Number Ones - Carly Rae Jepsen 'Call Me Maybe'
Who's saying what
'Call Me Maybe'
Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' is the new #1 single in Australia this week. It knocks 'We Are Young' by fun. & Janelle Monae off the top after 3 weeks. Jepsen is a Canadian Idol alumni, having placed third in 2007. It's Jepsen's first single to enter the Australian charts. Jepsen gets a credit on the song, which was co-written and produced by Josh Ramsay, apparently a member of a Canadian pop-rock band called Marianas Trench.
Sometimes we worry about the youth of Australia and their irresponsible music-listening ways. Between Rihanna's 'S&M', Wynter Gordon's 'Dirty Talk', Lloyd's 'Dedication To My Ex (Miss That)', and LMFAO's entire existence, you do wonder what goes on inside their developing brains. It's also surprisingly common to see mumsy retail workers unselfconsciously singing along to this kind of expertly targeted and sexually-explicit earworm. (In recent instances I've witnessed a 40-ish mum and her son both humming along to Taio Cruz's 'Dynamite' while buying an ice cream, while elsewhere a woman in her 50s serving me a sandwich was unselfconsciously singing along to Rihanna. And record companies are now targeting this demographic with this kind of music, if an upcoming compilation album called Hits For Mum, featuring Pitbull and LMFAO, is any guide).
But, when it comes down to it, the youth of Australia (and their not-so-youthful parents) are by and large not listening to the lyrics. For most consumers, the words are scaffolds on which to hang melodies and rhythms; naught but a little flavour. Very few listeners are paying much attention to the details of Rihanna's sexual adventures. Mind you, the 14 year old girls listening to 'S&M' on their iPod shuffles are definitely aware that a song like 'S&M' is naughty. And they do want to listen to 'naughty' songs, but they're initially attracted to them because their parents don't like it; because they're trying to figure out this whole growing up business. Still, you could argue that we/they subconsciously internalise the attitudes and beliefs present in such music, and I'm sure that some do this and later come to regret it.
In any case, parents everywhere are probably breathing a sigh of relief now that their "little ones" are listening to 'Call Me Maybe' on repeat rather than 'Sexy And I Know It'. The song is squeaky-clean. In the video, Carly Rae's image is cute rather than sexy; she wears jeans for most of the clip, wears her hair in bangs and dons a polkadot top at one point. She spends most of the video grinning from ear to ear, rather than pouting Rihanna-style. Her attempts in the video to appear 'sexy' are humorously undermined (e.g., while trying to sexily wash her car for the benefit of nearby male eyecandy, she falls over). In Jepsen's world, there's no S&M, no dirty talk, no showing off for the boys at the club, no penis wiggling. There's also no complicated sadness over ended relationships, no invocations of the glories of living in the present (and doing something you might regret later), and no singing from the point of view of a wannabe schoolyard killer. It's probably most accurate to say that 'Call Me Maybe' is the kind of song you might hear in a modern Disney musical; if it resembles any song from the charts in the last few years, it's Disney bred star Miley Cyrus' 'Party In The USA'.
The point of 'Call Me Maybe', lyrically, is that Carly Rae has a crush on someone and is shy about it; she's trying to build up the courage to give him her number. The most explicit thing she's (willing to admit) thinking about is a kiss. The verses feel nervous, as the lyrics discuss her tentative steps towards asking him out -- in the choruses to the song, she does summons the courage — "Call me, maybe?" — and the emotion is one of adrenaline, exultant. She's proud of herself for overcoming her shyness, for building up the courage to give him her number, and — judging by her ear-to-ear-grin in the video — the object of her affection has at the very least noticed her. (And judging by the lyrics and the shots of her mooning over rippling torsos, "object" is the correct word).
Despite looking about 16 in the video, Jepsen is 26 years old. She's wise and old enough to be aware of the fantasy of the teen crush; the presence of the romance novel imagery in her song suggests that the whole idea is a bit of a fantasy, after all. And, as disappointed as she looks in the video when the twist at the end (let's just say, if Weezer's 'Pink Triangle' means anything to you...), the twist at the end keeps the song strictly in the realm of fantasy. And that's not a bad place for a crush to be; fantasising can be much nicer than experiencing the cold light of reality.
Another similarity with 'Party In The USA' is that 'Call Me Maybe' is devilishly catchy. In particular, the call and response of the chorus is exceedingly effective. The call is the stabs of string synths and the response is the leaping melody, as it rises to higher notes before resolving with the tagline/title of the song. String stab! "Hey, I just met you..." String stab! "...and this is crazy..." String stab! "...so here's my number..." String stab! "...so call me, maybe". It's well-composed — listen to the way the melody apes the way a teen girl might emphasise the adjective "crazy" in conversation by raising the pitch of her voice.
Elsewhere, the verse is less catchy. Where production teams like Stargate and Ester Dean apparently feel that they need a hook every seven seconds (according to an excellent recent New Yorker article), Jepsen and Ramsay are happy for the verses to simply build to the chorus. They fill the verses here with fairly vague, perfunctory lyrics, and don't go all out trying to force hooks in. And in a funny way, this disparity between the verse and the chorus makes you anticipate the chorus more than you would in a Rihanna song -- it sounds more exciting. And oddly, for a #1 single, it also sounds more like a demo in some ways than a finished product. Compared to, say, 'S&M' - the kind of song that attempts to fill every part of the sonic spectrum to sound big - 'Call Me Maybe' sounds thin, quiet. I wonder if Ramsay hasn't missed a trick or two; for example, that string stab could stab with more force if the part was also prominently being played by a synth or a guitar. Although clearly, the chorus by itself is enough to propel the song to #1, without the song needing to sound like a million dollars had been spent on it.
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