Could anybody have ever predicted that Carly Rae Jepsen—the Canadian singer who initially appeared on Canadian Idol in 2007—would have become pop music’s biggest cult favorite? Three albums and dozens of singles later, Jepsen has returned with her fourth studio effort, Dedicated, an album in which she says she has finally learned how to “embrace her weirdness.”
After finishing in third place on Idol over a decade ago, Jepsen signed with Chad Kroeger’s 604 Records in Canada and recorded her folk-inspired debut album, Tug of War, released domestically in her native country in 2008. Her real breakthrough would arrive four years later in 2012, when she left her folksy side behind and went for straight up bubblegum pop on her single “Call Me Maybe”—which, with the help of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, was boosted to significant mainstream popularity and later became the highest-selling song of that year. Meanwhile, Jepsen was signed to a new joint record deal with Interscope and Scooter Braun’s label, Schoolboy Records, and released her second studio album and international debut, Kiss. After the significant mainstream success she enjoyed with “Call Me Maybe” and its accompanying bubblegum pop album, Jepsen returned with her third studio album in 2015, Emotion, whose dance and synthpop sound drew heavy inspiration from ‘80s music. Although the album was the subject of critical acclaim, it underperformed commercially worldwide, only seeing the moderate success of its lead single “I Really Like You,” another bubblegum offering. But in lieu of commercial success, Emotion reinvigorated Jepsen’s career as the pop singer we know her as today—instead of being at the top of charts or trying to create another “Call Me Maybe,” she is making her own style of pop still heavily influenced from bygone eras, which has undoubtedly given her a large gay following—which has been referred to as a “queer cult.”
On her new studio album Dedicated—for which Jepsen says she wrote over 200 songs over the last two years and ended up narrowing it down to a final track listing of 15—she continues paving her own road. She’s stated that her goal was to make “chill disco,” and despite the EDM single “Now That I Found You” not appearing incredibly original at first, Jepsen manages to find new ways to create poignant sounds that sound both old and new with sometimes poetic lyrics offering new insights into typical romantic clichés often found in pop music. But this is what Carly Rae Jepsen represents in the current pop music landscape: that the genre’s purpose is no longer solely to sell records and top charts. Sometimes pop music is just about dancing, having fun, and accepting that the human spirit is something that never goes out of style.
If Jepsen crafted an album about the unpredictability of human emotions on Emotion, she proves that she is dedicated to that theme on Dedicated. I wouldn’t necessarily describe the album as disco, but it definitely accomplishes the “chill” vibe that she said she was going for. I feel as though only Carly Rae Jepsen could somehow make campiness chill, and create an album that screams camp while still being consistently mellow and without the hysterics found on Emotion (also, I must point out that Jepsen could have made any kind of album she wanted and I still would have been grateful to finally hear her voice with refreshing new production without the ‘80s synth vibes that infested both Emotion and its sequel, Emotion: Side B, from start to finish). Dedicated’s highlights appear hidden between the lines—she maintains her dreamy and lovestruck stance on “Julien” and “No Drug Like Me” before coming through on the disco influences on “Want You in My Room.” On “Too Much,” she sings about what it’s like to always go too far and feel too much—which feels as though it could be a sequel to any number of dance numbers from Emotion. “The Sound” functions as an excellent predecessor to quite possibly the album’s biggest highlight, “Automatically in Love,” which combines sounds reminiscent of Mariah Carey and Donna Summer to form an escapist pop sound that is undoubtedly, unapologetically Carly Rae Jepsen. “Feels Right,” a collaboration with Electric Guest, is an upbeat and catchy track reminiscent of Motown funk that indeed feels right on an album like Dedicated. The album nears a close with “Real Love,” a standout ballad combining new wave synths with EDM about following your heart. “Party For One” serves as Dedicated’s closing track, which was initially released as the album’s lead single last November but now only serves as a bonus track on the digital deluxe edition.
Some listeners who have failed to look between the lines still only know Jepsen as the “Call Me Maybe” girl, but Jepsen has spent the better part of almost a decade since then forging her own path as someone who subverts expectations—she might not represent what current popular music is today, but on a deeper level she represents what the genre has always been about: dancing your troubles away, accepting the inevitability of a broken heart, and the ever-changing nature of human emotions. In a world where pop culture craves pop songs that will resonate with everyone, Jepsen’s music focuses on a predictable theme we all can relate to, no matter what: feelings. Her songs also celebrate the intimacy and primacy of those intense emotions of forbidden desires and secret crushes, which has certainly contributed to her appeal and resonance among gay men. If anything, Dedicated proves that working with old sounds with an artist’s own twist does not speak to a lack of ambition on Jepsen’s part, but rather a passion for unique, unapologetic pop music. And it may not be the last we hear from the Dedicated era, since Jepsen says she may or may not release a compilation of B-sides and tracks that didn’t make the final cut, in the same vein as Emotion: Side B (which may include the title track “Dedicated,” which did not happen to make the final cut). Jepsen knows and embodies the fickle, feel-good pop music we know and love, whether we know it or not. “Sometimes you live with songs too much,” she says. “I just warn my manager, if we’re going to go with something, we should probably go with it soon, because God knows this girl changes her mind.”
Jeffrey’s favorites from Dedicated: “Julien,” “No Drug Like Me,” “Now That I Found You,” “Want You in My Room,” “Too Much,” “The Sound,” “Automatically in Love,” “Feels Right,” “Real Love,” and “Party For One”