Since we’re living in a post-Emotion world, it’s hard to remember a time when Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t regarded as a pop icon. But before the sexual torment of “Emotion,” the sweet rush of “Gimme Love” and all those “Run Away With Me” saxophone memes, Carly Rae Jepsen was, to most, “Call Me Maybe” and nothing more.
2015 became her moment, and Emotion the pop album to save them all. Now in her thirties, going on four years since then, Carly Rae Jepsen is perhaps even more the music media darling and pop culture mainstay. And while we’ve never really looked to her for lyrical profundity, she’s always been savvy when it comes to pure feelings, making her fourth LP Dedicated another beacon of emotional intelligence, and Jepsen a straight-A student of pop history.
Dedicated is about relationships, but it’s also an examination of self. And the Canadian pop queen (an overused description, but a fitting and persisting one no less) plays three versions of herself: her flirty, confident, single self (the same one behind bodacious hits like “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You”), her regret-riddled, heartbroken self (i.e. “When I Needed You,” “More Than a Memory”) and her head-over-heels self, the one who’s crushing and swooning, who might even be falling in love, who’s most definitely a little horny. She sashays from one identity to another, but as the record beams on, it becomes clearer they’re all one in the same—a trinity. If the bar for Carly Rae Jepsen—and maybe even 2010s pop as a whole—is the intellectual pop perfection of Emotion, then Dedicated falls only a little short, landing somewhere between effortless earworm territory and therapeutic ecstasy.
In an album of 15 tracks, the singles shine the brightest. “Julien” feels like Haim’s “Want You Back” (from their “went pop” album, 2017’s Something to Tell You) and finds Jepsen settled in her most regretful self, dropping such dramatic couplets as “I’m forever haunted by our time / We had a moment, we had a summertime.” But when she sings that line, Jepsen sounds less like a desperate diva and more like a regular adult, one who’s deeply in touch with her pain. Whoever Julien was, he hurt her. She still thinks about him. Let’s talk about it.
Elsewhere on Dedicated’s heartbroken side is “ignorance-is-bliss” anthem ”Happy Not Knowing,” which, like so much of post-Purple Rain pop, borrows a slick synthline and groovy bass pattern from Prince. It’s joined by “Real Love” (“I go every day without it”), which, for better or worse, shares some qualities with the Clean Bandit song of the same name and is all but destined to end up in an episode of The Bold Type, and “For Sure,” a nonsensical union of Rosalía-inspired flamenco and atmospheric Genesis synths that shouldn’t sound good but does anyways.
Released as a pair of singles, “No Drug Like Me” and “Now That I Found You” find Jepsen (or at least the head-over-heels Jepsen) on a high as she lets love back in. Next she’s the untroubled single woman chasing pleasure on “Want You In My Room,” which seems to span every age of pop from the lush new wave of The Bangles to the slippery dance-pop of ‘90s boy bands to Daft Punk’s sophisticated AutoTune before a saxophone solo takes the song out on a strangely satisfying note (hello again, “Run Away With Me”).
And then there’s the miraculous intersection of all three of Carly Rae’s identities, “Party For One,” a post-breakup explosion that goes off like “Single Ladies” and promotes self-love with a wink: “If you don’t care about me / Making love to myself / Back on my beat.” When it arrived late last year as a lone single, it was viewed by some as an enjoyable but slightly disappointing Emotion follow-up. Now, heard in the context of the whole album, it’s a liberating epilogue.
In much the same way that Robyn’s Honey was a welcome and exemplary return, but perhaps not the same caliber of Body Talk’s enlightened turn-of-the-decade pop, Dedicated is what we need from Carly Rae Jepsen right now. And it’s what she needed to give us.
Dedicated could’ve easily been either a woebegone heartbreak record or a carefree, lovestruck free-for-all had it been dreamt up by someone else. Instead, thanks to Ms. Jepsen’s talent for processing feelings, it’s an intersection of those two ends of the pop spectrum and a daring display of chart-topping sounds from across the decades. As ever, pop songs are our escapes, or deep dives into our feelings. While reality crumbles around us daily, at least Carly Rae Jepsen is still a force for bliss.