Dedicated — in-depth analysis and review of Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album.
Four years ago, no one could deny Carly Rae Jepsen was far from the cult status she enjoys in 2019. Most people had written her off as a one (maybe two) hit wonder, thanks largely to the fact that her major-label debut and second album Kiss underperformed despite the ubiquity of Call Me Maybe (which to this day boasts over 420 million streams despite peaking before the dawn of the streaming era). Perhaps it was a matter of being overshadowed by one of the biggest pop singles of all time, but for fans who were enamoured by Kiss and perhaps even her previous releases, it felt like her career might have come to a halt. It was a surprise — and a salvo — to fans when it emerged that Jepsen would be given another go roughly three years after Kiss, and for the most part, the rollout of Emotion messily plodded along and few paid attention to her material. However, as Emotion slowly rolled out across the world and more people listened, it was apparent that Carly Rae Jepsen had returned with a gem of a record. Though in the months to come, Emotion would go on to underwhelm even more than Kiss had commercially, vindication came to the few who’d stuck with her throughout her journey and the few became many, as critics and listeners flocked around Emotion. Despite going largely unrecognized commercially (and later, notably by the Grammys), Emotion emerged as a cult hit and a bonafide response to the question of the best album of the decade.
One might ask themselves why I feel the need to wax poetic about Emotion’s infamous meteoric rise to critical darling in a review of Dedicated, but I do so because much of the reception to that album will likely inform the way listeners interact with her latest effort. To address that group of listeners, I would say that Dedicated may disappoint fans who hoped to experience more of the same with her latest release. However, there is much here for fans to find themselves pleasantly surprised by as Carly Rae Jepsen has once again put together an engaging and enjoyable record, with perhaps even more emotional substance than her previous work.
“Julien” borrows heavily from the 1970s Japanese genre termed city-pop which saw a resurgence in popularity in the 2010s in the Western world and on the internet, and serves as the opening statement of the album, establishing Carly’s fascination and the beginnings of an attraction between her and a potential beau (who Julien is or whether there’s a real Julien or not is irrelevant). “No Drug Like Me” and “Now That I Found You” served double-duty as a second look during the album’s roll-out, a decision well made as both songs serve to lay the groundwork of the burgeoning romance between Jepsen and her partner, with the former referencing the 80s stylings she established with her previous record Emotion and the latter fusing flashier 80s synths with the more modern dance-pop of her previous release Kiss without either sounding too indebted to their respective call-backs. Jepsen recruits Jack Antonoff to add a funky flair to her sound on one of her more sexually suggestive offerings with “Want You In My Room”, and Jepsen carries the euphoria of new love to delirious heights on “Everything He Needs”, which utilizes honky-tonk piano elements and a pitched-up sample of a Popeye tune to underline the somewhat hysterical peak of romance.
“Happy Not Knowing” sees Jepsen return to the Emotion playbook of melancholic yet euphoric pop and rightfully so, as she introduces an element of doubt to the album’s running romance, imparting her worries of getting hurt as feelings begin to deepen. Jepsen continues to doubt her romance with the energetic ska-tinged “I’ll Be Your Girl”, punctuated with synths reminiscent of work by Tears for Fears and Ultravox and confessions of jealousy as she pushes for something more serious. This prompts Jepsen to question her own intensity on “Too Much”, which not only continues to illustrate the doubt permeating the relationship but sonically continues the thread with a modern-styled reggaeton beat. Though “The Sound” enters with a beautiful piano introduction, Jepsen addresses the turbulence and miscommunication abounding the relationship, assisted by a steady yet careful beat. Breezy production and a carefree vocal delivery illustrate the rapid progression of the romance in “Automatically In Love”, highlighting the faults as the dynamic between her and her lover shows signs of deterioration. “Feels Right” funkily pairs a raspier vocal performance from Jepsen with the smooth vocals of Asa Taccone of Electric Guest, as Jepsen attempts to convince herself that the romance is working despite evidence to the contrary and an inability to get the timing right, upon which she expands with the slower “Right Words Wrong Time”. Jepsen uses a slightly trap-inflected and precarious sound to illustrate the breakdown of the relationship. Jepsen attempts to reignite its dying embers on the shimmering and dancier “Real Love”, a desperate move that sounds ready-made for the broken-hearted who take their frustrations out on the dancefloor. On album stand-out “For Sure”, Carly immerses the listener in the dramatic moment she realizes the album’s running romance is irreparably dead over a moody early-90s tribal rhythm, not unlike that era’s work from Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. In context, “Party for One” serves as Jepsen’s anthem of self-reassurance, that despite the complete breakdown of her relationship, she will be fine on her own.
Dedicated allows Jepsen to expand upon the pantheon of love in a manner she hasn’t before, traversing a romance from its euphoric beginnings to its bittersweet finale. The production here serves to support Jepsen’s lyrical and vocal delivery of her themes and allows for a more consistent listen than any of her previous records, even if she never fully achieves the mishmash highs of melancholy and euphoria previous releases thrived on. Jepsen seizes the opportunity to expand upon her most familiar subject matter with the same zeal and wide-eyed romanticism as prior releases, but with a worldlier and more realistic examination on the stages of a sincere yet doomed relationship. With Dedicated, Jepsen proves that she has much still to offer to pop music and knows how to keep her consistent examination of the human condition, more specifically love, interesting and relatable to listeners from all backgrounds.