Hello! And welcome to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Appreciating Carly Rae Jepsen For Dummies Maybe.” It’s really great that you’ve chosen to click on this link, for whatever reason. Thank you. As a D-list celebrity Carly Rae Jepsen appreciator, I get a lot of questions via email and Twitter about my second-favorite Canadian pop star. Maybe you’ve got a little crush: “Trent, do you know if Carly Rae is single?” Perhaps you’re a “Call Me Maybe” structuralist: “What is the deal with this song?” Or maybe you’re just challenging the authenticity of my “like:” “Do you really like Carly Rae Jepsen?”
No matter what site you were browsing before you clicked on this link, welcome! If you’re a tl;dr kinda asshole, I’ll give you this (for everyone else: spoiler alert!): I really do like Carly Rae Jepsen, really, which, if you’re still reading this, begs the crucial question of the Guide: “How do you really like Carly Rae Jepsen, really?”
This Guide grew out of my simple and very personal passion for the holistic beauty of Carly Rae Jepsen and her hit song. Although I have been passionate about songs before and will certainly be passionate about songs in the future, I won’t write appreciation guides about them. There is something special about “Call Me Maybe,” it’s safe to say. Aside from being very popular, it is a litmus test for the presence of humanity, optimism, and warmth in the listener. It’s also the first and only music that can appropriately follow “Bizarre Love Triangle” on a wedding dancefloor while maintaining the high integrity of both songs.
Where is this Guide guiding you? With your open mind, it will take you down the path towards becoming more in tune with all around you, maybe. Where you go from there is a simple matter of time — the more of it you spend with the song, the more you will draw those around you towards enlightenment maybe like a moth to a flame.
Before the program begins, let’s answer the most primal of questions in this universe: “What is ‘Call Me Maybe?’” Watch it now, whether you’ve seen it or not, and no cheating! Watch all the way to the end. You trust me, right? ;-)
Whether you know Carly Rae or not, you have probably already heard this song. If you haven’t already heard it, “Call Me Maybe” at least reminds you of something you’ve heard before — it oozes the universal familiarity inherent in all good pop songs. (If you haven’t heard it, by the way, you should get out more. At least change the channel from C-SPAN every couple of months maybe.)
Appreciation 101 maybe
Repetitive puppy-love-from-afar lyrics, straightforwardly energetic timing, and a camera-ready cuteness send Jepsen’s tween cred through the roof
“Call Me Maybe” is successful as a pop song on a number of important levels. It was commercially produced (Carly Rae would later call it “pop-ified”) by Josh Ramsay, a man well-steeped in the history of pop that was recorded to sound good on the radio and drive disc sales, but working in the 2012 vein that foregrounds licensing potential and digital sales. Unlike most producers churning out cross-platform megahits for Bieber, Miley, and Taylor Swift, Ramsay hasn’t turned 30 yet. The 27-year old Vancouver resident is part of a brewing Canadian pop storm that has yet to unleash its full force upon the universe: both he and Jepsen (26, of Mission, British Columbia) were born at the dawn of the digital age, placing them squarely between the 1000% jacked-in pre-teens currently entering junior high and their parents, who probably started getting pagers when they were about to graduate from college. Their placement in time means they have an uncanny knack for appealing to both groups. Repetitive puppy-love-from-afar lyrics, straightforwardly energetic timing, and a camera-ready cuteness send Jepsen’s tween cred through the roof. And their parents? Well, their parents get the “maybe.”
The word that launched Carly Rae’s career is easy enough to understand at first blush. But maybe is a loaded sentiment. Jepsen’s immaculately-portamentoed triplet is the perfect embodiment of passive-aggressive noncommitance, an evolving emotion that is far less opaque to txt-flooded tweens than it is to their parents. The act of maybe-ing a love interest has always existed, but when the people of Generation X were tweens, maybe was tied to a landline, not a network of always-on friends.
Before 9/11, millions of American twenty-somethings spent their lackluster post-graduate careers languishing in coffee shops in the big cities that most accurately reflected and accepted their alternative lifestyles. Reality Bites commercialized their image. Two years later Singles exposed the myth of the alternative lifestyle, and 2000’s High Fidelity sealed the casket on the 90’s as John Cusack painted a deprecating self-portrait of his character and his elitist, obsolete contemporaries. MTV, a cultural touchstone, became more about reality than art. X-ers got over themselves, started turning into their parents, and had babies of their own just like everybody else. The “whatever” generation, defined by a stuffy record-store cool that vanished when Napster hit the scene, has spawned the slightly-more-optimistic “maybe” generation.
I wasn’t in the studio when they were writing it, but I feel certain the song was called “Txt Me Maybe” at some point in its development. Whoever struck down that idea was a genius: texting still has uncomfortably youthful overtones (remember the first time you got a text from your dad? Weird!), whereas a call is something everyone can understand. And, fortuitously, pantomiming the motions for a call looks much cooler than pantomiming the motions for a text on a Bat Mitzvah dancefloor.
I wasn’t in the studio when they were writing it, but I feel certain the song was called "Txt Me Maybe"
"Call Me Maybe" is one of the songs that has, against all odds, attained unilateral status
Have you been to a good party lately? Not some sort of flowery champagne reception in a museum atrium or an adorable baby shower, but a real old-fashioned party where everyone of (or near) age gets loaded and starts dancing? If you have, good for you. Maybe you’ll have some insight into what I’m about to tell you. (If not, get a sitter, find a designated driver, and go crash the closest Hilton ballroom — things are little different than you’ll remember!)
New-fashioned parties are hard because everyone wants to dance, but no one wants to hear a song they didn’t pick. As much as a guest may enjoy another’s playlist selections, they almost always feel their selection would be better. It didn’t used to be this way. Before everyone carried their entire music library around with them in their pockets they had to rely on a DJ or a particularly insightful host with lots of alcohol to guide them through a well-paced evening. To compound the problem, there is a lot more music out there than there used to be, many more subgenres of music that certain groups will either love or loathe.
As a wedding DJ, I have a very close relationship with songs everybody knows. Chuck Klosterman calls these "unilateral moments" — touchstones that everyone in a culture can place in a period of their lives and identify with. Motown created about half of them. The 80’s created another 40 percent or so; anything produced after 2005 accounts for less than 10 percent of songs that more than a few people on the dancefloor can sing along to. Songs created after the rise of YouTube and information hypersaturation stand little chance of joining this club. “Call Me Maybe” is one of the songs that has, against all odds, attained unilateral status.
To keep the music engagement of a party event at optimal levels, I keep a “safe playlist” to be deployed over the course of an evening — it includes Nancy Sinatra singing Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” The Temptations’ “Stand By Me,” The Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” and Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” Regardless of the crowd in attendance, any songs produced in the golden age of Motown — The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5 — always resonate. The 80’s are in a great place right now as we move away from the overbearing nostalgia of the late 90’s, a time when any bar or club was left for dead if it didn’t sport the Footloose and Pretty In Pink soundtracks in its CD Jukebox. Beyoncé, along with some of the ubiquitous party-R&B originators of the mid-00’s, will also fare well. This mostly-chronological playlist coincides with the average age of the reception’s attendees: anyone who was listening to popular music during or after these songs were recorded knows them and enjoys hearing them in a social setting. As the night wears on, the crowd inevitably thins out as alcohol consumption and age-appropriate bedtimes take their respective tolls.
“Call Me Maybe” crept quickly into my safe playlist, but in a very unique way: it can be deployed at any point on the timeline with dependably good results. An equal amount of small children and grandparents actively engage with the music, and people in between — high schoolers, college kids, people my age, and Gen X’ers — get it too. The quiet opening bars of the song often drift in uneventfully, but when the energy picks up at the first “Your stare was holdin,’” true appreciators begin to flaunt their lyrical knowledge, and by “HEY” everyone who’s not in the buffet line is either singing along or smiling and learning the words from their relatives who are already in this wonderful, popular club.
Carly Rae’s delivery on the Curiosity EP (where “Call Me Maybe” first appeared) may sound effortless, but it’s actually the product of a long and largely unsuccessful career in pop music. There is no better way to learn than through failure, and Jepsen has experienced a healthy dose of it, most visibly in her elimination from the 2007 season of Canadian Idol. Like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, she spent a lot of time crafting and performing songs that were too personal for wide consumption. Her 2008 album Tug Of War is a real snoozefest, kind of like Taylor Swift on warm milk and Xanax: at the right time, that version of Carly Rae could have become something of a Sarah McLaughlan or Jewel figure. But 2012 demands much more from its pop stars than 1992 did. Like Katy and Gaga, she had the drive, and eventually, with Josh Ramsay’s help, she stumbled upon the perfect iteration of herself to present to the world.
It’s still the same Carly that hid behind an acoustic guitar for most of her career, but you won’t be hearing that 6-string on the radio anytime soon. “Call Me Maybe” is unflinchingly plastic, 100% fabricated from drum machines, string samples, and slick vocal manipulation: it’s the only pop formula that works right now. But Jepsen has a distinctly shy brand of purity that sets her apart from her contemporaries and hearkens back to an earlier time. If you’ve had a few, or if you’re listening on a shitty car stereo, you could very easily mistake Jepsen’s soaring soprano inflections for 80’s ladies like Cyndi Lauper or Deniece Williams.
Lyrically, “Call Me Maybe” is a lot like a favorite sweater. The title hangs out like a loose thread: tug it, and you can feel the rest of the song unravel around it. A one-way relationship with a stranger is born in a single passive moment: “I threw a wish in a well…I looked to you as it fell…I wasn’t looking for this…But now you’re in my way.” Teenage Dream-y love quickly sets in, “Ripped jeans, skin was showin’…Hot night, wind was blowin,” followed with the awkward half-apologetic introduction “Hey! I just met you…And this is crazy…But here’s my number…so call me maybe.” Almost important as the eponymous line is the nonsensical but completely familiar situation encapsulated perfectly in “Before you came into my life / I missed you so bad,” followed by the too-forward admonition “and you should know that,” and then, to drive it all home, complete with decaying vocal delay, “I missed you so, so, bad.” If you think pop songwriting is a lifeless art, you’re missing the point: at their best, big hits explore new emotions taking shape in as few words as possible.
"Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe?"
Pop music has been a chip on the shoulder of those who pay close attention to music since Ray-Bans first touched down on the bridge of James Dean’s perfect nose
I cannot stress enough that there are real lessons to be learned from the 194 seconds of “Call Me Maybe” that can last much longer than the length of the song.
As an appreciator, your life is (or will be) a generally uplifting experience. Sadly, not everyone appreciates “Call Me Maybe.” I wish it were just like my grandpa always used to say: Fuck The Haters. But more often than not, a lethal cocktail of ignorance and emotional politics fuels maybe hatred. Few detractors don’t like it because of the content of the song itself: there is almost always have some external line of reasoning for their sour take on the song. Their list of excuses will have all the substance of a fifth-grader explaining exactly how the dog ate his homework: “I heard she doesn’t write her own music.” “She sounds like a 13-year old.” “She’s part of the machine, man. Bieber just lifted her out of the throng to make more cash.” Novice Jepsen evangelists will understandably find encounters with haters frustrating and confusing.
You must understand that haters have constructed an alternate reality around themselves, one where shitting on a perfect jewel is the equivalent of enlightenment. If you feel frustrated dealing with them, just imagine what it’s like inside their own heads! No Carly, no perspective, no humanity. My heart hurts just typing about it: here in the real world, negativity in the presence of “Call My Maybe” should be listed in the DSM V as a symptom of psychosis.
Pop music has long been a chip on the shoulder of those who pay close attention to music, and has been shunned as “too easy” by cool kids since Ray-Bans first touched down on the bridge of James Dean’s perfect nose. I’d like to think this frame of mind is rapidly becoming extinct, but I still run into disturbing pockets of pop pretension at all levels of society. For the love of Stevie, give it up, guys! We have fucking YouTube now. You have no clout.
Might as well learn how to sing along while you’re sifting through khakis
More than society’s general annoyance with your attitude, I want you to feel better. Enjoying popular music makes everything better. You’re at the mall? You’ll almost certainly be hearing that new Bruno Mars song, so might as well learn how to sing along while you’re sifting through khakis. Buying a hot new slice of consumer electronics? You know you’re gonna be hitting up tech support sooner or later, and guess who’s always on hold music? Beyoncé. If you have any younger relatives, you will feel whole when you finally learn how to take them to Carly Rae Jepsen concerts and enjoy the music for what it is: a simple plastic beacon that has the power to become a positive touchstone for everyone in a society to have something in common... if they’ll just let it.
Evolution sealed with a Kiss
Yesterday, Carly Rae Jepsen released Kiss. You can read reviews of it in most serious music publications, but you won’t find one here at the close of The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Appreciating Carly Rae Jepsen For Dummies Maybe. For the first time since Raffi’s Baby Beluga hit his playroom in 1985, the Guide himself is content to exist inside the emotional confines of a single record. To spill more e-ink on the subject would rob him of the boundless potential energy stored in the first day one spends with a favorite new album. If the Guide has accomplished its goal you too will have felt the Copernican truth that our culture, if it’s to save itself from spiritual destruction, must revolve around a center that’s not based an otherworldly deity or abstract emotional plane. If we can finally agree to evolve into spiritual pragmatists — to stop grasping at unattainable perfection and settle on the best and most current emotional output our culture has to offer — then we can let Carly Rae’s Kiss bring us all into the one pure light that only a song everybody knows can emit.
You’re not trying to be perfect
But You Are
- CRJ, “Beautiful,” 9/18/2012
Stop grasping at unattainable perfection and settle on the best and most current emotional output our culture has to offer