2015 has been an insanely strong year for music. From huge comebacks to satisfying sophomore releases to exciting debuts, this year has seen an abundance of incredible albums in every genre. Which is why you might be surprised when I say that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion is one of the best albums of the year.
This is understandable. Jepsen’s 2012 smash “Call Me Maybe” is deceptive in its brilliance, an infectious bubblegum confection that perfectly encapsulates the butterflies of hormonal teens around the world while lifting a string section from their parents’ old disco records. But the album it appeared on, Kiss, only had a handful of songs that captured the magic of “Call Me Maybe,” and many wrote her off as a one-hit wonder.
Luckily, Jepsen has returned after nearly three years of silence, and she is NOT. F*CKING. AROUND. Emotion (which is stylized in a really dumb way that I refuse to tolerate) is 15 tracks of pure fire, the epitome of “all killer no filler.”
The album’s list of credited writers and producers ranges from big names like Shellback and Sia to indie darlings like Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange). So it’s no surprise that the album’s sound draws from several eras of female pop stars. “Boy Problems” and the title track update the mall-queen bop of Debbie Gibson and early Whitney Houston, while “Making the Most of the Night” and “Your Type” recall the yearning choruses and acoustic breakdowns of peak J. Lo and Kelly Clarkson. “All That” deploys the bleeding heart and synth arpeggios of every 80s prom slow jam, while “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” sounds so much like vintage Cher that I wouldn’t be surprised if Jepsen’s Twitter was suddenly flooded with emojis and baffling capitalization.
But comparing Carly Rae Jepsen to other pop artists does a disservice to the songwriting genius that sets her apart. Pop music is an art of extremes designed to showcase huge emotions in the biggest way possible. But Jepsen (who is credited as a co-writer on every song) has a gift for identifying minor emotions and blowing them up to fit the album’s big-screen production. Instead of writing about total infatuation or devastating heartbreak, Emotion covers smaller moments. “I Really Like You” is about the moment when you think you might be starting to fall for someone… but is it a good idea? “Boy Problems” finds the humor and relief in ending a relationship you’ve complained about for months. “Run Away With Me” is about the healing power of an incredible sax solo. (Or something like that, I’m usually too busy dancing to hear the lyrics.)
Many of Jepsen’s detractors criticize her lack of “personality,” but this is missing the point. The genius of Carly Rae Jepsen lies in her everywoman persona, a refreshing change of pace from the Beyonces and Gagas of the pop world. We don’t listen to Carly because we want to be like her; we listen to Carly because she knows what it’s like to be us.