Carly Rae Jepsen is modern buttercup Pat Benatar. She caught the attention of the world with “Call Me Maybe” in 2011—a hit at every single bar/bat mitzvah and birthday party that year—but has emerged as much more than just a one-hit-wonder, releasing consistently fun dance pop over the last nine years. Her most recent project is a set of cuts from last year’s album, Dedicated. (Also, “Call Me Maybe” is still a great song.)
Every song on Dedicated Side B holds some kind of creative sonic treat. “Window” brings rich vocal harmonies with abrupt stops, “Heartbeat” has this ethereal chorus in the background, and “This Love Isn’t Crazy” stole some delicious high-pitched ‘woos’ from Tove Lo.
Modern pop music and Generation Z humor is darker than we might have imagined it would be. Artists like Billie Eilish echo this particular transformation, and much has been written about it.. But Carly Rae Jepsen has always tried to recall the sweeter side: she really likes her lovers. In Jepsen’s world, summer love is going to last and she might ask someone to hurt her, but “love isn’t cruel,” so they won’t (“This Love Isn’t Crazy”). Her gestures towards angst and singledom are so condescending: “so what / you’re not in love,” she sings on “Solo.” (I’m glad she pities me, but she might as well spit in my forever-alone face.) Obviously, she has never been solo.
Like asking Jojo Siwa not to wear sparkles, it seems unfair to expect Carly Rae Jepsen to write something sad. But at least in Emotion, her takes on happiness were more creative. And Jepsen’s loyalty to the traditional song form means that Dedicated Side B drags in parts. Her albums often feel like a collection of songs united by a particular theme, rather than a cohesive piece of work with a sonic or narrative arc. I think she’d do well to experiment more with shorter and longer songs, with dynamics and stronger bridges.
Still, Jepsen has never really made a claim to cohesion. The original Dedicated was good because it was full of more individual successes. Side B is just not hitting the spot quite as often. But I like the moments of charming childishness, and even when she slips into advice-giving mode (“don’t go wasting your nights getting so low”) her fairy-princess voice keeps it from grating too much. There are more silly-sweet moments in “Let’s Sort the Whole Thing Out” (an optimistic naiveté) and “Comeback” (Bleachers is featured on here for a sunny beach-day track).
The closest thing to a highlight is the snarky and specific “Fake Mona Lisa.” There’s the same kind of clubby synth background as on the rest of Dedicated, but her voice includes some much-needed lower harmonies to add depth, and her vocal flips are hilarious: “the night we painted over your fake Mona Lisa / lipstick on the corners, said her smile was teasin’ ya.” It’s funny to think about Jepsen getting jealous of a painting, and her writing is smart and incisive here.
Like most of Jepsen’s work, this is a glimpse inside the vast surface of her psyche. Side B is a little flatter than the first Dedicated, but I don’t think it was a bad decision to release more of the 200+ songs she reportedly wrote for the album. If you like Carly Rae Jepsen, you’ll like it.