In Praise of Carly Rae Jepsen, Pop Music’s Most Underrated Star
Every few years, a momentous occasion brings hipsters, shameless romantics, the gays, and a few other oddballs together to celebrate.
That big event?
The release of a new Carly Rae Jepsen album.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s because most of this revelry happens online for just a few weeks. The only way you’re likely to hear about it is if you follow someone who’s a fan of hers.
Thankfully, Carly fans are easy to spot. They’re like vegans: they won’t shut up about it, and bring it up completely unprompted.
Their aggressive attempts to get others to listen make them seem like they’re paid to shill her music. It’s a fair thought. As one of these people, I admit we often take it to annoying levels.
This unhinged fervor is intentional. We make a point to get as loud and zealous as K-pop stans, in the hopes that our perpetual underdog of a Pop queen finally gets the recognition she deserves.
Alas, our efforts always end in vain. For as quickly as the hype swells up, it never reaches the critical mass we aim for. Soon enough, that rabid mania fades out— only to come back when her next new album arrives, to the same sad end result.
Such is the Sisyphean life of a Carly fan.
We suffer loudly in the shadows. Forever hoping and praying that our Wholesome Canadian Queen somehow gets even a sliver of the attention that a mid Taylor Swift album gets (Yeah I said it. Fight me, Swifties).
I know this kind of devotion may seem weird to the general public. We get that. We know that to the vast majority of the human race, Carly Slay Jepsen is still the “Call Me Maybe” girl. You’d be forgiven for assuming she peaked in 2012 and fucked off into the void like Gotye did.
But to us Carly stans, she is much, much more than that. Miss CRJ never went away; in fact, her songs got even better. She is Pop music’s best kept secret, the lone bastion of sincere, sappy song-writing in a musical landscape dominated by what seems like an ever-escalating arms race of nastiness (see: Positions and W.A.P.).
Now make no mistake, Carly fans aren’t prudes. A lot of us even like the raunchiness of modern music. She herself references her own indiscretions in her songs. So don’t be surprised at how many Carly fans also rock with Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion.
But as in all things, overexposure to the same musical themes can make them feel stale after a while. There’s really only so many songs about eating ass that you can bop to, after all.
This is why Carly Rae’s music feels so refreshing.
Her songs feel like a bowl of hot lugaw after a drunken night out in the rain. Her LSS-inducing bangers is escapist therapy to your jaded adult soul.
To listen to a Carly record is to go on a happy, messy journey of pure teenage emotion. They turn you back into your younger self, when you were much more open to the possibilities of life and love. Back when you haven’t experienced the burn of mismatched expectations yet, or felt things like lower back pain and being stuck in your career.
They take you back to when you believed anything was possible.
Carly Rae’s music has this almost magical time-warping element to them. It’s hard to explain. But the best way I can put it is that her songs sound new while also feeling nostalgic somehow — like you’ve been singing along to them for years in an alternate life.
Maybe it’s the heavy use of 80’s synths, or her insanely catchy 90’s style hooks. Whatever it is, her signature sound feels both like a throwback to decades past, while also reflecting modern dating sensibilities and attitudes.
The overall effect of these elements put together? Pure bubble gum pop perfection. The kind that rarely seems to exist in the radio anymore (save for the odd Olivia Rodrigo joint).
That’s also probably why she isn’t as popular as she should be. There’s an unapologetic Millennial teen spirit to her work that’s really not in vogue with today’s actual teens, or to most actual Millennials.
I suspect that’s why almost all the Carly fans I know are either former emo kids, creative professionals or hipsters: we’re people who seem to feel things more intensely than most folks do.
Her music just speaks to us in a way I can’t explain. Maybe it’s because our line of work and/or volatile personalities demand that we stay in touch with our younger, more emotional selves. Or maybe we’re just plain immature.
But if you know anything at all about Carly post 2012, you know that the gays absolutely love her. And it’s no mystery why. Her signature sound is in that same disco-friendly sonic spectrum that’s somewhere between Cyndi Lauper and Kylie Minogue. It makes her songs fun as hell to dance to, no matter which way you swing.
Adding to her appeal is her simple, yet relatable lyrics. Sure, they’re mostly time-worn tropes about young, foolish love, but they’re a cliché for a reason. They’re timeless.
Who hasn’t felt butterflies in their stomach? Or savored the memory of a close interaction with your crush? Who hasn’t endured the maddening emotional turmoil of unrequited love? These are all part of the human experience. No matter who you are, you’ve felt these.
But what makes Carly different than the one hit wonders she’s unfairly lumped with is the self-awareness. She acknowledges how childish these feelings are, and that she should know better. And is there anything more Millennial than that?
Now that we’re in our 30’s, we’re painfully aware that we’re getting old. We know we should be over old crushes and messy flings. We know when to leave parties now, and when to stop drinking before we regret it.
Most of all, we really shouldn’t be in our feelings over bright, bubbly pop songs that seem written for 80’s teens who haven’t been ruined by the internet and dating apps yet.
We should know better.
And yet we still embrace the beautiful, sun-drenched delusions created by Carly Rae Jepsen songs anyway.
Why? Because that’s what good popular art does. It whisks us from our mundane adult responsibilities, and transports us to a happier state of mind.
Carly’s songs are like reverse emo music. Just pure, undiluted summertime jams that get you in a good way and make you want to dance the night away.
No one is better at capturing the sound of a hot young summer than Carly Rae Jepsen. Each of her albums feels like God’s gift to teens of all ages. But more than her music, it’s her professionalism that endears her to her small, but dedicated fanbase.
Every CRJ album release follows the same cycle: she shows up, reminds us she exists with awesome songs, gets us all happy and excited to live and love again, then disappears without a fuss. Rinse. Repeat.
There’s no drama and no ugly PR stories with her. Just good vibes. And you know what? That’s fucking admirable. There’s a workmanlike quality to her attitude and consistency that you can’t help but admire.
I mean, which modern pop star isn’t a recurring tabloid headline? At a time when Kanye West is fucking up his fortune by being an anti-Semitic moron, it’s so nice to have an unproblematic pop figure who’s still putting out quality work.
Our unbothered queen Carly simply does her job, and she does it well. This is rarer than you might think.
When I recall of how all of music’s biggest stars always seem to self-implode, I become more comfortable with that magnitude of fame eluding our beloved pop messiah.
Perhaps it’s for the best that she never becomes a global icon. Maybe her mid-level celebrity is the one thing keeping her relatable, and her music good.
Superstardom is pretty dehumanizing after all. Achieving it alienates you from normal human experiences, and puts you in this wildly toxic world that praises and scrutinizes you at every turn. And who can stay sane in that environment? Absolutely no one.
That’s why it’s pretty ironic that Carly’s music, which seems ripped from the same playbooks that produced mega music stars in past decades, has somehow turned her into the opposite of one. Instead of being an omnipresent pop figure, she’s an underrated cult hero.
And honestly? I think she’s better off this way.
Now that said, I am still flabbergasted that an instant classic like “Talking To Yourself” still doesn’t have a million views one WHOLE-ASS month after it was released. Like come on, surely this banger deserves way more love?
But then again, us Carly fans know that numbers don’t do justice to her unique charms. Her fandom transcends mainstream barometers of success. We may be few, but we are outspoken as hell.
We’re like this cause we’ve seen her fanbase cut across so many unlikely segments. She’s unironically loved by hipsters and geeks in all manners of professions. From accountants to creatives, across all spectrums of sexuality, each of her new album releases is treated by fans like the arrival of a new book in the Bible of the I.N.C. (Iglesia ni Carly).
Jepsen is celebrated with a fervor that’s closer to underdog sports teams than pop stars. It’s the only way to describe the undying loyalty of her long-suffering fanbase. She’s the musical equivalent of the perennial playoff contender: one that’s scrappy and easy to love, but never makes it to the Finals.
This is the sense of global underappreciation that all CRJ fans share.
It’s constantly mentioned and joked about with a loving self-awareness that I don’t see in any other music-based fandom save for hardcore Tool fans. But that’s a way different act with a much older, much weirder fanbase.
Carly Rae is for the yearning Millennial masses. The ones who know they should start growing up, but can’t quite let go of the younger, dumber, more idealistic parts of their selves.
We’re the ones who have been broken down repeatedly by modern life and dating, yet still cling to the idea of love. We’re the ones who know that things never turn out the way they do in the movies, but still see the good in life and refuse to let the world turn us bitter.
Because the alternative is despair. And that’s no fun.
At the risk of offending Catholics, I find that Carly’s music gives me the same high that church songs used to. They reach me on a spiritual level; they nourish my soul in the way that good homilies used to.
Her songs are the way, the truth and the life. And they’re best shared with everyone you like, on a dancefloor.
So please, we beg you: open your heart and ears. Let Carly into your life.
We promise, your days will be better with her music in it.
In Carly’s name, we slay.
P.S. I’m joking of course. But seriously, stream her latest album, the Loneliest Time.