-sides of “Emotion” is maybe a little odd, but I think it’s also another great example of this principle of Jepsen’s music. The song is about cheating on a loyal lover just because you don’t want to hurt their feelings by breaking up with them. I saved this example for last just because the thing that makes this song specific is small and a little silly, but it struck me anyway.
What is Jepsen’s repeated excuse for slipping away from her partner?
I’m just goin’ to the store, to the store,
I’m just goin’ to the store.
You might not see me anymore, anymore,
I’m just goin’ to the store.
So yeah, silly, right? But it’s such a real-sounding excuse. Jepsen’s character in the song isn’t some sort of unrealistically sly and clever adulterer, she’s just coming up with any terrible excuse she can grasp to justify her absence. Again, maybe not as relatable in a specifically situational case, but the intent of it is very human.
Jepsen’s music is all very human. She appeals to common themes in her music, sure, but she taps into the reality of them. No sugarcoating here, her music just speaks to real people’s real experiences.
I can’t help but feel that’s why she’s viewed as a queen by so many. Why wouldn’t she, with the clever, down-to-earth music she offers?