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.