Call Me Always

You don’t have to be driving around with a 15-year-old on her first-ever trip to California to fall abruptly, defenselessly in love with “Call Me Maybe.” (Yes that bit of mass-cultural ubiquity, the song to which for the rest of human time lazy producers of VH-1ish “documentaries” will turn when they need to signify, swiftly and decisively, “back in 2012.”) Such a setting is not required, nor is such a young person – let’s call her Eliza, and let’s say she’s your stepdaughter, though let’s say too, and with some sorrow, that you are no longer married to her mother – though I will tell you that they help. Talk to me all you want about Carly Rae Jepsen and the new dynamics of pop distribution (from forgotten single to Bieber tweet to astoundingly winning Bieber home-video to marginless aural hegemony), or about the confectioner’s delight that is the song’s layering of genial club beats and catastrophically vast hooks with bright bubbles of electronic counter-point, all of them twinkling like a prom date’s starry eyes… None of it quite touches the indelibility, to me, of this coltish, paradigmatically teenaged, insupportably beautiful kid interrupting her passages of touristic rapture – Golden Gate Bridge! Muir Woods! Stinson Beach! – to scan through the rental car’s FM dial, certain she would come upon “Call Me Maybe,” and proving herself, again and again, and still again, absolutely correct. Watch that kid sing along, full-throated and besotted, so she can teach you the words; then tuck this away, safe from any imaginable harm or deterioration, as the very image of joy.

Here’s the thing about the song: whenever we try to talk about what makes it so delight-giving, we stumble into varieties of overstatement that are, I think, antithetical to the particular charm in question. It certainly pleases, the way it’s a song less about the tingly anxiety a girl feels offering her digits to so cute a boy than about how the startling, positively galvanic thrill of doing so exceeds, by many powers, the fear. But to say even this is, I fear, to misapprehend what I can only call the profound effortlessness of it. There is in the song none of the self-pleased brattiness, that weary wooden “scandalousness,” that seems to be one of the hallmarks of pop songs aspiring toward a Grrl Power™ demo, here in the post-Spice-Girls marketplace. (Grown-ups may associate that smug self-congratulation with “Sex and the City,” the younger with the labored brashness of, say, Pink.) I hear over Jepsen’s three-plus minutes of pop domination something else: I hear, instead, the possibility – shimmering into momentary sonic reality – of an unbelabored joyousness. Another name for this, of course, is youth.

Is there something unseemly about a 41-year-old so loving, all in a jumble, his kid’s transporting pleasure in this most un-stepped-on specimen of pop product, as well as the product itself? Maybe. But then pop songs have never been at their strongest when instructing us in how best to obey the relevant proprieties. And anyway separating those loves would be, for me, like trying to unmix paint. Why bother? Better I think to leave Eliza there in the passenger seat, fifteen and hilarious, radiant with all these new and frightening pleasures, or their dawning possibility, and singing herself elated in the high throes of a delight that nothing – not the lameness of boys, the darker clouds of adolescence, the bewilderments of adult sorrow – can diminish in the least.

Pete Coviello: The Best Barfighter Around.