Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe"

If you've been anywhere near a radio this summer, you're probably completely sick of hearing this song.  Either that or you can't stop humming it.  Or quite possibly both.  Come to think of it, a song probably isn't a bona fide megahit if you're not both sick of hearing it and also can't get it out of your head. 

"Call Me Maybe" is the most successful song ever by an "Idol" franchise finalist, and it's really not even close.  Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have sold tens of millions of albums between them, but neither had a true megahit single.  "Before He Cheats" and "Since U Been Gone" were all over the radio and will probably keep earning royalties from airplay for a long time, but they still only reached #8 and #2, respectively, on the US Hot 100.  "Call Me Maybe" has been at #1 for seven weeks and counting.

It might even be the biggest hit ever by a Canadian artist.  Here is the full list of Canadian artists with a hit song that spent seven weeks at number one on the Hot 100 in the past fifty years: Bryan Adams, Snow.  That's it.  (I'm sure you can guess which songs they were, if not, you can look them up here, along with all the rest of the Canadian number ones).  And just to be clear, both spent exactly seven weeks at number one -- Carly Rae Jepsen can break the tie and lay a stronger claim to the biggest ever Canadian pop in just one week's time.

Percy Faith's "Theme From a Summer Place" spent nine weeks at number one in 1960, so Jepsen has a ways to go before breaking the record for most weeks at number one all-time by a Canadian.  In this era of global pop stars, "Call Me Maybe" has been number one in over a dozen countries on four continents, which is something that doesn't translate to 1960.  "Theme From a Summer Place" is as iconic and beloved as songs get though.  So the numbers would indicate that Jepsen has outdone Percy Faith on paper, but the numbers don't tell us much about what makes a song memorable.

And the most amazing thing about Jepsen's success?  She was discovered on a show where borderline talent could "shine" and outlandish praise for total mediocrity was standard operating procedure ... Canadian Idol!  Who could have predicted that that turd of a show would produce an actual pop star? 

I didn't like "Call Me Maybe" at first because the chorus seemed cloying, and it didn't know what kind of song it was trying to be.  This might be because I first heard it when I watched the video.  It starts out like a teen power pop song, then it flips the page suddenly and turns into a dance pop tune, then you see Jepsen and her band trying to rock out in a garage.  On camera they're a bunch of suburban brats playing rock music but the song is pure bubblegum dance pop which doesn't fit the images at all!

This is unusual in pop, I think.  Songs become hits because they're unashamedly something very clear -- unashamedly pop, unashamedly gooey ballads, etc.  But a amateurishly produced track with a flimsy beat from a cheap drum machine mixed with rock sung by a 26-year old trying to act like a teenager?  That's not supposed to work, and yet somehow it does.  It makes perfect sense that this was originally written as a folk song, you can definitely hear that in the intro.  Then they tried to shoehorn what was probably a pretty but forgettable folk tune into a pop mold, and the two genres never properly meshed, you can hear the hybridization of the track as clear as day.  But somehow it all works, probably very much by accident.


tashkenty said...

Percy actually stayed at no. 1 for 9 weeks, not 10. Carly has actually tied Percy's record. Kindly correct, thanks.

Barry said...

You're right, it was nine weeks. Carly was only #1 for seven weeks when I wrote this. Thanks for spotting my mistake.