I do not need to refresh your memory about "Call Me Maybe." Deceptively full-adult-but-still-teenish Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen's massive, massive pop hit is playing right now in your local grocery store and also in your parents' car. It is a gym jam. And weirdly, most everyone agrees that it deserves to be. (I've had surreal conversations with seriously bearded, obscure noise-heads about how well made it is.) It's got a slick, relentlessly forward-moving construction plus an aw-shucks girliness that splices Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift strains into a single pop-radio neutron bomb. Just reading the title again started its loop playing in your head, didn't it? That sort of brain-burrowing goes beyond catchiness. The song might be haunted.
Which is why her follow-up single, the misleadingly tilted "Good Time," is such an enraging bummer of a fucking terrible song. (Listen, I didn't expect to be this emotionally involved in Ms. Jepsen's career choices either, but here we are.) "Call Me Maybe" created an expectation, if not for novelty or ground broken, then for sharp craftsmanship and simple, relatable giddiness. "Good Time" is dead in its eyes.
Let's walk through it:
- OK, first of all, it is good news to no one that this Owl City mope is involved, let alone given the first verse. Apparently he didn't just curl under a rock in embarrassment after everyone in the world called him on his very call-able ripping off of Ben Gibbard and Postal Service? But the two years since have had him refining his vocal style. Now, instead of wispy Gibbard, he sounds like a smart phone's English pronunciation app.
- What is up with that Prince song inside his head? Because he was listening to "Disney Channel Stars" on Pandora all day yesterday and, according to my informal tally, they only played "Erotic City" twice, and "Pussy Control" once. Just going by the numbers, it's unlikely.
- Sub-thought: Are we at a weird high-mark for pop song people just telling us what other, better pop songs they listen to? ("Hey, Soul Sister"'s awful Mr. Mister reference springs to mind. While no Prince, "Broken Wings" still wins in that fight.)
- Also, this is the exact story and video of Rebecca Black's "Friday," minus the cereal plot-point, yes? And they took two cars to lessen the seat-choice dilemma.
- Carly comes in at :47 seconds, mercifully. And yet, and yet, the blandness of it all renders her unnecessarily charmless. The lyrics are so arbitrary that I'm left with a conspiracy theory that they inserted the word "TWILIGHT" into it as tween-girl-pander-crack. I mean, when it comes up for the second go-round at 1:43, there's even a mystical gal running through a misty woods!
- I cannot explain who the weird, homemade butterfly sign she's carrying is meant to appeal to. Maybe your 11-year-old cousin, but also maybe Michel Gondry?
- OK, so here comes the chorus, and a succinct diagnosis of the song's maddening laziness. "We don't even have to try, it's always a good time" as the limp club beat amps up for our big, soulless hurrah.
- The sad thing is that at 1.6 million You Tube views in 3 days, that first part is technically correct.
- Carly's verse is easily the best part of the song, oddly rhyming "Freaked out, dropped my phone in the pool again" with "checked out of my room, hit the ATM" (her room has a pool in it) with a bit of grace that makes the unnatural couplet just slide by. (Presumably she needed cash for that rural bait shop's ever-popular outdoor slushy machine.) Her chorus WHOOS! have a little life in them too. I want to be on your side, CRJ!
- Wait a second, though, she is seriously appealing to modern teens by telling a story about going outside without her phone?
- Then, outside of a split second of imported school children yelling at 2:38, this thing just coasts on its own thin fumes for over a minute thirty. And that's the end.
Look, I'm not totally naive about what songs specifically created for a certain level of commercial success in 2012 (as opposed to those like "Call Me Maybe" that slowly wandered up the charts of their own undeniability) are made to do. Repetitive hooks, club beats, video views, rinse, repeat. Subtlety or intrigue or nuance aren't vital for a song to be ruthlessly effective as a summer jam.
BUT, since the Internet has (rightly) shamed us against being snobs about including this stuff in our critical conversation, shouldn't we also be flatly honest when something is vapid and crummy? "Call Me Maybe" is near-universally liked because it really sounds like your heart quickening from an unexpected romance. You can hear the nervous joy in every note of that song. "Good Time," is theoretically about joy. But it's stilted and possible-head-injury stupid, and thus a total drag. When "Call Me Maybe" pops into my head for no good reason at all, I'm OK with it. If this one ever does, I'll be reaching for the brain-drill.