Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION: A Case Study

If Carly Rae Jepsen drops the best pop album of the year in a forest, and no-one is around to hear it, is it actually the best pop album of the year? The short answer to this deeply philosophical musing is, yes...

If Carly Rae Jepsen drops the best pop album of the year in a forest, and no-one is around to hear it, is it actually the best pop album of the year?

The short answer to this deeply philosophical musing is, yes (with a link to download her album Emotion on iTunes of course), but the nagging issue still remains- if this was such a critically successful magnum opus for the Canadian songstress, why was it so systematically ignored by the masses?

Mainstream loved Call Me Maybe as a singular, moment-defining entity back in 2011 but unfortunately this didn't automatically garner Carly the same amount of applause as an artist. She was rushed into releasing her second album, Kiss, to coincide with the hype and essentially became a conduit and symbol for this one track. Shuffle forward four years and we have Emotion, her re-introduction to the world. Proving her talent and creativity with beautiful, effervescent examples of considered, 80s infused pop music, it was a second chance to establish herself as a sincere artist in her own right; but when first single I Really Like You hit airwaves, no-one seemed to be taking much notice.

Despite being an infectiously catchy pop tune with a fresh sound, tons of social media hype surrounding the saccharine-soaked lyrics and Oscar winning appearances from Tom Hanks, I Really Like You failed to spark. It was too similar, a Call Me Maybe 2.0 with less excitement and novelty attached to it. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing song, so full of a booming joie de vivre that seamlessly inhabits Jepsen but it belies the rest of the album. It feels like an attempt to recapture a murky past. This was the lead single, the first taste of something new and I fear many may have simply refused to buy into this gorgeous facsimile.

Run Away With Me, the album's second single, was a much stronger release. Laden with the kind of authentic 80s synth beats that permeate the rest of the album, it had 'song of the summer' written all over it. Again lauded for its sheer musical perfection by those in the know, it was still lamentably overlooked, peaking at a mere 58 on the UK Singles Chart. It was clear now that some form of damage had been done. Coupled with the leaked appearance of tracks online after an odd, early release in Japan and no word of a sustained tour, this all but doomed the album to mediocrity in terms of sales.

However, a most curious thing happened at the end of 2015. Despite its lukewarm reception on the charts, the critical reaction and increased adulation that Emotion was accumulating only seemed to be going from strength to strength. Though blanked by the progressively redundant Grammys, Carly Rae Jepsen found herself on a myriad of year-end lists with notable critics unabashedly extolling the joys of what is truly a master class pop album. From Rolling Stone writing that Jepsen is 'one of the most compelling pop stars of the moment' to Time Magazine declaring that she is 'a scholar of the form,' the album was being universally celebrated.

Looking back, releasing I Really Like You as the first single dangerously beckoned to pigeonhole Jepsen again, creating a smokescreen to her true merit. It marred subsequent, and ultimately superior, songs and certainly added to the general lethargy of the public to fall for her as a credible artist. But Jepsen has never taken the straight-forward path to triumph. She's an anachronism. An X-Factor alum who signed to an indie label, a 'one-hit wonder' who's releasing some of the most critically acclaimed work of her peers, a Broadway star who's also an internet viral sensation. She's had her finger in so many pies as she goes about forging a unique path to her own brand of success.

Yet, if a change in sound and credibility was what Jepsen was aiming for with Emotion, she weirdly managed to both fail and ultimately succeed in equal measure. The album is a credit to her pop music genius but after a series of odd release strategies, only a small number of people stuck around to witness the spectacle. It's an interesting case study in terms of the power of good marketing. It seems that no matter how transcendent and lionised a piece of work is, without the appropriate machine behind it, carefully manufacturing its dissemination to the public, it counts for little. Emotion is a better pop album than 1989 for example, but there's no way Carly can compete with Taylor in how well she, and her people, influence the release of her work.

Perhaps Carly Rae Jepsen was not meant for mainstream, and that could be okay. So many artists have teetered on the brink of breakthrough without ever really managing to find a secure foothold no matter how adept they are. It seems unfair, especially for someone as talented and unassuming as Carly Rae, to have not attained this all-encompassing level of success, but maybe she never wanted it. Though she may still find a way to perfect the tenuous balancing act, as long as she keeps releasing material of this quality (even in desolate forests) I will call myself a fan.


What's Hot