thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Replay: “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen

In girl culture, music videos, Replay on May 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm

What do you think of when you think about Canada? Maple syrup? Scott Pilgrim? A moose? Universal health care? A Place To Which One Might Abscond Should the U.S. Magnify Its Aura of Impending Doom?

From here on out, perhaps the irresistible bubblegum chords of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” will come to mind too. The  singer-songwriter hails from British Columbia and rose to fame on Canadian Idol. The U.S. has embraced her pop export with open arms, partly because “Call Me Maybe” is an earworm of a single, impossible to shake, and partly because of her music video’s campy charm. The video both captures the breathless excitement of a newborn crush and winkingly acknowledges that swooning over a hot somebody you know nothing about is a little ridiculous — which doesn’t make it any less fun. Read on as Girls Like Giants tries to peg down Jepsen’s number.

Sarah T:
I’ve got so much love for “Call Me Maybe.” First, let’s talk about how this is a song about a girl who makes a move. This is the two thousand teens and all, but I know plenty of people — particularly but by no means exclusively lady-people — who are shy about asking other people out. And here comes this sweet, catchy chorus about being brave and feeling like a giddy doofus for it: “Hey, I just met you/And this is crazy/But here’s my number/So call me maybe.” She’s feeling vulnerable about putting herself out there, hence the “maybe” and the nervous meta-commentary about what is happening (“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to possibly consider getting coffee sometime if he feels like it, gaah.” But she’s also overcoming her neuroses and just going for it! Good on you, Jepsen.

The lyrics also combat the social fear that asking a guy out means that a girl must be undesirable. Jepsen sings, “And all the other boys try and chase me.” She’s got options; she just likes this particular guy (for possibly primarily abs-related reasons).

I also really dig how self-deprecating the music video is. At the start it seems sugar-sweet, between the cheery strings and light vocals and Jepsen gazing moony-eyed out her bedroom window. But then Jepsen makes it clear that she doesn’t take herself or her crush too seriously — falling off the car hood as she tries to strike a seductive pose, entering a ridiculous dream sequence about herself and her crush on the cover of a romance novel, waking up as she smooches the air. And then she laughs it all off like an awesome girl should. By making fun of her own romantic fantasies, she comes across as self-aware rather than annoying, while the music and lyrics keep the loopy crush-rush intact.

And the twist! What a perfect ending to a music video that’s full of small surprises. Jepsen successfully palms off her number and seems set to drive off into the sunset with her hunk of choice. Suddenly we see old Mr. Blue Eyes passing a “call me” note to her male bandmate. In the background, Jepsen’s jaw drops and she raises her palms in a universal “what the heck” sign; her bandmate looks surprised and bewildered but not put out; the hunk flashes a toothy smile. It’s not a fairy tale ending for Jepsen as romance novels would have it, but you win some, you lose some. (And at least the bandmate may have won one, depending on his own preferences.) Anyway, call me definitely Carly! And consider me firmly in the Canadian pop star camp.

Phoebe B.:
I’m not going to lie, my first impression of this video went something like this: “Ummm what?! This is ridiculous.” I perhaps didn’t see, at least on my first viewing, the tongue and cheek nature of the video or Jepsen for that matter. But then at the end, I laughed out loud as the handsome man with the blue eyes and great abs handed his number to the adorable bandmate after helping Jepsen up. Indeed, he is her Knight in Shining Armor at least briefly and I like the way the video plays with Jepsen’s presumption that this guy, whom she does not know, must be straight. And, I like how at the end, as the hunk hands off his number to the band guy, he exhibits the same amount of confidence that Jepsen has been singing about. He too has options and is confident and going to give it a shot with the boy from the band. Also, it is worth noting that I love that if you (and I mean me) were to hear this song on the radio, this is not the video I would expect.

My favorite part is perhaps the romance novel fantasy sequence, which Sarah mentioned above. I feel like the whole video in some ways actually reads like a teen romance novel. This is emphasized for me by her watching the hot hot neighbor take off his shirt as she describes his body in song coupled with the shot of the romance novels on her bedside table (and her getting all hot and bothered while watching him). The camera pans up his body as he takes his shirt off, presumably following Jepsen’s gaze as she fans herself. Awesome. But, here’s what’s cool and Romance novel-esque: the camera-work sets up Jepsen’s gaze as admiring a man, rather than the other way around. And, the shots that follow of the hot neighbor seem to make fun of this long tradition of making women the sexy objects. For example, the shot of him sweating, or rather glistening, while drinking from a plastic water bottle or him sexily fixing his car on a sunny day all call our gaze to him and his hotness.

The only time she is the object of his gaze, is when he finds her attempt at super sexy car washing replete with typical hot girl on top of the car pose followed by her awkward falling off the car. And, it is not because she is not trying to catch his eye (as she jumps around in the background) but rather because she is funny and awkward. So often in music videos and movies and on TV we see women as objects of the gaze constructed for (as feminist film theorists before me have said) consumption and pleasure by a presumed male audience. But, here we see Jepsen play with those expectations in a quite a few ways including but not limited to her being the voyeur rather than the object of the gaze, or the final moment where she realizes that her crush actually has his eyes on someone else.

This is all to say, that I am quite certain this video gets better and better with re-watching. But, what say you GLG readers?

  1. I love getting tricked, and I feel like this video tricked me! I was with Phoebe – rolling my eyes, like yeah yeah, aren’t you charming and twee? And then I actually burst out laughing at the end. Sorry, offices around me.

  2. Very much with you. As much as my reaction to the song itself is “meh” at best, I absolutely love the message the song and the video send regarding gender stereotypes. As the daughter of a couple where the woman asked the man out, I really appreciate the way it normalizes the idea of girls asking boys out. I also love the way she treats the crush as “in the way” of the rest of her life, which is how I think a lot of us feel when a crush feels particularly all-consuming yet out-of-reach (you know, you want to get it out of your head and move on, but at the same time life without mooning over your crush seems unbearable). As you guys said, your appreciation for the song really grows when you realize how tongue-in-cheek the whole thing is, and then it becomes a rather clever little deconstruction of what we’ve come to expect from this kind of pop.

  3. Wow i like carly rae jepsen, the woman possesses a fairly sweet, charming face and her tunes is actually really great. This girl is also a success story similar to Justin Bieber. A lady next door along with a bit of concealed natural talent. This girl really deserves to be well-known.

  4. Carly Rae Jepsen won’t be returning any more calls from the Boy Scouts.Last summer’s breakout singing star has canceled her scheduled appearance at this July’s Boy Scouts of America Jamboree, citing the organization’s controversial ban on gay members. ,

    Most recently released content article on our web site

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