Carly Rae Jepsen, Pop's Cult Darling, Is the Queen of Love on 'Dedicated'

Carly Rae Jepsen's Dedicated lives in the explosive lift-offs and devastating crash-and-burns of coupling, those meaty emotionally hefty peaks of relationships that form the inverted bell-curve of the heart.

Carly Rae Jepsen


17 May 2019

According to her devoted fan base, Carly Rae Jepsen is Queen of everything -- Queen of amassing a substantial cult following, Queen of ignoring the charts, Queen of making exuberant pop for the self-possessed fringes: idiosyncratic hipsters, urbane intellectuals, the LGBTQ community, theater geeks, introverts. Jepsen is not aiming for chart dominance (judging from her repertoire's complete dearth of any trace of pop music's most popular genre, hip-hop), but is instead leaning in to critical esteem and an ardent cult of acolytes.

Jepsen false-started through a third place Canadian Idol finish, a disastrous 2008 debut album Tug of War, and an anemically received 2012 sophomore full-length of candy floss pop Kiss (extra disappointing since it contained viral smash single "Call Me Maybe"), before executing a savvy pivot toward indie credibility, releasing her third album, 2015's E•MO•TION, to rave reviews. The LP was a commercial dud but catapulted her to cult darling status.

With the release of her fourth full-length album Dedicated, the British Columbia native proves that although her destiny may be devoid of commercial super-stardom, she is a steady and unique songwriting talent, and the fire-hot E•MO•TION, although an exceptional triumph, was no fluke.

Jepsen specializes in love's bookends -- the rush of torrid new beginnings and heartbreaking flame-out endings, romance's dual brass drama masks flanking boring volumes of routine relating. Not that she doesn't feel the entirety of the relationship, but she doesn't much care to dwell on the tranquil placid in-between moments. Dedicated lives in the explosive lift-offs and devastating crash-and-burns of coupling, those meaty emotionally hefty peaks of relationships that form the inverted bell-curve of the heart.

The triumphant lead single (though only appearing on the Deluxe version), "Party For One", is the first bookend: the heartbreak and its pick-yourself-up celebration, an "I Will Survive"-descended banger for Millennial romantics. This defiantly optimistic breakup song took shape in the immediate aftermath of a relationship's unraveling, alchemizing during the "getting drunk alone in a hotel room the night before a session with Swedish super-songwriters" extra-Kübler-Ross stage of grief. Featuring cheeky lyrics, waves of lusty "ahhs" and drum line antics for the dance floor, what began as a sad solitary pity-party while waiting for room service morphed into a self-empowerment bop and celebratory self-love anthem by the end of its impassioned construction.

The next three singles all came out of a ripe couple of sessions at Neon Gold's Nicaraguan writing camp. Jepsen ended up getting more than just a few hit tracks out of this enviable Central American paradise retreat -- she not only came away with a trio of juicy bombastic singles ("Now That I Found You", "No Drug Like Me", and "Julien"), but also a budding new relationship with eventual beau, British songwriter James Flannigan. Meanwhile, the second single, "Now That I Found You", is the opposing bookend, exulting in the stomach drop of new love. It triumphantly revels in itself, with harmonious angels celebrating "now that I found you" and heralding one's impending "comin' alive!"

The snappy echoing yearning in the intro to third single, "No Drug Like Me", sets the tone for another track about Flannigan (also a co-writer), written while still in the early stages of getting to know one another prior to him becoming her boyfriend. Expert interplay of staccato synth and sawtooth bass tones gives way to an octaved chorus and a vocoder-flecked coquettish bet that "You ain't tried no drug like me." According to the press release, "No Drug Like Me" "is a promise I made to love in general...'If you make me feel in love then I'll blossom for you.'"

The fourth single and album opener "Julien" is the heart of Dedicated, according to Jepsen, detailing a fantastical love that stays with you, a haunting "what might have been" reflection, an ode to everybody's "one that got away." With echoing feathery vocals occasionally octaved by a tinkling synth and floating over dizzying disco-swirled rhythms, "Julien" utilizes verses reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and bright funky rhythmic guitar strums to conjure her heartsick longing for the elusive specter of Julien.

Fifth and final single "Too Much" is the lyrical centerpiece of not only Dedicated but possibly Carly Rae Jepsen the pop star as well. The deep dripping bass tones, the reverberant harmonies on the chorus, the breathy high pitched verses with barely-there soaring descants, "Too Much" is the standout single of the bunch, basking in its embrace of excess and overwrought emotion all while sounding absolutely fierce. This single will be justifying (or at least validating) suspect emotional risk-taking and all-around bad decision-making all summer.

Jepsen might have to write at a Bob Pollard level of prolificness, churning out nearly 400 songs to come away with two stellar full-lengths, but she has her winning formula and is an undeniable force. Now that she has solidly found her lane, the only question is: what does she do next? Whether she tackles another full-length lauding love or gets to work writing that pop musical with Jack Antonoff that she keeps talking about, or gets her wish to be a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race (which Jeppo fan will start that online petition?) -- regardless of what she chooses to pursue next, she can be confident that her cult following will dub her the Queen of it.





Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.