Carly Rae Jepsen 2023
Photo: Strut Entertainment

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Reclusive Stadium Pop on ‘The Loveliest Time’

Carly Rae Jepsen’s The Loveliest Time expands her B-Sides offerings by creating a compilation that distinguishes itself from its predecessor.

The Loveliest Time
Carly Rae Jepsen
604 / Warner Music Canada
28 July 2023

Carly Rae Jepsen is a pop craftsperson. While many of her peers in the music industry concentrate on cultivating larger-than-life personas to sell their music, Jepsen has eschewed many of the rules that come with making the type of music she does. “When ‘Call Me Maybe’ hit,” she said, referring to her inescapable 2012 smash, “I [knew] I wanted to be known as an artist, not a famous person.” Jepsen leads a private life, without paparazzi following her every move and without her relationships being staples of entertainment news coverage. This balance has allowed her to make pop music on her terms. Although a genre designed for mass consumption, Jepsen has proven pop music’s merit as a form. “You have to pack a punch in a concise way,” she said

Jepsen’s latest release, The Loveliest Time, is a collection of B-side tracks from her 2022 album, The Loneliest Time. Jepsen, a prolific songwriter, began releasing what Taylor Swift fans might call “Vault Tracks” after 2015’s critically acclaimed EMOTION became a cult classic. After the success of “Call Me Maybe,” which was followed by an album, Kiss, that didn’t live up to the commercial heights of its preceding single, Jepsen took a break from the spotlight, playing Cinderella on Broadway. Of EMOTION, manager Scooter Braun said, “This time, we wanted to stop worrying about singles and focus on having a critically acclaimed album.” This statement has guided the rest of Jepsen’s career. Her output may resemble what’s at the top of the charts, but it incorporates an underlying eccentricity that cements her as the foundation for a genre that has shifted from many of its original principles.

The Loveliest Time cements Jepsen’s role as the caretaker of the sound traditionally associated with popular music (sometimes called “bubblegum pop”). However, her stylistic variation transcends this task, making her a juggernaut disguised in a surprisingly formulaic incarnation. Jepsen’s theater background shines through in her structured songwriting: the enthusiasm applied to breathing life into different modes of pop music borders on the theatrical through its dedication to this concept alone. In 2015’s EMOTION, Jepsen explored the 1980s in both sound and theme, with tracks like “The First Time” featuring heavy synths and lyrics that evoke a 1980s teen movie. 2019’s Dedicated filtered Jepsen’s ear for a hook through 1970s funk and disco. “It’s music to clean your house to,” Jepsen said

The Loveliest Time is a sharp, upbeat, and sonically diverse companion to its predecessor. On “Kollage”, Jepsen whispers sentiments of self-doubt over a funky disco beat and light synths. This track picks up the thread of The Loneliest Time by narrating an experience of reintegration into the world post-pandemic, the isolation of which defined the former album. (“Passed my future on the way to work and found myself back in bed with you,” she admits.) The Loveliest Time recasts sad moments as triumphs by including upbeat and introspective songs. Much like pop music, some of the upbeat tracks on this record exist for their own sake, but Jepsen uses them to shape a narrative of overcoming adversity. Although she may not possess the lyrical or storytelling gifts of her peer Taylor Swift, Jepsen’s astute manufacturing of sounds tells its own story.  

“Stadium Love”, through its 1980s-style electric guitar and a massive chorus, contrasts the slow burn of Jepsen’s previous album while offering a fresh pop gem that works on its own. Jepsen’s EMOTION evokes the 1980s through heavy synths. However, “Stadium Love” displays pop scholarship and versatile vocals as Jepsen stretches the chorus around an electric guitar riff appropriate for the title’s setting. This 1980s reference encapsulates Jepsen’s enthusiasm for not only the raw form of a pop song but the various iterations it has taken on over the last several decades. Like Jepsen herself, pop music is meant to be versatile to reach the largest audience possible. In cataloging different styles, Jepsen makes sound part of her experiment with form, showing that songwriting can be arbitrary and instinctive even in a genre based on strict parameters. 

This chameleonic quality ensures Jepsen’s somewhat repetitive formula will always work. The Loveliest Time, as a title, distinguishes itself from its companion album more than Jepsen’s previous B-Side compilations (labeled: “B-Sides”). Reflecting this independence, the album centers itself around the idea that each of its tracks will experiment with the concept of its predecessor in a new way. This conversation with The Loneliest Time provides closure for a dismal chapter of life through pointedly upbeat tunes.

The treasure trove of sounds on The Loveliest Time from pop’s past and present mirrors its nature as a forward-looking album, with an unbreakable tie to an album about isolation.“Psychedelic Switch” is a jolt even on The Loveliest Time’s upbeat tracklist, its pulsing beat both seductively catchy and ready for a dance floor. The song hints that Jepsen’s reclusive pop may come full circle. Jepsen’s studious approach to examining a form meant to reach the masses has made her an object of niche interest.

However, eventually, that approach may double back on itself: songs that both sound manufactured for world domination and those that will feasibly achieve it, like “Call Me Maybe”, are an essential part of pop, a part that Jepsen may not be able to steer clear of in her excavation of the genre for much longer. Let’s hope she embraces such a homecoming as a lovely time after a lonely sojourn as pop’s cult mastermind.

RATING 8 / 10