It's July 2012. You turn on your radio. To a pop music station.
You listen for 15 minutes.
You heard it, didn't you? I thought so. It was Billboard's 2012 Song of the Summer, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," wasn't it? "Hey, I just met you," she croons invitingly, "And this is crazy/But here's my number/So call me, maybe?"
By August, pretty much everyone had met Jepsen via her ubiquitous presence on the airwaves. The smash hit from the Canadian singer spent six months in the Top 10—including nine sun-drenched summer weeks at No. 1—and sold nearly 6 million units in the United States alone. But Jepsen's success knows no geographic boundaries; she's topped the charts in 18 other countries as well. (Who knew that Luxembourg had singles charts?)
Now, in September, she plans to parlay that bouncy, synthy, bubblegum-snappy vision of pop music domination into similar success on the album charts with Kiss.
Almost half of these songs fall into the breathlessly innocent twitterpation category, as Carly gushes like a smitten schoolgirl about her latest crush. And album opener "Tiny Little Bows" finds her singing lyrics that would've sounded at home in a pop song from the 1950s: "I wish we could be holding hands."
Among the sweeter moments on Kiss, Jepsen and guest Justin Bieber (who helped propel her to superstardom) both sing about friendship becoming something more: "Just friends/ … It's like you're the other half of me/I feel incomplete/I should have known/Nothing in the world compares/to the feelings that we share." We also hear, "What makes you so beautiful/Is you don't know how beautiful you are/To me." In similarly territory, "Guitar String/Wedding Ring" links those two objects: "If you cut a piece of guitar string/I would wear it like a wedding ring/Wrapped around my finger."
On "Your Heart Is a Muscle," Jepsen admonishes a guy to try practicing commitment—exercising his heart, so to speak—to combat his romantic doubts ("You say love is a fragile thing/Made of glass, but I think/Your heart is a muscle/ … You gotta work it out, make it stronger/try for me just a little longer"). Longing for a second chance in a broken romance, Jepsen apologizes to an ex for hurting him on "More Than a Memory."
Jepsen's two big hits thus far, "Call Me Maybe" and "Good Time" (with Owl City's Adam Young) are both relatively innocuous tunes about, respectively, the hope for a new romance and heading out for a night of dancing with friends. (The video for "Call Me Maybe" is another story, though. Read our review of that track for more.)
After a breakup on "More Than a Memory," Jepsen tries to convince a former lover to spend one more night with her: "Stay with me/I really need to hear you breathe/If words can't speak/Lay your body next to me." And her behavior after a breakup on "Curiosity" seems desperate at best and something like stalking at worst ("So don't break me tonight/This is crazy love/And you know/I'm gonna follow you home/Through the rain/'Cause I need your love"). Elsewhere in the song, she admits that this guy is emotionally abusive ("You break my heart/Just to watch it bleed") and that their relationship isn't healthy ("I'm sick with love/Sick like a disease"), but she's determined to talk her way back into his life nonetheless.
Describing the emotional aftermath of a breakup, Jepsen and Bieber sing together, "But it hurts like h‑‑‑." On "Tonight I'm Getting Over You," Jepsen unloads on an ex, telling him, "I wanna smash your fears/And get drunken off your tears," before alluding to pursuing a retributory hookup ("No more cryin' to get me through/I'll keep dancin' till the mornin'/With somebody new/Tonight I'm getting over you"). "Turn Me Up" shows us a girl who's intent on going out dancing to find somebody new after, yes, yet another breakup ("I'm giving up and goin' out tonight/Turn me up/Turn me on").
On "This Kiss," Jepson struggles to resist cheating on her man with a hot guy who's also cheating on his girl: "She's a real sweet girl/And you know I got a boy/Details we both forget to mention." But his kiss seems to be an offer she can't refuse, even though she knows better ("This kiss/Is somethin' I can't resist/Your lips are undeniable/This kiss/Is somethin' I can't risk/Your heart is unreliable/ … I wish I didn't feel like this/'Cause I don't wanna miss this kiss").
It's fitting that the first words we hear on Kiss come courtesy of Sam Cooke's 1961 hit "Cupid." Indeed, the winged Roman god of love gets plenty of play from start to finish on Carly Rae Jepsen's second album. But when the winged "angel" isn't busy drawing couples together, they're busy trying to undo his matchmaking work.
So listeners will find plenty of both romantic impulses here, as Jepsen playfully sings the innocent virtues of youthful infatuation one moment, then bottles her pop-angst heartbreak the next. As far as racy content goes, a few sensual allusions crop up here and there, including one clear reference to a couple spending the night together. Compared to much if not most of the explicit sexual content that inhabits pop music today, however, it's relatively tame stuff.
Arguably more problematic than these isolated moments of sensuality is Jepsen's stubborn habit of trying to mend relationships with guys she knows are bad for her. No matter that they lie and treat her badly, or already have another girlfriend. The heart wants what the heart wants—even if the heart knows that what it wants isn't a good thing.