Features, Friday Night Dinner Discussions

Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion B-Sides: A Discussion

One fateful evening in 2012, kismet pulled Reina and Gauraa into a porch conversation about Bishop Allen. They realized, despite having grown up 8,657 miles apart, they had listened to the same records, subscribed to the same podcasts and shared the same pretensions. Separated by distance again, the two have decided to pull all the stops necessary to preserve their insular culture of staying in and overanalyzing music. You can read their first dinner discussion here. Tonight, Reina and Gauraa cancel their plans to discuss one of the records that brought them together, Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2016 release, Emotion B-Sides.

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Reina: Honestly, Gauraa, tonight I cancelled plans to catch up with an old friend. We were supposed to go out to dinner and dish on what’s new and all that jazz, but this is kind of like catching up with an old friend in a way too. “What’s new Carly Rae?” “Oh nothing much, you know just like an EP of all the B-Sides that didn’t make it into the album I released a year ago, the usual stuff.” This is us catching up with our old friend Emotion by CRJ and finding out about 8 new songs that we didn’t know before.

Gauraa: My dog, Pixeleen, was very understanding when I told her I’d have to rain-check our intimate “Cat People” living room double-feature. She’s a massive Carly Rae enthusiast herself but something tells me a latent animosity toward the feline race may have also played into her leniency. No disrespect to Jacques Tourneur intended, but Carly Rae Jepsen, and this discussion piece, which also happens to be my chiefest editorial concern at the moment, precede watching a race of people turn into cats when sexually aroused. (It was a close call.) Anyway, tell me how you feel about these outtakes, Reina. I know it’s only been a few days–and it takes a lot more time than that to muster truest feelings concerning anything CRJ–but I’m curious to hear about your first thoughts.

Reina: I’ve been listening to these B-Sides everyday this past week. I was slow to catch on to Emotion. It wasn’t until 6 months ago that I really started to listen to the album and found that every single time I listen to it, it always feels like the first time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just when I finally got to a point where the words to Emotion come to me as easily as my own name, CRJ proved that she is truly a gift that keeps on giving when she dropped this beautiful surprise on us. Now I’ve got 8 new songs to listen to everyday until I can recite them like the pledge of allegiance. That said, I wasn’t expecting to feel all the things I felt listening to these B-Sides. Honestly, I can’t believe these are B-Sides. All eight of these songs are good. I rarely think that every song on an album is good. Hell, there are even songs on Emotion that I’m not that keen on. Maybe it’s that I was starved for something new, something to pull me out of the monotony of my everyday life. But I think that Emotion Side B grasps something different from Emotion. The melancholy undertone of her upbeat, pop songs is still there. Stronger, even. And this album delves into a different realm than Emotion. It’s still emotional, yes. But there’s a sense that she’s coming to terms with loneliness–self-imposed loneliness almost– independence, heartbreak, and bringing it all together under the guise of a pop album. She’s making these songs that are relatable and fresh, but endearing and familiar and comforting, in a way.

Gauraa: Having spent the past year ruthlessly exploiting Emotion to match every mood, time, light of day, I still find myself picking out new favorite songs, changing my mind again, my lapidary sentiments chiseling meaning into bits and pieces of stray lyrics–something I hadn’t experienced with a contemporary pop album since 2013 with Tegan and Sara’s CloserAnd while it is characteristic of me to oversell any work Carly graces the world with, the B-Sides to her 2015 release are more than just emotional leftovers. They are an extension of Emotion,  yes, but even if you go into the EP tabula rasa, you will find the very fabric of Carly Rae Jepsen: romance. It is romance that is fixed in both Emotion and its outtakes, the thread of loneliness unraveling underneath. The B Sides to Emotion, like its predecessor, amplify the ordinary ambiguities of any sentimental journey, making a walk down to the store, or riding an ex’s stolen bike around teem seem like a crusade, almost.

“First Time”

Profound Genius annotation: She often thinks about this person. She’s sad that they broke up, and she refuses to let him go. “Catching tears like raindrops” could refer to how often she thinks about him. She keeps them safe because she has no intention of letting him go anytime soon.

Best lyric: Catching tears like raindrops here in the glass/ Keep them safe in case you should ever ask

Reina: “We won’t get too sentimental, not tonight.” That’s what we say every Friday night, but goddammit, it’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to! Everything about this song, from the cassette tape intro sounds, to the pounding 80’s synth, this is the song I’ve been looking for all summer to dance around in my underwear to.

Gauraa: To be fair, it’s hard, if not impossible, to not get sentimental over anything CRJ puts out. And she knew it damn well, too, titling her album Emotion, which left us feeling nothing short of everything. As for this EP opener, I love this song so much. It picks off right where Emotion left us, bouncing off the walls just like opener “Run Away With Me” before it. What I like most about CRJ, is that she’s not so much giving us songs as much as she’s giving us a pre-packaged, lustrous moods. I listen to “First Time” and I’m overflowing with the compulsion to blast it on my speakers as I clean my room, to listen to it as I bounce off the sidewalks on my way to the store. I want to sing along to it with you as we get ready to go out, comparing outfits, drinking wine. I hear it, and it already has a future. When you do get around to paying attention to the lyrics, get to know the song, you realize it’s the perfectly versed sentiment behind trying not “to get too sentimental.” And this song can will away the heartbreak. It’s bubblegum, sure. Who cares? It makes you feel good. Kind of on the “New Romantics” note, don’t you think?

Reina: Yeah exactly!! It’s also kind of reminiscent of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” or “Call Your Girlfriend” in the sad song hiding in an upbeat, peppy song. Very much the kind of song I want to dance on my own in, like that *iconic* scene from Girls.

Gauraa: Remember when you showed me the Song Exploder podcast about the songwriting process behind “When I Needed You”? It was such a solemn demo, that one. Threadbare, no inflections. No night-to-day progression. It was a song about a disappearance, it was supposed to be sad. And then it was transposed, washed in synths and beats alike, a John Cougar Mellencamp-inspired drum fill here, a “hey!” sing-shout there, and there! It evolved into a happy-sounding song! I feel like that same sort of dichotomy is at work here. And I think that’s what makes pop music so amazing–it’s recognizance of what’s sad and bad, and it’s willfulness to usher it away. Taylor Swift’s 1989 did what Ryan Adams’ cover album couldn’t: it took the sad little lyrical emotions that tear us apart and built them up in an indestructible structure with production, giving us these happy-sad songs that pander to us, sure, but also help us make sense of, and deal with, pain. “First Time” sings of inevitable heartbreak but with a production and delivery so fine that it tells you, and makes you believe, you’re going to get through it. A sad line like “Catching tears like raindrops here in the glass/ Keep them safe in case you should ever ask” is delivered so cheerfully, almost as if it’s something as routine as staying in with your best girlfriend and a bottle of wine.

Reina: I know exactly what you mean! In a sense, it’s kind of like what we talked about in our discussion on The Black Parade, how My Chemical Romance wrapped up macabre topics like death into digestible and accessible music. That’s essentially what Carly Rae is doing by wrapping up her sad songs in a song that won’t make you sad, but empathizes with your sadness. It is incredible actually.

“Higher”

Profound Genius annotation: The song features a synth heavy instrumental backing and a driving, drum and bass style beat. In her light and youthful voice, Jepsen delivers the romantic message of the song, which focuses on how her current romantic partner has lifted her out of an emotional rut.

Best lyric: “You pulled a gem out of the mess/I was so cynical before, I must confess/ Oh you got me hi-i-igh (hey), hi-i-igh (hey), hi-i-igher”

Gauraa: It’s so succinct. It doesn’t wait, it doesn’t waste time. It’s perfectly plotted, every element perfectly placed. Not one second in excess.

Reina: I know I just brought up Robyn, but the rhythmic pulsating beat in this song is so similar to the intro of “Dancing On My Own”, isn’t it? I love it.

Gauraa: It’s quintessentially Swedish pop-sounding. And I mean that in the sense that it’s got an added element of familiarity, which makes you feel at an immediate level of comfort with it, makes you fall in love with it instantly.

Reina: I will admit, I usually hate it in songs when the notes/melody do exactly what the lyrics say. Like when the lyrics say “Stop” and the whole song stops, or cliché patterns like that. But in this case, I really appreciate how subtly the melody climbs “higher” while she’s singing–

Gauraa: –Imma let you finish Reina but was that “stop” remark? Do you have a personal vendetta against Britney’s “Lucky”???

Reina: Britney, IYAZ, Katy, everyone has done this. No use trying to defend them because the jury is in, they’re guilty as charged. Except Carly because hers works without being cheesy.

Gauraa: I love it, I love it when the melody does what the lyrics are telling it to. It’s almost expected so at this point it’s like they’re pandering to our expectations. It obviously works here too, but I feel like CRJ’s approach is more nuanced. Isn’t it crazy to think how intelligent she’s become with her “aesthetic” since the good ol’ Tug of War days?

Reina: Definitely. I also want to point out how when she sings “To wake me up and come alive” she gets so high up there, but then actually comes back down when she’s singing “You take me higher than the rest.” It’s kind of the opposite of what you expect, but it works oh so well. Lmao at “aesthetic” because it makes me think of how Carly Rae played Pitchfork Fest and is apparently now considered “indie”? ? ?

Gauraa: The “cool indie kids” don’t hate pop music as much as they used to. Or, well, as much as they pretend they used to. It’s kind of a musical, genre-gentrification, is it not? It was the same deal with The Weeknd, too, the way Pitchfork lapped him up. He appealed to the PBR&B crowd and the “masses” alike.

Reina: It’s the Urban Outfitters-ing of pop music, almost.

Gauraa: Yes, exactly! It’s the “own Justin Bieber’s Purpose on cassette today!” phase of music. It’s a new era, and we’ve been absolved of our pop guilt. Evidently. (There’s a special place in hell for people who own Purpose on tape.)

Reina: *sigh*

“The One”

Profound Genius annotation: N/A

Best lyric: “Romance is fine, pour me some wine/ Tell me it’s just for the fun of it”

Gauraa: Warm, simple images: Cooking dinner. Socks and slippers. Romance. Wine. Friends. And then there’s that thick, pulsing beat, that hollowed out metronome-like click flickering chimerically, all leading up to the the realization that she doesn’t want any of it. She doesn’t want love.

Reina: It’s the profound statement: “I don’t want to be the one.” No one ever says that in songs. But it makes sense after I watched CRJ’s Pitchfork “Over/Under” where she talks about how she thinks weddings are overrated. I mean she doesn’t explicitly say that marriage is overrated, but paired with this song, it seems like CRJ is the type to crack under pressure and marriage/weddings/being “The One” isn’t quite on her radar.

Gauraa: Right. We talked about this explicitly last week, when we were discussing Hilary Duff’s magnum opus, Metamorphosis, about how there’s been a drastic shift in female-led pop music from the early ‘00s through ‘08, the final watershed being Taylor Swift’s discovery of feminism. (I suppose a Reader’s Digest version to surmise this would be the trajectory from Hilary Duff’s I-am-nothing-without-you “Where Did I Go Right?” to Kelly Clarkson’s agro-mournful “Since U Been Gone” to Beyonce’s women-of-the-world-unite “Irreplaceable” to Fergie’s I-need-to-work-on-myself-first “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and eventually Taylor Swift’s, um, satirical “Blank Space.”) Given that pop music is a reflection of the cultural landscape, and given there are more than a couple of anti-commitment “anthems” on this EP, do you think it is on-trend, for both men and women to do away with relationships? Do you think, this, in part informed these narratives? If so, what does that have to say about where we are at as a culture?

Reina: I definitely think so. It’s super on-trend, given the anti-commitment shift we’ve seen in millennial relationships. I mean, Tinder is so hot right now, and anyone that says they’re “looking for something serious” on an app is a big fat liar, am I right? I wouldn’t be surprised if these narratives were informed by the wild world of dating in the 21st century. And I think that speaks volumes about where we are as a culture. People are taking time to explore their options and figure out who they are before they try to figure someone else out. We used to think we had it all figured out, but I think we’re all realizing little by little that no one has any idea what’s going on. CRJ included.

Gauraa: The Brave New World suddenly seems very intimidating.

“Fever”

Profound Genius annotation: A fever is a temporary rise is one’s body temperature. It’s the body’s way to fight disease and stimulate the immune system. This song is a metaphor for Carly’s ever growing affection for someone who doesn’t share the same passion. She seems to have been friend-zoned by this person and is left with her heart still pulsing for their love. She doesn’t see how their relationship will work out if the affection is only one-sided. “I’m still hot for you” indicates a fever’s rise in temperature but also illustrates Carly’s longing desire for this person. This metaphor has extensive usage in music, being used by Michael Buble and Peggy Lee in the past.

Best lyric: “My breath was lost when you said ‘friends’/ Well that could work but I’m still hot for you”

Reina: I love this song. “My breath was lost when you said ‘friends’.” This is literally the friend-zone anthem. But I love the image of her stealing this guy’s bike and just riding it all around town in a sad and lonely daze. “And I’m so damn scared, you don’t even care.” God, this song breaks my heart.

Gauraa: I love the tender sentimentality of this song. The stripped first verse, the tangible vulnerability in the way Carly says “I’m still hot for you.” The way she brushes “you want to break my heart” with a hushed, almost subdued “alright.” Breaks my heart, too.

Reina: “Tender sentimentality” is such a good way to put it. I also love how stealing his bike is such a bold and indignant move, but at the same time, she’s so helpless when she thinks that he’s moved on without her.

Gauraa: What do you do when a person you love wants a brand new start, without you? You ride his bike into the darkness on the edge of the town, of course. It’s in the same breath as “Your Type,” isn’t it? “I wrote some things I didn’t send/ Three words to say that meant a lot to me.” A fever is the best, and quite possibly, the only way to express the deep need for exercising your newly re-discovered, self-contained sense of loneliness. “My light stays on/ As your city sleeps” is such a communal feeling, yet so unique to the person undergoing that string of emotions. Carly, as usual, does a great job of extrapolating that insularity.

“Body Language”

Profound Genius annotation: The song focuses on the idea that actions can often be more significant and meaningful than words, especially in a romantic context.

Best lyric: “I call you my lover, you call me your friend/ I’m keeping it secret, yeah, even from you/ I call you my lover/ Oh, what can I do?”

Reina: “So call me your lover,  don’t call me your friend.” God, Carly! Stop killing me with these heartbreaking one-liners. But all heartbreak aside, I feel like this song captures “dating” in 2016 pretty perfectly. In the age of “love at first swipe” and “we don’t want to put a label on it,” it’s the ongoing struggle of wanting to be called a lover and not just a friend, but also constantly telling yourself that you’re overthinking it.

Gauraa: Don’t even get me started on the whole “love at first swipe” phenomenon. I came across a Y/A book entitled “She Swiped Right Into My Heart” just the other day. I cringe. It just de-romanticizes romance, it dehumanizes dating to the “what are we in the mood for tonight?” process of ordering in off Seamless. Anyway: what stood out, particularly, in this song to me is that “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” in the bridge, right under the 2 minute mark. It’s on the tip of my tongue, where is that from? I’ve definitely heard that before.

Reina: Hmm, I can’t put my finger on it. And it’s going to bother me forever. But one thing I do know is that weird percussive synth right between the pre-chorus and chorus sounds kind of like this sound from the beginning on Melanie Martinez’s song “Pity Party”. But yeah, figuring out what song that sounds like is going to be the death of me.

Gauraa: It’s been all I can think about lately. Good luck. I’d attribute the similarity between “Pity Party” to some of the Swedish magic. But coming back to labels, and the debate over imposing one on a relationship, I agree with Carly here: stay the night, talk it over, know where you stand, don’t waste each other’s time. “If you love me baby/ Don’t hang up this time.” Duh. Next.

“Cry”

Best lyric: “You’re king of the castle/Whenever you’re here, you know it feels right/ Don’t need to worry/ Don’t need a moon, I’ve got your spotlight”

Gauraa: “He never wants to strip down to his feelings/ He never wants to kiss and close his eyes/ He never wants to cry-y-y, cry-y-y.” Finally, a song that stresses the importance of men getting in touch with their feelings. A song coming out and saying we want boys to cry, too, sometimes.

Reina: The first few seconds of this song reminds me of  “Stranger Things” or “Twin Peaks” or something. It’s that cosmic synth that sounds like it’s going to change my life for the better. It never ceases to amaze me how much my opinion of a CRJ song can change once I really listen to the lyrics. Like this song is so upbeat and has such a catchy beat, but the lyrics talk about a boy that won’t open up and always makes CRJ cry. Everyday I think about how Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t more famous.

Gauraa: That may be, but I feel like Carly Rae’s already one of the biggest forces in contemporary pop music. And she deserves more.

Reina: She’s a huge force, but I just can’t believe she isn’t bigger, you know?

“Store”

Profound Genius annotation: Going to the store is something normal, routine – leaving a relationship, on the other hand, is an action of extremity. As a result, Jepsen makes the metaphor more powerful with this juxtaposition.

Best lyric: “I’m just goin’ to the store/ You might not see me anymore, anymore”

Gauraa: Literally my favorite song. “Store” keeps things playful and lighthearted, horns pumping in and out of the chorus to add a layer of elation. She doesn’t want to end the relationship with an ugly confrontation so she fantasizes–I’m assuming/hoping this is a fantasy?–about an easy breakthrough, or breakout, rather–she goes to the store. If only breakups were as easy.

Reina: Literally my favorite song too. How are we so in sync? The chorus and pre-chorus of this song are so perfect. “Sometimes it’s best to just fly” is a cheesy line, but I can forgive it because it works so well. And the music in the verses is so 80’s, I love it! I just… love this song so much. Crazy to think of how far this song has come, since its humble beginnings as an anti-smoking campaign song.

Gauraa: I think Carly Rae’s brand of pop plays into the cheesiness of the genre, you know? She gives ‘em what they want but adds depth to it, in the process. “You might not see me anymore/anymore” plays into the casual brush-off that could be, but never is.

Reina: It’s also that familiarity and predictability that’s really comforting about her music, you know? There are little, pleasant surprises in her songs, like “I’m just going to the store/You might not see me anymore,” but there’s nothing completely out of left field, if that makes sense. Her songs so comfortably bridge the gap between 80’s nostalgia and modern sentimentality and it really just has this reassuring sound about it.

“Roses”

Profound Genius annotation: “Roses” is a song about the end of a relationship. Carly sings from the perspective of a lover who was blindsided by her partner’s decision to end the relationship, seeing a new side of them and essentially ending the relationship. Their love was like a garden of roses, that once ended, turned the once beautiful garden black.

Best lyric: “Knock on the door, leaving it open/ It wasn’t you, why was I hoping?”

Gauraa: I love the phrasing of this song, its subtle syncopation, the relaxed snaps, the pent up whispery emotion that leans in towards the end of each line until it weighs in completely in the chorus. But it’s the bridge of this song that billows in softly after each chorus that gets me: “Drunk on cigarettes/ Last year’s silhouettes/ Dancing in the dark/ Love made in the park/ Big white blossom tree/ Baby, cover me/ Hold me, left to blow/ Please don’t let me go.” Just snippets that give away the whole story.

Reina: The chorus of this song sounds like an Oh Wonder song. It’s that kind of soft-pop aesthetic that I’m not sure I like when Carly Rae attempts it. I don’t know what it is. Maybe her voice? I think her voice sounds better in certain types of songs, and I feel like with a melody like this, a more delicate voice works better. But then again, maybe I’m biased because I think it sounds like an Oh Wonder song.

Gauraa: I think I know what you mean, it’s when she belts and it her vocals sound a little forced.

Reina: Yeah, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not my favorite. That is to say, I don’t love it, but I definitely don’t hate it! I actually love the line, “I saw you like I never did before.” I’ve felt that before. Sitting on a bedroom floor after a fight, eyes blurry with tears, looking up at someone and seeing things a little differently. It’s like trying so desperately to connect to someone, but knowing deep down that things will never be the same, or something. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but whatever it is I’m trying to say, Carly is able to put it into words.

Gauraa: You know, considering this is not exactly a themed album wherein the tracklisting is cautiously, clinically put together, it comes together very well. It’s a comprehensive sound, despite being produced and co-written by a bunch of different names including Rami Yacoub (Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, P!nk), Wayne Hector (One Direction, Olly Murs), Carl Falk (Demi Lovato, Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande), Greg Kurstin (Tegan and Sara, Sia, Kelly Clarkson, Lily Allen), Claude Kelly (Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars)…the list is endless. “Roses” is a great closer, a curtain call for the summer, if you will. I just love these B-Sides. I love them as much as I did Emotion. This was a great move coming from an artist with the pop stature of CRJ, too. When was the last time Interscope put out a B-Sides? This is something Taylor Swift would not do. All that said, I’m glad we have something to keep us going till the next Carly Rae album. Well, since we’re already in this tender state, what could be better to discuss next week than the soundtrack to one of our favorite films, “Begin Again”? How about it, Reina?

Reina: You read my mind. I just watched that movie last weekend and may have cried a little. Maybe just for a few hours, we can watch the movie from our corners of the world and pretend that we’re back in our apartment watching it together and singing along like we wrote the songs ourselves.

Gauraa: I’m just going to the store, to the store, to buy myself a bottle of wine for the occasion :’)

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Reina and Gauraa did not expect for it to be such an emotional Friday night. They insist they need to be alone now . You can find them here next Friday, getting excessively sentimental over the Begin Again OST.

 

September 2, 2016

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