Dedicated: Side B — an album review and analysis of Carly Rae Jepsen’s new release
Carly Rae Jepsen dropped one of the stronger pop albums of 2019 with Dedicated, which saw her musically charting the progression of a relationship from its beginnings to its natural conclusion. On that record, she ventured out from her usual sweet spot of scrapbooking various high points and low points of relationships that never seemed reciprocated. In the lead-up to that album’s release, Jepsen also teased the idea of dropping a collection of B-sides, similarly to the way she released the EP Emotion: Side B. Still, a year later and after a week of some brief teases, Jepsen surprise-released a Dedicated Side B, this time an album-length collection of songs. Both projects are interesting looks into Jepsen’s album process, as the singer has often detailed her process to create an album — she writes about 200–300 songs per album cycle and cherry-picks the best of the best to form an album. For Dedicated: Side B specifically, Carly shelved an entire disco album called Disco Sweat because the singer thought it wasn’t up to the standards of the rest of her material. Jepsen is a pop perfectionist that takes her craft seriously and it is nowhere more prevalent than on her B-side collections. Jepsen carefully curates these projects for fans with songs from the cutting room floor that she believes are worthy of release.
Carly brings her signature euphoria to “This Love Isn’t Crazy”, where she and producer Jack Antonoff inject it into an undeniable and club-ready anthem. Though her 80s-influence is still present here, the track sounds attuned to the trends of modern pop music with relentless synths, and allows Jepsen to play into the hysteria of the song’s title — this is her impassioned plea for her and her love interest to further pursue their relationship and she sounds completely overcome by it as she sings. She strips things back on “Window”, which though written with Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman and produced by the latter, feels like a complement to her Antonoff produced cut from Dedicated, “Want You In My Room”. Whereas in that song, Carly was making a sexual confession to her lover and inviting them to climb through her window, here she is begging a former love interest to keep themselves emotionally open to her, having concluded that they were the one suited to her. Side B’s alternative take on windows still keeps the funk elements of its Antonoff counterpart but it is filtered through a smoother and more melancholic sound, reflecting the song’s lyrical flip from a celebratory yearning to a yearning resulting from loss. “Felt This Way” sees Carly experiencing an irresistible reaction to her love interest so strong she feels it transcends attraction. The breezy number plays on her feathery vocals, building upon the sultriness of the lyrics where she argues that the intense desire they feel for each other is proof that they belong together, as producers John Hill and Jordan Palmer give her a soft synthpop instrumental reminiscent of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing”. The track itself is a reworking of the following song “Stay Away”, where Jack & Coke’s original production is more dance-oriented and the synths in the chorus recall disco classic “Turn the Beat Around”. Despite featuring the same lyrics, the difference in production, as well as the formatting of the lyrics here, turn the mood into a moment of sexual frustration for Carly. She sings with desperation and whereas in the previous iteration she felt sure of her love interest’s reciprocity, she feels less sure in this version and seems less able to deal with the attraction for her love interest. Given the order of the tracklisting, it also takes on the context of Carly aggressively restating her feelings to her love interest, after not receiving the response she wanted to her first declaration.
She reunites with former collaborator Dev Hynes on “This Is What They Say”, on which Carly feels assured that the developing relationship between her and her love interest is meant to be, claiming that what she feels is what others say “falling in love is supposed to feel like”. She sounds confident as she boasts about maybe being her lover’s best and shrugging off the broken hearts left in their wake, supported by production from Oak and The Orphanage that borrows from the disco of the early 80s, but modern enough that it wouldn’t sound out of place on Daft Punk’s Discovery. “Heartbeat” sees Jepsen teaming up with Ariel Rechstaid for one of her most affecting ballads and functions as a reluctant yet honest profession of her feelings for her love interest. She expresses fear that if she completely opens up to her love and shows him who she is, her love interest might not be ready to accept her and is considering whether she should push them away. The song adds snippets of a beat break during the verses that mirror her hesitation and as the song progresses, blooming patterns and an ascending backing vocal conveys her growing love. “Summer Love” opens up with a funky bass that gives her a poppier version of Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know The Better”, a fitting reference as she depicts a summer affair between her and her love interest, affirming she would like to get to know her love interest better and has been captivated by them since the first night they spent together. Her vocal works especially well with the song’s simmering melody and its flirtatious lyricism, with her usual light and girlish tone adding a coquettish vibe to the summer focused banger. “Fake Mona Lisa” is the shortest song on the album and offers a glimpse of a moment between her and her lover, where she recalls a memory of her and her Vegas-born lover having a fun night together painting his “fake Mona Lisa” and her anticipating the next time they get together, though it’s been some time since then. Sonically, it’s a continuation of the 80s disco influences from earlier tracks and though it is brief, it is a groovy and undeniable jam from beginning to end.
“Let’s Sort the Whole Thing Out” gives Carly a chance to try her hand at pop-rock as Patrik Berger and Pontus Winnberg help her render a poppier take on the Beach Boys, or similarly a surf rock-leaning version of early Katy Perry. She expresses how she feels she has been restored by her relationship with her love interest and asks them for the clarification she receives during the chorus, as they decide to work on the relationship and figure out where they are going. She teams up with Antonoff as Bleachers on “Comeback” as they draw upon his trademark heavily 80-inspired synthpop production for their duet, though it feels like a balanced collaboration. Carly dominates most of the track vocally as she sings of reuniting with a past lover, also wanting to reconcile with the past version of herself in the process. Antonoff doesn’t take the obvious role of her past lover however, instead of adding his voice alongside hers and bolsters the reassured version of herself, having come to terms with her past. Jepsen brings her sound to a meld of 80s synths and 90s house on “Solo”, which acts as a jubilant pick-me-up to someone miserable about a recent break-up, encouraging the song’s listeners not to worry about being single and getting sad about it. It feels like Jepsen could be singing to her self here, as she talks about the break-up in the third person. It’s a relatable moment that works well to step out of the framing of being in a relationship and serve as a reminder that happiness shouldn’t be dependent on having a lover. The album closes with “Now I Don’t Hate California After All”, an experimental dreamy ode to a love affair that has changed her view of California, in stark contrast to past songs like “LA Hallucinations” and “Right Words Wrong Time” where she expressed her dislike for the state. The song sounds like an updated take on the classic pop of the 50s, and the production from Berger & Winnberg adds steelpan to flesh out the beachy feel of the track. As the track comes to a close, the production adds sounds of rolling waves and a faint guitar strum as it fades out. Carly’s vocal performance is relaxed and effortless, selling the metaphorical vacation she describes her relationship as and bringing the album to a chilled out finale.
It’s understandable after listening to the record why these tracks were left out of the original album, though it’s not for lack of quality. There’s nothing on Dedicated Side B that doesn’t work and Jepsen has interesting things to say about love & relationships that are just as worthy of a listen as anything on the original album. If anything it’s more of a testament to Jepsen’s commitment to the narrative of the original album, since there are arguably songs on Side B that boast far more hit potential. There’s more variation on this effort than on some of her past material, and Carly’s lyricism is in great form. Likely as a result of these pulling from the same sessions of its parent album, it does feel like a companion piece to Dedicated, tackling the same themes and narratives. Jepsen’s vocal performance is more than up to par, and the production works to her advantage, often riffing on her unique voice to sonically expand on this album’s material. Dedicated Side B works as a standalone album in its own right and solidifies Jepsen as one of pop music’s most consistent perfectionists. It almost feels like the material on Dedicated Side B was always intended to be part of an album all along and never destined to be reduced to cast-offs. It’s hard to predict where she will go after this — it feels like she’s conquered 80s-influenced pop and though this album feels like it’s still in her wheelhouse, it’s clear that she’s incorporated new influences and experimented with new sounds to add to her oeuvre. We simply have to trust Jepsen’s track record and innate sensibilities to what works, as it has yet to prove her wrong.