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Friday, February 17, 2017

Carly Rae Jepsen: Kiss

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: KISS (2012)

1) Tiny Little Bows; 2) This Kiss; 3) Call Me Maybe; 4) Curiosity; 5) Good Time; 6) More Than A Memory; 7) Turn Me Up; 8) Hurt So Good; 9) Beautiful; 10) Tonight I'm Getting Over You; 11) Guitar String / Wedding Ring; 12) Your Heart Is A Muscle; 13*) Drive; 14*) Wrong Feels So Right; 15*) Sweetie; 16*) I Know You Have A Girl­friend; 17*) Almost Said It; 18*) Melt With You.

Call me arrogant, but I would like to make a bit of a difference in this world by saying that ʽCall Me Maybeʼ flat out sucks. I totally do not buy into the "yes, so it's fluffy, silly, and bubblegummy, but it's so CUTE! so CATCHY! so INNOCENT!" logic that I see espoused by many, many people, some of whom list Claude Debussy, Miles Davis, and Jeff Beck on their list of interests. Yes, sometime around late 2011 / early 2012 this track did take the world by storm, largely due to Justin Bieber promoting it (he totally would, too), and it does stick in your head fairly tightly upon one or two listens — largely because of the sharp production and obstinate repetitiveness of the chorus. Which does not prevent it from being a piece of crap.

I am not going to hold the fact that Carly Rae Jepsen was 26 years old when she wrote the song against her. For sure, Paul McCartney was working on The White Album and Brian Wilson had Pet Sounds and SMiLE behind his back at the age of 26, but there is nothing inherently wrong about people being stuck in a bubbly teenage warp for decades, certainly not in the 21st century, unless they are totally faking it, and it does not look like Carly is faking anything — on the con­trary, she sounds like she is totally reveling in this new, simplistic, primitive electro-pop vibe that seems to be influ­enced by the kawaii attitude of J-pop more than anything else. I mean, some people want to fill the world with silly love songs, and what's wrong with that? I need to know. Cause I just met you. And this is crazy.

I am, however, going to insist that the song is annoying as hell. One thing that could be great about early teen pop from the dawn of the Sixties is that, as innocent and sentimental as it was, it had a certain rebellious streak about it — even something like ʽSurfin'ʼ by the Beach Boys, which might not seem like something far superior melodically to ʽCall Me Maybeʼ, offered a tiny bit of a rock'n'roll challenge and an air of energy and freshness that captivated the young generation and set it apart from their parents. Later on, these same silly teen pop songs became fields for melodic and stylistic experimentation. Still much later on, with the advent of dance-pop and people like Madonna, although the emphasis once again shifted from melody to groove and visual presen­tation, the rebellious fire was rekindled on a new basis. But ʽCall Me Maybeʼ has none of these advantages whatsoever. It sounds silly without being ironic; catchy without being melodic; joy­ful without being motivated. I do not doubt for a second that there is a sound place in the 21st cen­tury for simple, silly pop, but this brand of simple, silly pop — especially presented in such an in-yer-face, obnoxious manner — is maybe just one step away from the likes of Rebecca Black. In fact, why was Rebecca Black so derided and Carly Rae Jepsen so praised? What exactly makes "It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday" so inferior to "Here's my number, so call me maybe"? If anything, at least Rebecca Black's lyrics thoroughly trump Carly Rae Jepsen in the grammatical department.

Honestly, I don't think that «normalizing» stuff like this (in the «come on, lighten up, it's just a fun pop song!» manner) is in any way more acceptable than «normalizing» racist talk and waterboar­ding — and I don't think that it is acceptable to see "here's my number, call me maybe" as 2012's answer to 1963's "she loves you yeah yeah yeah", either. Even completely vapor-headed, superficial bubblegum can still have inventive melodic potential or show a sense of humor; ʽCall Me Maybeʼ rides on four pseudo-string notes and takes itself pseudo-seriously, and I can't believe I already spent that much space and time writing about that shitty tune anyway.

The problem is not solved at all by having the other eleven songs scattered around ʽCall Me May­beʼ all sounding like its ideological and musical brethren. The distorted vocal sample of Sam Cooke's ʽTiny Little Bowsʼ that opens the record is, at best, just a superfluous quotation (if your song contains the word "bow", that is hardly a sufficient reason to sample a song that goes "Cu­pid, draw back your bow"), and at worst, a disgrace — I mean, where is Sam Cooke and where is Carly Rae Jepsen? And that production stile... don't even get me started. Yes, I know that mind-numbing techno beats and soulless robotic one-note synth patterns have been «normalized» even by much of the critically-minded population, but... no. Just no.

The second most popular song from the album was ʽGood Timeʼ, a duet with Owl City (and as such, also released on Owl City's Midsummer Station album) which — I do insist — is not one iota better than the Rebecca Black song, with which it even shares the main topic this time (partying partying YEAH!). Everything about it sucks — the lyrics, the vocals, the groove, the relentless pounding of the chorus hook, the fake steroidal optimism, the implied admonition to check your brain in the cloakroom before hitting the dance floor. Okay, so happy party anthems are not exactly my thing in the first place (I was never a big fan of KISS' ʽRock And Roll All Nightʼ, either), but happy party anthems that play it so clean and harmless make me feel trapped in a kindergarten.

Is there anything redeeming about this record (and I haven't even mentioned the inevitably vomit-inducing duet with Justin Bieber on ʽBeautifulʼ)? I honestly don't think so, and I have even been patient enough to sit through all the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition (spoiler: most of them are even more horrible than the regular inclusions). Some critics have raved about Carly's girl-next-door personality, but why should we get excited these days over a girl-next-door image, parti­cularly when the girl in question wishes to know nothing that goes above and beyond the con­cept of «having a good time»? It is true that she has intentionally cultivated an image here that steps away from the glitz and extravagance of her main competition in the bullshit-pop department, but there is nothing of interest whatsoever in that image, and the corny, glossy arrangements of her trivial hooks ruin all the «naturalness» anyway (besides, even visually she still looks like a fa­shion-obsessed doll rather than a plain clothes girl).

And no, I am definitely not pretending to dislike this out of some intellectual snobbery — thirty minutes of this music actually does give me a physical headache and leaves me wide open and vulnerable to in­doctrination by Scientology, the Islamic State, and Ray-Ban sunglasses, so excuse me if I rush this off with a well-timed thumbs down and hurry away to take a good dose of some powerfully intellectual antidote. Like Surfin' Safari by The Beach Boys. Or Boney M's Night­flight To Venus. Heck, even some Phil Collins will do. By the way, if you're making parodies or something, please take some time to craft an X-rated zombie version of "we don't even have to try, it's always a good time" — now that's something I wouldn't mind enjoying.

7 comments:

  1. Some of these songs make me think more highly of Britney Spears in comparison, as hard as that is. Call Me Maybe has like two seconds of interesting vocal modulation in it, which one might respect, but everything else about it is still trash. *shudder*

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  2. That dumbass single was worth all the saturated overplay for the punchline at the end of the video.

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  3. " this brand of simple, silly pop — especially presented in such an in-yer-face, obnoxious manner — is maybe just one step away from the likes of Rebecca Black." Really? A whole step? Seriously, Rebecca Black is a effing genius. Minimal talent+maximum marketing=21st Century Art.
    "normalizing» stuff like this (in the «come on, lighten up, it's just a fun pop song!» manner) is in any way more acceptable than «normalizing» racist talk and waterboar­ding" Um, you got so much irony going on that Tony Stark is jealous of your suit. Or that hyperbole? Either way, ouch.

    Just so you know, NO ONE is expecting you to listen to all this shite. I would rather you review Carly Simon or Cass Elliott if you're determined to make this the OS Year of the Female Singer. If, for nothing else, your own peace of mind. Just sayin.

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  4. These days it feels as though you're the last remaining bastion of, er, good taste with actual, effective criticism in this world, George. After CRJ's recent critical veneration I've seen far too many critics tout this album as some kind of hidden masterpiece - I'm all for poptimism but holy shit there needs to be a line drawn.
    I don't mind some Emotion, myself, but even then it's only an enjoyable, highly-derivative album, not some goddamn work of art or something. Can't wait for your review of that one!

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  5. What would be the more contrarian "Call Me Maybe" opinion, outright loathing or stone cold indifference?

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    1. The song was too ubiquitous and polarizing for any opinion of its merit to be contrarian.

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    2. In that case, being totally unaware of it would be the ultimate contrarian position. Those half dozen individuals worldwide who have never heard the song must feel very special.

      As for me, I think the chorus to "Call Me Maybe" is quite catchy and fun in an appropriately mindless, fluffy teen pop way. Absolutely nothing else about the song merits comment, and its short-term popularity is best chalked up to the peculiar vagaries of fleeting pop culture fads. Like bell-bottoms and ugg boots. Or Pauly Shore and Tom Green. Or nu-metal and the Macarena.

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