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Carly Rae Jepsen Has the Solution to Surprise-Drop Blues

There’s nothing shocking about her new B-sides album — which is what makes it great

Getty Images
Getty Images

Last weekend was justifiably dominated by the Frank Ocean triptych: a performance piece to unpack, a zine to parse, an album to sit with. Endless, Boys Don’t Cry, and Blonde are all fascinating, complicated, deeply personal works of art, which leads to a strange paradox — what makes them great is precisely what makes them such an odd fit for mass consumption. I don’t want to tweet about Frank Ocean; I want to spend time alone with him, ideally on a night drive, and maybe fire off a vulnerable text or two while I’m still in my feelings. Frank Ocean takes time, famously so. Other insta-drops, like Rihanna’s Anti and James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, took time, too. Weird, introspective, amorphous art takes time. And the internet is instant.

This is not an issue when it comes to Carly Rae Jepsen.

The Canadian singer recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of her album Emotion, a titanic work of pop songcraft, with the release of Emotion Side B, eight new tracks recorded “on the journey to Emotion.” Before Emotion, Jepsen was a one-hit wonder, known as the voice and coauthor behind “Call Me Maybe,” arguably our last definitive song of the summer. After Emotion, notoriously not a hit outside Japan, Jepsen had neatly inverted her own reputation: once widely known, if not necessarily loved, now she was intensely loved, if not necessarily known.

Jepsen has a fan base that makes up in exuberance and meme literacy what it lacks in size. It’s an enthusiasm that pairs perfectly with her music — soaring, wide-eyed odes to a connection in its infancy (“I Really Like You”) or powering through a loved one’s sorrow with sheer force of affection (“Making the Most of the Night”). Collaborators like Sia, Dev Hynes, and Ariel Rechtshaid may midwife Jepsen’s work, but it’s her voice, breathy and wistful, that brings it forth. It inspires an elation — one that’s intensified, rather than diluted, when it’s shared.

All the trappings of stan culture are present and accounted for in the Jepsen fandom, with a surprisingly complementary mix of advocacy and irony thrown in for good measure. The ethos is a giddy flip side to Jepsen’s down-to-earth appeal as a conscientious objector to pop’s ego wars. Her persona is low-key, consistently gracious, and superlatively Canadian — which adds an equalizing layer to the artist-audience connection. They’re not just fans, they’re friends and helpers. If Carly won’t be loud and obnoxious on her own behalf, they’ll do it for her.

That self-conscious underdog status lends an intimacy to the Carly Rae Jepsen experience that’s hard to find in a medium so accessible it’s literally called “popular music.” Jepsen’s niche appeal may be confounding to those of us on our fourth Side B listen of the day, but it’s created a dynamic so rare it’s almost a paradox: a small-feeling community that lives within a mass art. The size keeps the barrier to entry low: In an era when a digital drop can stop the world, Beyoncé stans distinguish themselves from the Tidal-free-trial hoi polloi with the degree of their obsession. All it takes to feel like a Carly Rae champion is a link and some exclamation points.

And so much of the joy in Side B’s release comes from the celebration. The album isn’t a complete surprise — Jepsen announced it a week in advance — but it was released a few hours early, and the reaction has the unmistakable cast of a fan base emerging from months of restless quasi-dormancy. (The Gimmie Love Tour formally wrapped in April; since then, Jepsen’s been mostly quiet.) Side B may not be a trending topic — how could it be, arriving at the same time as non-B-sides from Vince Staples, Young Thug, and Britney goddamn Spears? Yet as always, it’s only added to the fun. Search Jepsen’s name on Twitter and you’ll find a steady stream of Vines, GIFs, and raw elation. We don’t have another Run Away With Meme quite yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Life inside the Carly Rae bubble is an exercise in intentionally lost perspective. Everyone knows Side B isn’t the biggest release of the year, or even the weekend … but the water’s warm, Technicolor, and mutually supportive. Join us, why don’t you?