Run away with her: A one-year retrospective of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Emotion’

Culture Music
Illustration by Leone Brander, Graphics Contributor
Illustration by Leone Brander, Graphics Contributor

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion was released on June 24, 2015, and while they’re a little late to the party, Martlet editor-in-chief Myles Sauer and former staff writer Michel Ghanem are marking the occasion by taking a look back at the album that launched the Year of Jepsen, Queen of Flawless Pop Albums, the Gays, and Everything Else.

Update August 26, 2016: Turns out we mixed up Emotion’s Japanese release on June 24 with the worldwide release, which was in fact Aug. 21, 2015. Our bad. 

Myles: I’ll be honest: I didn’t really know where to start with this piece because I’m a latecomer to Jepsen’s whole thing. I never listened to Tug of War or Kiss or Curiosity aside from the big singles (hey there, “Call Me Maybe”), so I can’t really wax poetic about Jepsen’s transition from previous works to this one without coming off completely disingenuous.

But maybe that’s a point worth making. It feels like Emotion was a conscious attempt to broaden Jepsen’s appeal and make a break from that post-Canadian Idol/”Call Me Maybe” image. Despite its high-school-romance lyrical content, Emotion is really quite mature, and speaking as a metalhead that only listens to a pop album once in blue moon, the fact I’ve latched onto it speaks to Jepsen’s talent as a songwriter more than anything.

I mean, can we talk about “Run Away With Me?” That song is just about the boldest declaration of purpose I’ve heard in ages. The sax hook that launched a thousand memes is a herald of all the sugary ’80s-styled pop goodness to come, and listening to it back-to-back with anything off Kiss is a lesson in contrasts. Jepsen’s going for the jugular here, and the rest of the album follows suit.

Maybe this is a good time to talk about Emotion from the perspective of somebody more familiar with Jepsen’s previous output — and the pop landscape at large. What was this album’s release like for you, Michel?

Michel: We could talk about “Run Away With Me” all day long, Myles. It embodied the type of pure pop goodness we were missing in 2015. With Madonna’s Rebel Heart and Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable being lukewarm additions to the pop landscape that year, I know stans around the world were craving an album that hit the spot. Emotion did that for me — and unlike Madonna, Jepsen didn’t even have to advertise it on Grindr.

Besides “Tonight I’m Getting Over” (specifically the Nicki Minaj remix), I wasn’t particularly attached to Jepsen’s rise to fame. It wasn’t until she released “All That,” a buzz track following “I Really Like You,” that I was finally hit with Carly Slae Jepsen syndrome. The melancholy, Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid-produced track captured the kind of lyrical vulnerability that brings me back to those messy ‘I almost dated you’ relationships that didn’t particularly have a happy ending, but still play a role in defining my emotional maturity.

And yet, the album is heavily built on themes around leaning into fleeting moments, not taking them for granted. Whether it’s the surging independence that comes after a breakup (“Boy problems, who’s got them?”), or leaving all your baggage behind in a “Making the Most of the Night” kind of way. It’s no surprise that the album (and Jepsen herself) was so quickly adopted into LGBT+ stan culture — a community built on taking in every moment of liberation from patriarchal and heteronormative values.

Myles: Ugh, “Boy Problems.” That song was when I got fully on board with what Jepsen was laying down. I remember texting my friend telling her to listen specifically because of the chorus.

Michel, I appreciate that you brought up how this album takes you back to those messy almost-relationships. Funny enough (or maybe sadly enough), I had to stop listening to this album for a few weeks last summer after I broke up with someone that I had been listening to “Boy Problems” with in the car the day prior. That was a fucking disaster, but I think it speaks to Emotion’s level of emotional maturity that I had to put it away for a while lest I get too weepy while listening to “Your Type.” (There’s probably something to unpack about how I identified so strongly with songs written and sung by a 30-year-old cisgender woman but let’snotgetintothat.)

Michel: Exactly! Jepsen gave us the perfect album for that kind of catharsis. Whether it’s crying in your car to “All That,” or crying at the club to “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” — at least we’re getting some emotional release, right?

Myles: Truth. This is a one-year retrospective though, and we haven’t even touched on this album’s tepid commercial response yet. Why do you think Emotion failed to tear up the charts? Did it even need to?

Michel: Commercial response is so relative these days. It sold less copies than her first album, but received favourable reviews. It only received gold certification in one country (selling over 100 000 copies in Japan), but charted high on most Western “best of 2015” lists. Was Jepsen on a mission to become the next pop star? She could have collaborated with Swedish producer Max Martin (behind Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Ellie Goulding’s Delirium) for an insta-hit and Grammy nomination, but part of me feels grateful that she can avoid the kind of widespread intensity that fame requires from a celebrity in contemporary pop culture.

In late 2015, she told the Star that Emotion allowed her to “let go of any worry of having to prove myself or any of that, and just write from the heart in the way that I started this thing.” She clearly has a dedicated fan base and a thirst for creating good, vulnerable music — and that, to me, trumps being slept on. But anyways, buy Emotion on iTunes!