Carly Rae Jepsen is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to pop stardom. Highly under recognised by the mainstream, she is the girl next door of electro pop; seamlessly pouring modest and earnest emotion into big synth soundscapes. After the success of her 2011 hit ‘Call Me Maybe’, she fell to the periphery of the public’s eyes. This was before releasing her 2015 critically acclaimed, yet commercially underperforming, synth pop masterpiece Emotion (stylised E.MO.TION). Pitchfork pins her “self aware innocent tied to mature restraint”, with Maggie Rogers crediting Jepsen for expanding the limits of pop. Followed by a procession of ardently devoted fans, Jepsen reaches out to the audience.
With depictions of romantic vulnerability, she exemplifies classic femininity that generally lacks in today’s pop stars. Her music creates a joyful experience that allows listeners to feel free and good about themselves, yet Jepsen is rarely given credit for the light she puts into the world. As Dua Lipa’s dazzling disco revival Future Nostalgia reached dizzying heights, Jepsen’s 2019 “chill disco” album Dedicated passed mostly unnoticed. Suffering failure to chart despite receiving high critical praise.
None of this seems to faze Jepsen; she continually rolls out top-tier pop music for those who care enough to listen. In 2016, she released Emotion B Sides, an euphoric electro pop EP bordering on the EDM of Kim Petras. In recent years, Jepsen has leaned into club sound, touring with support from the likes of Hannah Diamond and Georgia. Constantly working, Jepsen is known for her work ethic, having spoken in the past about how she “can’t believe this is [her] job” with a rumoured catalogue of upwards 200 unreleased songs. Therefore, it should be no surprise that she was able to drop a 12 track continuum of her 2019 album.
Dedicated Side B was revealed in May 2020 with her tweeting “there have been whispers and I’m bad at keeping secrets. Side B for dedicated is out now, I hope it makes yah dance your pants off”. It departs from its sister album in its storytelling, but it is as cohesive and acts as a conclusive round-up to this era. Where her early albums were about chasing a crush and the fall-out of unrequited love, the Dedicated era has focused on her own indecision. Dedicated B-Side offers clarity as she finally faces up to her feelings and is happy in love.
Each of the tracks cleverly mirror the themes expressed in Dedicated. The album opens with the up-beat rejoicing of ‘This Love Isn’t Crazy’. ‘Window’ partners with the lyrics of ‘Want You in My Room’. ‘Solo’ acts as the reprisal to the mighty ‘Party For One’. After a four album run, Jepsen is finally on an equal footing with her romantic partner. She sings “you can hurt me baby, and I can hurt you too, but love isn’t cruel”. ‘Felt This Way’ and ‘Stay Away’ echo each other, dissecting the two-fold meaning of “your body is my home”, a repeated refrain in both tracks. ‘Summer Love’ is classically base heavy, using vocal filtering so the sound darkens until it grooves and glitters. Additionally, ‘This is What They Say’ has a distinctive 2000s sound, not a far cry from the catchy chorus of Just Jack’s ‘Starz in their Eyes’.
Despite her sonic and continuous reclamation of unbashed girlhood, Jepsen does not make coming-of-age pop. Her music is rich in the fruition in its production, happy-go-lucky in the face of despairing lyrics. ‘Let’s Sort This Whole Thing Out’ is decidedly more certain than its partner ‘Feels Right’, whilst ‘Now I Don’t Hate California After All’ throws itself back to the reggae-style of Blondie’s ‘The Tide is High’. For someone who sings so much about her indecision, the musical choices made by Jepsen never miss the mark. Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, who had a firm presence in 2019’s Dedicated, produces. Together, they create a glorious blend of impeccably strong electronic pop. Bleachers’ feature on ‘Comeback’ surprisingly disarms as the most poignant track on the record, reflecting the sweetness of ‘The Sound’ on the original album. The repeated refrains of ‘I am the keeper’ and the dreamy references are reflective and charmingly self-conscious.
Carly Rae Jepsen has a sunny disposition, but her music is not two dimensional. It is probably best described as dusk, dipping between the light and dark of life with flirtatious synth and always coming out on top.
Dedicated Side B is available to stream on all platforms now
Words by H. R. Gibs