Everyone aged 16-39 knows who Carly Rae Jepsen is. It was summer 2012 and “Call Me Maybe”, her international breakthrough single, stormed the charts all around the globe, reaching the top spot in more than 15 countries and selling almost 20 million copies worldwide.
With the release of her sophomore album Kiss – a feast of carefree teen-pop featuring fellow Canadian Justin Bieber and productions from the music industry Midas, Max Martin – and its impressive 1 million copies shipped, everything seemed to be pointing at Carly Rae Jepsen as a shiny new addition in the Pop Olympus.
Her innocent and harmless persona was well blended within the overall atmosphere of days dominated by the teenage dream girl Katy Perry, and the young Canadian demonstrated to know a thing or two about how to pen a smash hit single.
Like a fairy tale turning into a nightmare though, Carly’s career never really took off. After a great start, her 2012 album turned out to be a complete commercial disaster: her third single “This Kiss” tanked and not even Nicki Minaj could save “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” from the unfair oblivion it has been relegated to.
As we said, everyone aged 16-39 knows who Carly Rae Jepsen is; however, most of them will always remember her as a one-hit-wonder who faded as quickly as she appeared on the horizon. As a matter of fact, the now 30-year-old Canadian decided to take the hardest route, choosing quality over sales, and crafting her own sophisticated, retro-flavoured pop that – despite having completely gone unnoticed by the general public – crowned Jepsen as the ultimate “mindie” pop diva, allowing her to smartly walk in between mainstream aspirations and indie cred.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s third album E•MO•TION, released in August 2015, was met with universal critical acclaim for its throwback feeling and exquisite production, and contributed to creating a trademark sound and aesthetic for Carly, made up of triumphant horns, 80s-infused synths and cringe-y lyrics.
In many ways, E•MO•TION represents what Taylor Swift’s 1989 wanted to be so badly, but miserably failed to be, and it comes to no surprise how this little masterpiece was able to gather around Jepsen’s figure a small, but almost religious fanbase that literally worships the ground Carly walks on.
And it is especially for these hardcore fans that this new E•MO•TION: Side B (Emotion Side B) has been designed: more than a standalone project, this EP should be considered a companion to the original album, a gift made to celebrate the first anniversary of her first real creature, the one that cemented her status as a true artist, rather than a quickly burning comet.
Despite being made up of rejected tracks and demos not completed in time for the original release of E•MO•TION, this recollection feels like a new, glorious step forward into Carly’s glorious career, further shaping her sound into something so catchy, yet so fresh.
Jepsen stated that she composed more than 200 songs for her bombastic pop opus, and, judging by the quality of these leftovers, finalising the tracklist for Emotion must have been a harsh job: as a matter of fact, none of the songs presented on this succinct side B – articulating over 8 tracks and less than half an hour of music – sounds any worse than the original project.
In a certain way, this follow up represents a smart move in Carly’s career: completely embracing her status of indie diva, comfortably sitting alongside the likes of Roisin Murphy, Robyn and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Side B further refines Jepsen’s sound.
Left behind the few experimentations within E•MO•TION – like the incredible R&B number “All That” and the futuristic “Warm Blood” and “Black Heart” – Side B is firmly focused in establishing a sort of canon of Carly-ness. An operation translated in 28 minutes of pure throwback euphoria.
Starting off with the previously released “First Time”, Side B immediately discloses its intentions: the 80s are here, and they’re here to stay. Even more than its side A, this album is a celebration of the late 80s freestyle dance music, and “First Time”, with its zooming synths and gleeful vocals, is the perfect demonstration of this attitude. With its drumming sounds stolen from “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, the track might as well have been a number 1 hit your mom danced to at her prom, and you wouldn’t tell the difference.
This carefree breeze is prolonged with the smash hit “Body Language”, once again about love and heartbreaks, in which Carly sings “Body language will do the trick / if you stay with me tonight” over euphoric, Flashdance-esque synths.
Lyrically speaking, most of the album deals with unrequited loves and how to get over them, as perfectly illustrated by the incredible “Cry”: vaguely inspired by the italo disco movement, the moody mid-tempo is one of the highest heights of the entirety of E•MO•TION, combining an inspired songwriting – dealing with an emotionally distant partner – with a hazy instrumentation and a vocal delivery that strongly reminds of Kylie Minogue’s best moments.
With the second highlight of the project, the roles are turned upside down: “The One” refuses the notion of true love, and portrays Carly as a cold-hearted b**ch who doesn’t want her friend with benefits to become something more. This role doesn’t really suit Jepsen’s angelic voice, but the nostalgic vibe and the energetic chorus will trick you into believing it for 3 and a half minutes.
As already evident by the two previously mentioned tracks, this new project represents a new peak for Jepsen’s quirky lyrical style (as if it wasn’t quirky enough with the previous hits “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You”). This quite unique way of dealing with serious and wrecking issues in an unconventional way, through everyday life metaphors and allusions, is further explored in tracks like “Store”.
On this track, she juxtaposes serious verses (“Looks like this could be the end / Know that you’ll be alright / Maybe one day we’ll be friends / But you know me”) with a kooky chorus where she parallels the end of a relationship with the act of leaving the house to go shopping (“I’m just goin’ to the store / You might not see me anymore”).
This intrinsic quirkiness of Carly’s persona has been exploited by the Web community in many instances already – the “Run Away with Meme” has probably been one of the biggest topics on Vine in the last 365 days – and this Side B gave fans plenty of new opportunity to her fans: “Store” itself is becoming the protagonist of a plethora of video memes, along with the most commercial track of the batch.
“Higher” – produced by Greg Kurstin (Ellie Goulding, Adele, Tegan & Sara, Lily Allen) – is possibly the most in your face song on the EP and wouldn’t sound out of place in Whitney Houston’s debut album: borrowing its melody from Whitney’s “How Will I Know”, the track is a pure mid-80s triumph, busting a whole set of chimes, bells and powerful synths that Carly’s masterfully rides before the song explodes into a climatic chorus that seems to be made to be Vined.
On a sadder note, the EP is closed by the only uninspired track off the project: “Roses” tiredly gaiting throughout a sparse instrumental for almost four minutes, alternating a high register and her quite narcotic whispering voice. However, we should thank Carly for including what will probably be remembered as the most nonsense couplet ever within the song (“A simple change of seasons and you’re back / All the roses in the garden fade to black”) – which is an achievement Jepsen will surely be proud of.
Reviewing an EP is never easy. Reviewing an EP of leftovers is even harder. Reviewing a project of someone just coming out of a critically acclaimed era without being biased is almost impossible. However, Carly Rae Jepsen made this job an easy one: she presented her fans (and them only, considering the EP failed at charting within the Top 50 of any major market) a coherent, cohesive and wonderfully executed project, which – despite sharing elements with its first part – can clearly stand on its feet.
If it wasn’t for Carly stating that these are all leftovers from E•MO•TION, we might as well have thought this was an introduction EP to her next full-length album, which will be ABBA-influenced, so have your dancing shoes ready. Purchase Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion Side B EP on iTunes here.
Words by Raffaele Buono