When Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen released her third studio album, Emotion, in 2015, it immediately signaled a shift in her identity as a musician. For the singer who came to prominence with “Call Me Maybe”, the song no one could escape three years earlier, she had suddenly become a cult favorite with her third LP that underperformed commercially but would become something of a sleeper hit in terms of critical acclaim. The album’s queer-coded lyrics and themes made Jepsen an LGBTQ+ icon, a trend that continued throughout her follow-up LP Dedicated in 2019.
Indeed, Jepsen’s penchant for overemotional, nostalgic dance-pop made her widely beloved by the gay community, but it was her ability to create a safe place in her music for anyone who needed the freedom to feel that made her the cult pop star she would become. While she could have effortlessly spent her career making readily marketable follow-ups to “Call Me Maybe” or “Good Time”, she looked to inspiration in the saxophone riffs of music from the ’80s and ’90s, and the rest was history. With her new record, The Loneliest Time, a title undoubtedly inspired by periods of pandemic isolation, Jepsen’s wide range of diverse influences is still on display, but she’s the most mature and refined she has ever sounded.
While Jepsen’s previous work dipped its toes into influences that her peers were not using, it still relied on bubblegum pop offerings to generate the interest of mainstream media. For all of its ’80s dancefloor feels, Emotion’s lead single was still “I Really Like You”, the older sister of “Call Me Maybe”. Likewise, the tone for Dedicated was set with “Party For One”, an earworm that sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the album. The Loneliest Time has no such dilemma. This time around, Jepsen released “Western Wind” as the record’s lead single, its most boring track. Its follow-ups were equally as head-scratching, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint the album’s sound. Ultimately, that’s entirely the point.
Away from her family during the pandemic, Jepsen turned to songwriting to pass the time and started producing some of her most personal work. “I thought if I’m being really real with you, that some of these songs might end up being just for me. I might not ever really share them with the world,” she told The Guardian. She started introducing friends and family to what she referred to as the time as her “cave of secrets”, a collection of random songs she didn’t think were going to land. But to her surprise, they did, and this direction would set the pace for The Loneliest Time.
The album is not without the glittery, carefree pop on which Jepsen built her name (see: “Talking to Yourself”, “Surrender My Heart”, or “Bad Thing Twice”), but the singer gets personal in ways she hasn’t before, addressing grief, therapy, and toxicity. The Carly Rae Jepsen who tells you to “go find yourself or whatever” on The Loneliest Time is entirely foreign to the one who belts out that tonight she’s getting over you on Kiss. The record’s most offbeat and biggest highlight, however, is the singer’s collaboration with Rufus Wainwright on the title track. It solidifies Jepsen as the queer hero she was born to be, one who champions that being lonely doesn’t necessarily have to mean being alone.