Adam Theisen: Why do you hate Carly Rae Jepsen?

Monday, September 7, 2015 - 6:05pm

The biggest, loudest gust of a saxophone you’ve heard since the ’80s blows through your speakers over an anthemic synth foundation. Enter the steady bass drum, a calm taking over as the singer quietly muses on running away, escaping everything with one special person, until all of a sudden everything rises into a firework of ecstatic release. Like a gunshot she announces all of her desires, dreams, loves, goals and glories. “Baby! Take Me! To The! Feeling!” belts the singer of “Call Me Maybe.” “I’ll be your sinner in secret!” shouts 2012’s viral sensation, new architect of “Run Away With Me,” 2015’s greatest pop song.

Yes, this was the summer of Carly Rae Jepsen.

Please, I promise you I’m not kidding. I swear that Carly Rae Jepsen’s third studio album Emotion is a real thing and that it will absolutely blow your mind. It’s 12 songs (18 if you get all the bonus tracks) of the greatest pop music that will ever grace your ears. From the demolishing power of opening track “Run Away With Me” through all of its dancefloor grooves and songs about puppy love and boy problems and timeless giddy adventures that could happen in any city on Earth.

And yet, nobody seemed to notice. Lead single “I Really Like You” scored buzz with its Tom-Hanks-starring music video and sugary sweet bubble-gum chorus, but that song feels long dead in popular consciousness. You’ll find some true CRJ believers on Tumblr or on some non-pretentious music blogs, but Emotion only hit #16 on the Billboard 200, and at the time of this writing, after only two weeks since its release, the album has completely fallen off the iTunes 200, placing it behind records like Linkin Park’s Meteora and The Essential Billy Joel.

Why the hell did Emotion not sell? I understand, to some people, Carly Rae Jepsen trying to be culturally relevant in 2015 is almost as absurd as if Rebecca Black were still releasing music, and Emotion did come out into a crowded pop landscape still dominated by Taylor Swift, Drake, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Dr. Dre and so many more. But this still would’ve been the perfect summer to hear all of Emotion on the radio. The Weeknd and Fetty Wap excluded, this was another terrible summer to be in a car without an aux cord, with the buzzkill of “See You Again,” the annoying-on-purpose melodies of “Cheerleader” and the last wheezing gasps of “Thinking Out Loud” all getting way too much play.

Any song on Emotion would’ve been a perfect hit. “I Really Like You” already came and went as the lead single — part novelty with its easy chorus of “I really really really really really really like you,” part extremely true reflection on the euphoria of a crush. But you could get 12 people to listen to this album and each one would probably name a different key song. The title track’s effortless disco groove and jumpy synths make it a lovely throwback jam; the Sia assist on “Boy Problems” helps create a bubbly, carefree romp of a break-up song; “Making the Most of the Night” has giant energetic percussion and glittery bright-light synths; and personally, I just love the way Jepsen seems to slip two syllables off the title phrase of the slinky, sassy “LA Hallucinations.” There’s no filler on Emotion, and this record is the rival of Taylor Swift’s 1989 in every way except sales numbers.

In keeping with the tradition of every tremendously underappreciated album having a curious backstory, Jepsen reportedly wrote over 200 songs for Emotion, meaning we’ve only heard, at most, 10 percent of the greatness she has to offer. She had sessions with Max Martin, of all people, and somehow the king of the charts for the last 15 years couldn’t get a song to make the final cut. There’s even gold if you mine Emotion’s bonus tracks, with “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” lighting up a room with its simple-yet-perfect mix of pure pop and EDM.

I caught wind of some of the Emotion buzz and found it online after it came out in Japan a full two months before its U.S. release (weird, right?). I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but I found the rare pop record that holds up beyond dozens of spins, catchy music that lasts beyond the next Next Big Thing. I’ll admit that Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t exactly my idea of an artistic visionary, so I understand why so many are hesitant to embrace her, but I want Jepsen to have a large enough audience that we can hear everything she writes, and if I ever see her live, I’d love for it to be in a 15,000-seat arena, because that’s what her songs are built for. I’m worried, though: does intense, spontaneous fame for one summer mean that nobody will pay attention to her again? Did Jepsen wait too long to capitalize on her sudden ubiquity, losing her chance at superstardom forever?

All I know is that Emotion is undeniably the pop album of the year. Listening to it, it’s obvious how much work and effort Jepsen put into make a coherent, valuable collection of music, but it all feels so natural. I never hear Jepsen break a sweat as she swirls through Emotion, delivering songs that should appeal to every age and demographic. Even if I never heard it on the radio, everything on its tracklist is my song of the summer.

Theisen has gone reverse hipster on us all. To share your thoughts, email ajtheis@umich.edu