Upon first listen, the hyper-synthesized instruments, high-pitched voice, and dancy beats of Carly Rae Jepsen’s newest album, Dedicated, may mislead the audience into thinking that it is something manufactured by a music label to feed the top charts. It isn’t. We are fully in Jepsen’s world which is girlishly fun, weird, even a bit creepy. She decides what her album cover looks like, what she wears onstage, who she collaborates with, and which of the 200 songs she wrote for Dedicated make the cut. Most of her songs are predicated on the idea that she’s in a dream or her imagination which explains why the production sometimes feels like snorting musical glitter. She divulges all of her insecurities and fantasies even when they are off-putting. With that invitation into her inner life, she reveals a surprising level of self-awareness about her conflicted relationship with love.
For someone who is always chasing love, Jepsen seems really terrified of actually getting it. “Real Love” offers a good summation of all of her music. With its climbing beat and minor keys, it has the bittersweet sound of a romcom soundtrack, but the lyrics read more like a horror movie. She sings, “Something's coming over me, I need to get a hold of you now.” Is she in love or possessed? She says she’s not afraid to fall in love, but still describes the experience as chaotic, dangerous, and paralyzing.
Considering how in control she is of every other aspect of her life, it makes sense that it makes her so uncomfortable: Love, in so many ways, is the antithesis of control. This is especially true if you’ve been taught by your culture that you do not get to choose who you love. Think of Megan in Bridesmaids, Gigi in He’s Just Not That Into You, or Nadia in Russian Doll. These characters should be inspiring, feminist icons — they’re going after what they want! Instead, they’re portrayed as pathetic, embarrassing, promiscuous, or emotionally bankrupt. The girl who ends up getting the guy is a broken bird, a damsel in need of saving. She doesn’t call attention to herself, but she is always noticed. Jepsen tries to play that part on “No Drug Like Me.” She tells her subject to “take” her like a drug and to “make [her] feel in love.”
But Jepsen is overwhelmed with love so sitting still and looking pretty drives her nuts. In her fantasies, she’s “the voyeur,” she’s the one doing “bad things” to him, she’s the one who “found” him. She can get a bit creepy with the theme — on “I’ll Be Your Girl,” she says, “Standing at your door, calling out your name, find me in the dark, find me here again” which is a liiiittle stalkery — but we know from her other lyrics that she never ends up acting on these fantasies. Instead, she does a whole lot of waiting around: “When you comin’ home?” she wonders, always hoping that he will eventually realize her feelings for her.
So if love always feels so terrible to her, why does Jepsen continue to chase it? She anticipates that the “roller coaster” will crash but gets on anyways because she so desperately wants to know what real love looks like. She is looking for someone who can make her “come alive.” If she wants to find them, she’ll have to take the risk that they can destroy her just as easily. She has to lean into the fear and hope that they’ll love all of her, even if she is “too much.” Accepting love is saying I care about you so much that if you walk away, the damage will be catastrophic. But it doesn’t matter because I am uncontrollably, automatically in love with you.