Some songs can become too huge for their own good. Take Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” for example. For a few years there, it seemed like it would be her only mega-hit single. Especially when the album it was from, Kiss, more or less flopped. But sometimes lightning strikes twice. Earlier this year Jepsen released the first single from her new album Emotion (stylized E·MO·TION), “I Really Like You,” and lightning struck twice. The words “one-hit wonder” would no longer apply. Perhaps “I Really Like You” was only half as popular as “Call Me Maybe,” but it was still a lovable hit and it showed people that there was more to Jepsen and started building anticipation for Emotion, which was released on June 24, 2015 in Japan and August 21, 2015 everywhere else.
Full disclosure: I wasn’t a fan of Kiss. I honestly did not expect another “Call Me Maybe,” but I felt the album was rather lukewarm overall, especially considering how many talented producers and songwriters worked on it. So, believe me when I say I was surprised to find myself blown away by Emotion, which is easily one of the year’s best pop albums. Perhaps the reason for this is that this time around she and her management didn’t focus on trying to have a hit but a critically acclaimed album instead? From the moment opening track “Run Away With Me” begins with its blaring, synthesized horns, it sends a massive surge of electricity through your ears and into your brain’s pleasure receptors, making them light up like a Christmas tree. And the song only gets better from there with its throbbing bass and snappy beats during the chorus as Jepsen sings, “Baby, take me to the feeling / I’ll be your sinner in secret / When the lights go out / Run away with me.”
Last time around, Jepsen’s songs were much more innocent than they are here. Instead of merely flirting, she’s commanding you this time around. During “Emotion,” she sings, “Not a flower on the wall / I am growing ten feet, ten feet tall / In your head and I won’t stop.” It’s a dreamy song with a Debbie Gibson sort of ’80’s vibe, but it does have its creepy moments there within the lyrics. “Tell me there is nothing I can’t have / And nothing you won’t do.” It’s too bad Stalker was canceled because this would’ve been the perfect song for the season premiere. (Plus, it was a decent guilty pleasure show.)
The quality of this album is so strong that even songs written with Max Martin, Jack Antonoff and Tegan & Sara failed to make the cut, not even qualifying for Japanese bonus track usage. It’s been said that 200 songs were demoed during the sessions, which lasted a few years during which Jepsen worked non-stop with her many collaborators. To that end, yes, there were plenty of A-listers whose tracks do appear on the album.
For one, there’s the funked-out “Boy Problems,” which Jepsen co-wrote with Greg Kurstin and Sia; Kurstin also produced the track, which is one of the most sweetest-sounding songs on Emotion. Then there’s the slow, synthy ballad “All That,” written by Jepsen with Ariel Rechtshaid and Devonté Hynes (Rechtshaid and Hynes produced). “Show me if you want me, if I’m all that / I will be there, I will be your friend,” Jepsen sings, her voice bordering on ethereal.
Sia also co-wrote “Making The Most of the Night,” which was produced by The High Street and packs some serious, club-ready beats and infectious bass guitar noodling. “I know you’ve had a rough time / But here I come to hijack you, hijack you / I’ll love you while / Making the most of the night,” she sings cheerfully, making it sound purely fun; you’ll wish she was coming to hijack you.
“I’ve got a cavern of secrets / None of them are for you / Even if you wanted to keep them / Where would you find the room?”, goes the first verse of the pulsating “Warm Blood,” which was produced by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, who co-wrote the seductive track with Jepsen and Joe Cruz. Here, Jepsen sounds a tad bit obsessed with the object of her affection. “I would throw in the towel for you, boy / ‘Cause you lift me up and catch me when I’m falling for you.” The thing is, the song fails to make it clear if the boy is into her. It could all just be in her head, but that’s part of the song’s appeal. We’ve all had those faux relationships in our silly little minds at some point or another. (I must have had a dozen of them between junior high and high school.)
Typically, albums made with dozens of collaborators like Emotion don’t sound very cohesive. They tend to sound more like greatest hits albums where the songs are all fantastic individually but don’t play well together on the same record. This is not so with Emotion. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the same person produced all of its songs, which is one of the reasons it’s so remarkable. Jepsen might have had co-writers for all of these songs, but clearly the overall vision was still hers. And that vision was apparently to fill an album with honest songs about crushes, love and heart-ache. With that subject matter, there was a risk that the album would be too cheesy, but Jepsen manages to pull off songs like “Gimme Love” and “I Really Like You” without sounding like she ought to be signing them in a mall for tweens. To that end, yes, Emotion’s lyrics read like a young adult novel, but a mature sort of young adult novel that carries the weight of real relationships. Real Emotion.
Clearly, Emotion is a pop album that demands to be taken seriously, but you’ll have a lot of fun listening to it.