There was no way that Carly Rae Jepsen was going to meet everyone’s expectations with “Dedicated”. “E•MO•TION” mythologised Jepsen as some unsung folk hero, worshipped by a newly-established cult whose increasingly performative praise felt more and more disingenuous as time passed, because ‘Jepsus’ herself has never been performative. So perhaps it’s no surprise that in “Dedicated”, she doesn’t bother to reach pople's standards; instead, she makes her own path.
Rather than indulge in pastiche like with her last album (or, indeed, the ABBA-styled product she initially set out to make), “Dedicated” flits between a broader soundscape: this time the ‘80s bombast is joined by ethereal disco, shuddering future bass, and deliciously slinky funk. Yes, none of these are particularly risky choices, but her production team still manage to surprise: there’s the bed of whispered backings that prop up the woozy falsetto leading “Automatically In Love”; the fireworks show in the breathtaking “For Sure”, which threatens to burst like a rocket only to shimmer like a roman candle; the near indistinguishable Shelley Duvall samples in “Everything He Needs”, which interpolates her solo as Olive Oyl in "Popeye" and twists it around Jepsen’s lead vocals for the chanting chorus – ‘He needs me, he needs me / He needs me, he needs me’. It may lack the laser-focus of previous outings, but the loosened leash on production gives her team a chance to be playful, without bowing to commcercial or critical expectations. A couple of tracks could be dismissed as trend-chasing, perhaps, but for every “Right Words Wrong Time” there are three “Want You In My Rooms” fizzing and crackling away with no real regard for radio play (because, really, who actually thinks any of these tracks could chart?)
In fact, overall the album is least successful when at its most predictable. Take “Too Much”, which mines the well-worn angle of obsessive love seen in “Curiosity”, “Gimme Love”, and any number of earlier tracks with no real nuance. Everything about it – the wine drunk lyrics (‘When I’m drinking, then I’m drinking too much / I’d do anything to get to the rush’), the hollow, bouncing beat, the fact she got Noonie Bao (“Run Away With Me”, Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom” and “1999”) to work on it with her – seems tailor-made to elicit a reaction along the lines of ‘omg wig!! I feel the same *nails emoji*’. But when the quivering keys that lead into the first verse of “The Sound” eviscerate its sorry cousin in all of five seconds before bursting into an even boppier chorus, “Too Much” just does too little.
Still, for all its quirks, “Dedicated” never sounds jumbled. Instead, Jepsen’s writing is the unifier here: the title belies that ol’ Jeppo is still pursuing romance and little else, but the songs dig deceptively deep. As always, it’s the lyrical flourishes that make Jepsen shine, the way she colours her narratives in deep gradients rather than flat blocks. See how she explores the concept of haunting in “Julien” through lingering memories and threadbare imagery of a past man so romanticised that he now only exists as a concept: “But all your colours were still dancing in my mind / More than just lovers, I / I’m forever haunted by our time.” The briefest of pauses – “our… time” – forces that gulf into the track, empty space that hangs between her thoughts and words. Meanwhile, the delicate verses of “The Sound” push explicit declarations of love into the abstract – aquatic imagery of taking the plunge into love, but only if the water is right: ‘I don’t think I can swim, love / With the way you rock me round.’
And then there’s “Real Love”, the most Carly Rae Jepsen song ever penned, and quite possibly my favourite song she’s ever written. The track serves as a desperate cry for someone to anchor her in the face of an increasingly noisy world: ‘I go every day without it, all I want is real, real love / I’ve been losing sleep without it, only want a real, real love.’ Here she manages to crystallise her search for love into two concise lines, but it’s not just confirmation – it’s a confession delivered as epiphany: ‘I’m not even scared about it, all I want is real, real love / But I don’t know a thing about it, all I want is real, real love.’
After four albums and hundreds of songs, she’s no closer to finding that perfect connection, and she’s painfully aware. It hits like a bloody gut-punch, and before the listener can recover from being winded, they’re whisked away by the most sublime drop of the decade: concentrated synth-blasts carve a seesaw melody through glimmering haze and siren strings before tagging in an ever-rising cheerleading chant of ‘real, real, real love!’, and then the whole thing repeats and slugs even harder (‘I cannot find the breath to scream the words out right’). It’s her ethos, her mantra: the culmination of her whole discography into four gorgeous, glorious minutes. That emotional honesty – the acknowledgement of crucial weakness encased in a soaring sugar-rush high – is what makes Jepsen great. It’s not just her super-sweet aesthetic, it’s the way she stays grounded even when reaching for the stars, the way she always seems human, seems real.
By this point, it’s all too obvious that Jepsen is willing to dedicate herself to her partners (‘If you make me open up, I’ll tell only the truth’), but now her speakers are less self-sacrificing. This time around, it’s about more than passion – ‘Love is more than telling me you want it.’ This time around, the breakup won’t be the end – ‘If you don’t care about me, I’ll just dance by myself.’
She’ll probably never give up the search, as she’s obviously still the hopeless romantic she’s always been. But she’s hopeful, too; amidst the swirling synths that bubble up in the post-chorus of “Party For One”, a new resolution is heard: ‘Back on my beat, back on my beat.’ They may drop out for the verses, but they still rise back up, and after the message triumphantly secures the track’s end, there’s a feeling that she’ll always find her own beat. After all, she’s always marched to it.
Favourite track: “Real Love”
Favourite lyrics: ‘I’m not even scared about it; all I want is real, real love / But I don’t know a thing about it; all I want is real, real love’