Four years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen reminded us of everything pop music could be.
Jepsen's third studio album E•MO•TION was a revelation, even though it's cliche to say it now. Jepsen crafted a pop record that understands the authentic human joy pop is meant to celebrate, without the industrial hollowness that's often associated with the term "pop music." Its synth-pop-nostalgia grounds her lyrics and expressive voice in a vibrant and effortless sound that addresses romance and longing with effusive theatricality. In the years since the album's release, E•MO•TION has become an authority on how to make the most of the pop template, a testament to the genre's potential without losing the universal power that pop can communicate.
That's how E•MO•TION helped shape the music world that we live in now, and it's the one that Dedicated, Jepsen's newest album, has come into. The follow-up to her hit album is far more interior, even painful, in its scope, but its ardent pop is just as expressive as its predecessor. "Julien," the album's opener and one of the first singles released, has a jaunty disco vibe, filled out with a familiar '80s-style electropop. But "Julien" is an ode to a lover who left her behind and whose absence has colored her world a lonelier shade of blue. "You must believe / Julien, it was more than a fantasy," Jepsen pleads with synths simmering behind her voice. It's the first of many tracks that don't shy away from exploring times when love isn't enough and what's left after love leaves. There's still buoyant energy to the album, and Jepsen's vocals are still impressively versatile yet soothing, but Dedicated breaks new ground for Jepsen in that it confronts love's imperfection and embraces the fear and insecurities that come with intimacy.
The first half of the album is powered by this search, by a willingness, even desperation, to hold onto the feeling of falling in love. Early on, Dedication shows fascination with the way love can suddenly take up space in one's life, with its breathless sound delighting with its unpredictability. "No Drug Like Me" captures head-over-heels infatuation above a methodical beat, as Jepsen promises the world to someone who makes her feel seen. "I think I'm coming alive with you," she realizes on "Now That I've Found You." Jepsen's desire is also more frank than ever before, especially on "Want You In My Room," a coquettish and sultry invitation sung from an open bedroom window: "Baby, don't you want me, too?" It's a sweet plea for human touch, focused on making the most of a new relationship, seizing the present for everything it can offer.
The album's first twist comes on "Happy Not Knowing": "I don't have the energy to risk a broken heart / When you're already killing me," she confesses. The song magnifies the album's preoccupation with the possibility of new love by mourning that love can fall apart as abruptly as it begins. Dedication wants to measure the pain of heartbreak alongside the rush of new love, as well as celebrate its captivating power while remaining fearful of its double-edged emotions. For Jepsen, love can take as much as it can give.
From there, Jepsen reflects on how love can fall short and the ways she's forced to make up for it. "I'll Be Your Girl" becomes a lovelorn anthem, as Jepsen tries to shape herself to fit someone else's wants, while in "Too Much" she demands recognition for how worthy she is of love. The album's pace slows around this point, transforming Jepsen's moments of pain into feverishly potent dance tracks. "The Sound" does this the best: It's a perfect dance-pop ballad, but it carries the message of the album. "Love is more than telling me you want it / I don't need the words, I want the sound," she sings, and the building instrumentation breaks briefly around her voice to let the last word echo. On
Dedication, Jepsen argues that, for all its exhilaration, love is something that has to be sustained and cultivated. This space, between love's euphoria and its hard work, comes to a head on "Right Words Wrong Time," which is already one of the most heart-wrenching songs of 2019. It's a slow, percolating break-up song, a mournful send-off of someone who's taken her for granted: "Only want me when I'm leaving you," she sings. She will no longer shape herself into who and what he wants her to be, as painful as it might be for her to let go.
When the album closes on "Real Love," it feels like a cautious new beginning in the same way "No Drug Like Me" was. With a greater understanding of herself and what she needs, even after all the hurt, she's still willing to try something new. "I don't know a thing about it / All I want is real, real love," she sings. Dedication is clear-eyed look at what love does, what happens when it absorbs you, and what happens when it leaves you. E•MO•TION was a celebration of how love can feel, but Dedication is a reminder of what can be learned from it. It's an invigorating step forward for a talented artist, and Carly Rae Jepsen more than proves she can handle its implications. Jepsen is someone who's made a career out of deep respect for what stories pop music can tell, and Dedication is the latest, greatest example of this: something beautiful, something heartbreaking, something endlessly and unabashedly fun.