Carly Rae Jepsen — “Heavy Lifting”
Picture yourself here, then: 2008 and the sun is elsewhere, your body smaller. It was a strong summer, a quiet spring. I went to school at the top of a hill and on the hottest afternoons the tires of cars would come loose and the whole thing would slide right down into the asphalt sea. And we were different selves back then, not really more or less of anything, but we had different eyes, it was like we were looking at a painting and these days we look at the one beside it. Being younger not as a dream, but a lived experience (well, of course), like a good book stitched inside you, a new soul.
Anyway, there are many Carly Rae Jepsens and the one who wrote Tug of War is my favorite. Not to say, of course, that the songs are the best ‘cause they aren’t — you can hear the eye-rolling youthfulness, a kid figuring out the way words work in her mouth, I wanna know that there’s more than just money and the ego, what are you, twelve?! I love you, I love you, I hope you stay twelve forever. She sings about her best friend who she’s mad at, has probably outgrown, mentions her with the delightful cruelty of a throwaway line, writes a whole song about her boyfriend who makes her feel beautiful during sex and it’s full of such trembling self-loathing kissed away that my heart kind of breaks each time, I mean just a little, croons about how she’ll never sell out (maybe!), titles a song “Hotel Shampoo” ‘cause it’s sacrosanct, a marker of adulthood she hasn’t reached yet, almost romantic in its unattainableness, and would you believe?! it’s a great song. Tug of War Carly Rae Jepsen is full of a childhood no one but she will ever know, but if you can learn about a person through music — and I hope you can — she spent her early years in the Nova Scotian seas, a little cold, kissing boys behind coffee shops and writing bad songs in the kitchen and good songs on the roof.
I mean, I was on the subway today and I was listening to “Call Me Maybe” and I thought, what is it, what is it, what made this one so much more accessible than the others? Easier to digest, sure, a melody you can hum. And a more palatable desire: like, you could never hear that song and think she ever looked him in the eye while they were talking, you know? What makes it so funny, what makes the hook catch is that maybe, it’s not only easy but fun to laugh at the idea that she would be so shy, that any of us could be, what blatant, jarring absurdity is contained within that maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen’s whole career hinging on that maybe, that mockery, and it’s true we don’t perform the song at karaoke or on the dance floor in earnest, we love it but we’re also laughing, call me, maybe, I mean, you don’t have to, I don’t care, but we do care, we stayed up all night imagining that call, I bet Carly did too, yes maybe that’s the whole point of the song, the sticky-fingered lies we tell ourselves and others so we can fall in love again.
So what a song that is, true, worth commemorating and caressing for its lies, and in a way that makes Kiss, and Curiosity too, a better album, but Tug of War is filled with such earnestness, such unabashed ugly childhood desire, that I like to think it’s the real Carly Rae Jepsen, the one who said everything she meant outright, all at once, then later turned it into something we could hear. A different self, uncritical, but you can hear everything else that came later start here, all that weird anger and wary-eyed submission and sugar sweetness and her voice, much stronger here than on anything that came later, sure of her register, fuller, emotive not because she’s the most skillful singer but because she knows how to land on a word and keep it, or fade away when she sees something else.
Anyway, I highlighted “Heavy Lifting” because it’s my favorite song, but I guess it’s mostly my favorite because it’s so different from “Call Me Maybe” and, as much as I am sick of that song, as much as I kind of wish it had never existed, it is the song I — and you, too — measure all her work off of, and that’s okay, I’d like to think it’s not really the narrative that should exist but it’s the one that does, and anyway, “Heavy Lifting” would be a beautiful song even if it hadn’t been written by Carly Rae Jepsen but the fact that it was makes it sublime. I’m a happy mess, she sings (we have been, too), and you kissed my mirror reflection when I looked at me today. Well, I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t get it at first: sounded like a little nothing of a song and the title was strange, but then it came clear, the way a good song always does after a few listens, and all at once, what a beautiful sentiment, never really said before, no, not the way she’s saying it — ugliness loved away. That the worst part of ourselves could be erased. Look at me the way you do. Heavy lifting — that the burden would no longer be ours. Yeah, yeah, it’s dumb — it’s Carly Rae Jepsen, and a problematic sentiment I guess, girls can sing about a lot of things but it’s gross to admit that sometimes they can be so in love that it saves them, just briefly. Well, I don’t care. Carly Rae Jepsen wrote a beautiful song in 2008, a song she could never write now that still carried all the traces of who she would someday be, and that’s enough for me, for all of us, yeah, yeah it is.