This August will mark the four year anniversary of Carly Rae Jepsen’s third studio album E•MO•TION, and since then, the world has looked at her much differently than before. The “Call Me Maybe” singer from British Columbia had a fanbase, but the general public mostly wrote her off as a one-hit wonder—myself included. While “Call Me Maybe” was an earworm, her music didn’t appeal to me, even after I let go of my pretentious listening habits and began to allow myself to enjoy mainstream pop. Then, Jepsen released E•MO•TION in 2015 and shocked the world. The album was acclaimed by critics and fans alike, ushering in a plethora of the latter. It has an infectious ’80s inspired synth-pop dance sound that hooked listeners, a mature change from Jepsen’s previous bubblegum pop sound, and soon, E•MO•TION garnered a cult following. I too was taken by E•MO•TION’s glittery and heartfelt allure and quickly became a fan. The companion EP, Emotion: Side B released a year later was also praised, further cementing Jepsen’s new fanbase and pop icon status as she emerged into her own distinct sound three records in.
After much anticipation, Jepsen released her fourth studio album Dedicated on May 17, and with dancey, flirty, and sometimes wistful synth-pop and disco influences, it’s pretty much everything I could want out of a summer pop record.
Musically, dreamy ’80s-adjacent sounds blended with modern pop sensibilities are still prominent on Dedicated, like its predecessor E•MO•TION. This time, however, there are more disco influences as well as several throwbacks to other artists and styles. The song “Everything He Needs” has a jovial piano that immediately reminded me of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, and which also samples and interpolates a song called “He Needs Me” from the 1980 live action Popeye film—an eccentric choice for a sample in a modern pop song which works pretty damn charmingly. The track “I’ll Be Your Girl” has a ska-influenced bassline, reminiscent of something perhaps No Doubt would have put out in the ’90s. It’s a sound I never expected to hear on a Carly Rae Jepsen album, yet it’s one of my favourites on the record. What can I say? I’m a sucker for chunky basslines, synths, and bright trumpets. As a whole, Jepsen’s breathy and sultry vocals are sweet on the ears and fit comfortably in each style present.
Thematically, we see Jepsen doing what she does best—love songs. Some are moments of confidence and cheekiness, like the sexy “Want You In My Room”, evoking imagery of sneaking around with a lover on a late night. Some are slow, lush, and full of longing, like “No Drug Like Me”, and “Automatically In Love” which both contain bouncy synths that mingle pleasantly with Jepsen’s beckoning voice. And of course, there are some which, while still carrying a pulse, are wistful and regretful, like the disillusioned “Right Words Wrong Time”. Another favourite of mine—the five consecutive beats exploding over and over in the chorus after the understated verses punch me in the heart every time.
Still, there are seldom bumps in the road on this album. “Too Much” has grown on me with repeated listens and I appreciate its relatability of worrying about being too overbearing and emotional in a relationship, but while I don’t dislike the song, it’s ultimately not the most memorable or exciting tune in comparison to the rest of the album. The following track, “The Sound”, is awkwardly paced, with a slow build up that vanishes anticlimactically once it reaches the stumbling chorus. They create a bit of a dull spot when played back to back and slow the momentum for me—not that slow sections are a penalty on pop records, but here, they’re more lackluster than reflective. One of the bonus songs “For Sure” has an aimless and flimsy structure, and the constant clumsy percussion throughout sounds cluttered. The closing track “Real Love” is a gorgeous and lively anthem about craving a true romantic love that I adore, and is tonally similar to the beloved opening track of E•MO•TION, “Run Away With Me”. But it’s really the only song where Jepsen is at her deepest, and I would have loved another emotional ballad or two on this record.
The body of work is cohesive and consistent, not straying far from the sound Jepsen has settled into over the past four years. She delivers a summery and beachy ’80s disco dream, and its most irresistible moments will have listeners dancing on the spot. With its dance-oriented lovesick songs, it reads, to me, as a continuation of E•MO•TION. Some people might not enjoy this and think of its similarity as less impactful or not as much of a risk-taking departure. This is never a problem for me—I don’t need an artist to reinvent themselves every record they put out. If you have a sound that works for you, it makes sense to stick to it and build upon it.
But continuation does not mean carbon copy, and I would argue that Jepsen presents herself as a little more self-realized on this record. Yes, like E•MO•TION, there are songs about being fun and flirty, and liking someone and not receiving that love in return, which I interpreted as Jepsen showing how love is all over the place in a constant tug-of-war. But she knows more of what to expect this time around, and while she can be made rueful or jealous or shy over romance, she knows it won’t hold her down forever, like on the empowering “Party For One”. Though these themes were easy to pick up on, I would have preferred to hear a progressive narrative of going through a complicated heartbreak and ending with self-acceptance instead of an assembling of tracks about the good and the bad of love all mixed together at random.
It’s a breath of fresh air to hear a mainstream pop artist find a sound that plays to her strengths and making music that is authentic to her, instead of sticking to an album full of easy top 40 which is guaranteed radio play. Dedicated is a fun and shimmering collection of love, yearning, and heartbreak that had my head bopping throughout. I can’t wait to pretend I’m the love-seeking protagonist of a low-budget ’80s flick as I blast these songs on late nights, lengthy drives, and when generally melting in the heat all summer long.
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