WPGM Commentary: The Curious Case Of Carly Rae Jepsen

carly rae jepsen ii
When an artist releases a hit single, it’s usually a case of sink or swim. They either capitalise on the success or they somehow, fail to have any staying power. It’s a shared responsibility, a record label’s job is to support, market and help promote their artists, it’s in their interests. An unsuccessful artist is not good for business.

However, there are rare occasions (they’re not so rare anymore, sadly) where the label, for whatever reason, fails the artist. Carly Rae Jepsen is a saddening example of this. Her career so far hasn’t necessarily been on the upward trajectory that her label expected.

Born from Canadian Idol, Jepsen slowly made her way into the big leagues, finally landing a record deal outside of Canada. From that point onwards, the singer/songwriter has written hit singles, released two albums and toured the world, yet her albums have been lost amongst the noise. They’ve failed to create mainstream success, and she was once a media darling, now, you’re pressed to find much at all. The whole journey is a perplexing one to say the least, and I’m intrigued as to why.

If we start with her smash hit, “Call Me Maybe”, Jepsen dominated the radio-waves. That single was the “I Kissed A Girl” of this decade; you couldn’t escape it, you couldn’t help but sing along and a lot of people hated it. It helped solidify Jepsen as a potential Pop star candidate. All she had to do was provide an album that would fit the blueprint and that’s exactly what she did.

Jepsen released her second album, Kiss. Armed with the potential to make waves within the Pop genre, and follow her Canadian counterpart Justin Bieber, to global stardom. Kiss’ success was the final ingredient. Surprisingly, it didn’t do as well as expected, selling 46,000 copies within the first week. Critically, it received a mixed-response; her vocals, song-writing and production were praised, whereas the content was deemed immature for her age.

I wasn’t surprised by the critical response, it was the commercial response that took me by surprise. How could a Pop artist, who was quite literally everywhere, not succeed far more than she did? Her music was on the radio, her music videos were plastered all-over music channels, having interviews and appealing to the whole teenage demographic. Despite this, Kiss wasn’t the triumphant album it was expected to be. Where did it go wrong?

The answer to that question is a complicated one. Interscope supported Jepsen the way they would any artist with a hit-single, yet they struggled to capitalise on that success. The following singles from “Call Me Maybe” reached success but not on the same level, not even in the same stratosphere.

Maybe the performance of Kiss was an anomaly, something her next album could rectify. Now, that’s not to say Kiss didn’t enjoy success, Jepsen received two Grammy nominations, while winning a couple of Juno Awards in 2013. As of September 2015, Kiss has sold over 1 million copies, which is good, considering the under performance of the album as whole.

I didn’t listen to Kiss, yet I decided to check out her new album, Emotion. Why did I do this? I saw the video for “Run Away with Me” last summer and I was hooked immediately. From the saxophone at the beginning, which caught my attention. It gave me goosebumps. I couldn’t resist the soaring, unbelievably catchy chorus, accompanied by a mature, relatable video.

The experience was captivating to say the least, and it encouraged me to check her album out. Deep down inside, I was questioning myself, “why on earth am I willingly going to listen to a Carly Rae Jepsen album?“, she was the furthest thing from my type of music, and I didn’t enjoy her previous takes on Pop either. I was expecting a mediocre album with a couple of stand-out tracks, fulfilling the industry’s quota for watered-down, marketable music. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Let me break professional character here by shouting…

EMOTION IS FANTASTIC. ESPECIALLY THE DELUXE VERSION.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get back to where I was.

Emotion was 2015’s Pop album of the year, and it was exceptionally underrated. Carly Rae Jepsen managed to create a stylish, emotional Pop romp that explores the intricacies of relationships and fame. As a whole, the musical journey that Jepsen takes us on is near-perfection. It’s a master-class of song-writing, with superior production exuding personality, capturing the mood of her lyricism effortlessly.

It was a hit with the critics too, receiving a 77 on Metacritic, based on 22 reviews. With quotes such as “Emotion is so good, it’s formed sky-high expectations out of thin air” – Pretty Much Amazing, “Emotion rolls out banger after banger, all while sustaining a remarkable level of complexity and compassion for everyone in Jepsen’s solar system” – Consequence of Sound, and that’s just to name a couple of publications.

Although Emotion was a hit amongst critics, it had a minimal impact on mainstream media. The lack of coverage and buzz for an album by a well-known Pop singer was astounding. The praise seemed to have no traction on her success, and even though her fans aligned with the positive reception (although a sample size, the user score for Emotion on Metacritic stands at 8.7 based on 363 ratings) of the music critics, the positivity didn’t equate into anything notable, it was ineffective.

Emotion’s build-up to success was damaged further by the lack of promotion by Interscope and their bizarre release strategy. From my personal experience, I saw no real promotion or push for the album, there was coverage on the blogs, on the typical music publications but there wasn’t anything outside of that. I didn’t really see any promotion on television, nor any billboards. Nothing for the calibre of artist Jepsen is. This is supported by the fact that out of everywhere in the world, Emotion was released in Japan two months before the rest of the world.

Why!?

She may have a strong audience in Japan, however it isn’t the success Interscope is looking for. If anything, it didn’t benefit the release cycle, in fact, it sabotaged it completely. Due to the early release in Japan, the album leaked onto the Internet, kissing goodbye to a large chunk of sales. From that point onwards, the lead up to the worldwide release of Emotion was meek and uneventful.

Once it was released, it only sold 16,153 copies first week, debuting at number 16 on the Billboard charts, while debuting at number 8 in Canada with 2,600 copies sold. It completely underperformed and the drop in numbers is hugely significant, there was a 30k difference in first week sales between Kiss and Emotion. That’s alarming. However, it was successful in Japan, selling 12,189 copies, eventually being certified Gold for shipping over 100,000 copies by the RIAJ.

The circumstance of Carly Rae Jepsen’s third album is part of a wider picture, it’s another example of the state of the music industry. Record sales haven’t been the same since the Internet era grew into the force that it is today. Many artists who are critically acclaimed and well-known have stumbled at the last hurdle but not every artist has had the career Jepsen has.

She had all the necessary ingredients, the potential and read artistic ability to succeed, however, she didn’t. This is a multi-faceted failure, and where the blame lies is a mystery, however from my perspective, it’s definitely with her label(s) and their promotional strategy, or lack of.

The failure and lack of support continues, with Emotion Remixed +. Although it was primarily a remix album, and a Japanese exclusive, it featured two brand-new songs titled “First Time” and “Fever”. Again, the question is begging to be asked, why only release two new singles in Japan when it’s Jepsen’s strongest quality. Her commercial performance with singles is the key to her success, so why isn’t it being taken advantage of? “First Time” and “Fever” could have been released worldwide, digitally to stream and purchase, which surely would have been a better alternative than a Japanese exclusive.

It limits her power as an artist and it affects career, it’s a hindrance. Furthermore, the Japanese exclusivity failed this time, the remix album is her lowest charting album to date in Japan, debuting at No. 256 on the Oricon Weekly Album Charts. Due to the exclusivity, there has been minimal coverage of the two new singles she’s released, which are both really good, continuing the trend of Emotion.

Perhaps Carly Rae Jepsen Is simply a ‘singles’ artist, rather than an album artist. Her album performance doesn’t reach the levels of commercial success her singles do. The popularity of her singles juxtaposes her selling power with albums. Some artists are like that, however it’s a shame an album such as this has completely been under-appreciated where it matters most in this day and age: Sales.

Emotion is destined to be a gem in the long line of album shortcomings, the content is ridiculously good but the support, the backbone of her business is weak at best. It’s a frustrating situation to witness and more frustrating when this level of artistry is ignored. Emotion should’ve had the impact it deserved, it had the potential to turn the Pop world on its head, showing what a REAL Pop album is.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion is one of the most overlooked albums of this decade. It’s a thrilling, fun journey, full of poignant moments, undermined by the industry. So, having said that, can you do me a favour? Give it a listen. She deserves that, at least. Emotion is out now via Interscope, purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Jake Gould

Jake Gould

I’m Jake. I’ll either be plugging what’s good or sharing my streams of consciousness. I love music, I love film and I love art

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