Carly Rae Jepsen’s debut album Kiss is jubilant and overwhelmingly wholesome from start to finish. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with “Call Me Maybe” – and surely that must be around 90 percent of North America by now, right? – but it’s something of an outlier in terms of female-fronted contemporary pop. There’s no hostility or sexual aggression in Jepsen’s music, just a single-minded focus on the joys of infatuation. So much of recent pop, from Adele to Rihanna, has been about intense emotions and the darkest edges of sexuality that it’s truly refreshing to hear a dance pop record that embraces innocence for its own sake and isn’t going out of its way to way to seem “adult.” If anything, this self-possession makes Kiss come off as a fairly mature record.
Whether by accident or design, Jepsen’s debut positions her as a young Canadian version of the Australian pop star Kylie Minogue. This is brilliant, particularly if the goal is to extend her career well beyond one-hit-wonder status. Minogue, like Jepsen, is a singer who can’t help give off a sweet, perky vibe, and is totally unconvincing as a “bad girl.” The genius of Kylie is that she has never rebelled against this quality. She started off as a fresh-faced soap actress with a sideline in pop music in the Eighties, but over the past two decades has emerged as one of pop’s most dependable stars. She’s changed her sound over the years, but her essential sweetness is always there, even on records like Impossible Princess, where she’s reached for a more grown-up style.
Pop stars who want to seem dangerous and sexually transgressive inevitably date themselves and alienate portions of their audience. It’s a short-sighted strategy. Minogue, however, found a way to make her youthful style age well with her. The trick? Emphasize songs about crushes, because that experience of love and lust remains fresh and powerful through life, even if just as a nostalgic memory for those in long term relationships.
Carly’s “Call Me Maybe” is the best pop hit about a new crush in recent memory, but Kiss is packed with great songs on that theme. “Tiny Little Bows,” the opening track, is arguably even better, and bears a strong resemblance to Kylie’s work with its cheery dance beats and classy disco strings.
If you place the song side by side with “Love At First Sight,” one of Minogue’s biggest international hits, the similarity is pretty obvious.
Jepsen’s new single, “This Kiss,” is another song in this vein, and it’s terrific.
Of course, it has only been a very modest chart hit so far. It’s still early days for that song, though – it’s been out as a single for a few weeks, but the video isn’t out yet. It’s hard to imagine this or anything else on Kiss going supernova like “Call Me Maybe,” but these Kylie-esque songs lay the groundwork for what could become a long career in ecstatic dance pop.