In February 2019 Carly Rae Jepsen released a single, “Now That I Found You.” It’s a high-energy dance number that conjures a relationship whose intensity is, magically, at once excessive and within bounds. “You and me get too real but all I feel is alright,” she sings, and my god I wanted to believe that her joyous attachment to life wasn’t some kind of set up.
In May “Now That I Found You” appeared on Dedicated, the fourth studio album that CRJ has released to date. The lead single, “Party for One,” was hailed as a self-care anthem. Its video included a lot of underwear dancing, as well as an older, white-haired woman snake-charming a double-headed blue dildo. Again, the desire to be attached to life’s pleasures and possibilities was unmistakable.
In July I attended a local stop on the Dedicated Tour. I sat in the balcony with friends parenting single-digit-age children hooked on pop songs. The kids wore headphones to protect their ears. The adults drank bourbon from plastic cups. In the days that followed, I tried to imagine what the experience was like through those kids’ eyes. They were mostly silent, curious, learning how to feel their way into expressions of the joy they were experiencing. They had big CRJ energy.
A few days later I read a tweet informing me that “carly rae jepsen makes pop music for adults who are having their first ever healthy and fun romantic experiences after either lifetimes of repression or of unhealthy relationships and thats why gays love her and thats why i cried six times at the gig”. This had the recognizable solidity of a fact.
Also at the July concert, I heard CRJ sing “Run Away With Me,” an almost-charting hit from the prior studio album, Emotion, that imagines lovers seeking an elsewhere that’s fun and safe and theirs. It’s a song about passion bubbling over onto scheduling and scheduling falling away. Its love is full of the secrets that only lovers get to share. She promises, “Over the weekend we could turn the world to gold.” In context, this seems like a reasonable timeframe.
In August I listened to “Run Away With Me” on repeat, wondering what it would feel like to seek an elsewhere for some reason other than desperation. I began to wish the recipe for the year hadn’t been to mix equal parts political despair and personal loss into a pot and leave it on a brisk simmer for what at that point felt like way longer than January to August. The political stuff you already know about because it happened to you too. But also there was the cancer I learned my friend had in January. Then there was the cancer I found out I had in February. There was the friend who died of a genetic disorder in May, shortly before another friend suffered a debilitating accident that, three surgeries later, has him only partly walking. There was the dear colleague whose younger brother died over the summer of a long illness, right before her husband’s younger brother died all of a sudden. There was throughout the year what seemed like more than the usual sprinklings of friends with breakups and depression and hardships and issues with medication. There was what felt unmistakably like an overcompensating number of wedding celebrations that I could not figure out how to be drunk enough for. There was, above all, the glaring, frightening possibility that nothing in life besides CRJ songs actually feels like CRJ songs do.
In September, under the influence of “Run Away With Me” but also many other songs in the CRJ catalog, I decided to do that thing intellectuals sometimes do with their pleasures, which is to dignify but also dilute them with a theory. “I’ll be your sinner in secret” CRJ sings, and I announced to my boyfriend my intention to write an essay on the motif of secrecy, adding confidently, like an intellectual, that secrecy has replaced privacy as a virtue in our socially mediated world. I never wrote this essay.
In October I turned 41 and decided with a remarkably hard-won shrug of the shoulders that having cancer sucks and life often does too, but living was still the plan. My enthusiasm for CRJ flipped over into something closer to envy. I wanted to run away with you, not be stuck here with me. I tried to do “Run Away With Me” as karaoke, so its joyous words would be mine to say, but I did not nail it. Not even close.
Also in October I read a tweet that informed me “stop asking gay men “who’s the woman in the relationship” !! it’s carly rae jepsen”. This too had the solidity of a fact.
In December NPR released a tiny desk concert with CRJ. It’s a tight ten-minute performance, including a slightly deconstructed rendition of “Now That I Found You” that, once again, sustains just so much joy. I played it on repeat until I could tell myself in a voice steady enough to be believable that the work of being attached to life goes on regardless of the soundtrack. I’m pretty sure I even convinced myself. But still, you should maybe go listen to the concert.
Jordan Alexander Stein: Not always the theory guy. But sometimes that too.