Dedicated is the sound of Carly Rae Jepsen leaning into next-level pop stardom.
While most of the world was tuning in to see who would claim the Iron Throne (or biting their nails through game three of the NBA Eastern Conference finals), I gave into the guiltiest of pleasures and cheered on a supremely talented singer-songwriter who placed second on a reality-TV singing competition. In my (and at least one other’s) estimation, it was the best possible outcome for him. Winning may bring instant fame and notoriety, but it doesn’t bode well for longevity in the music business.
Case in point: When was the last time you rocked out to music from Brian Melo, the 2007 winner of the fifth season of Canadian Idol? Go on, think about it, I’ll wait. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been spending as many waking hours as possible listening to Dedicated, the new album from that same season’s third-place finisher — Carly Rae Jepsen — on endless repeat since it dropped on May 17. And if you haven’t, you should.
Since losing that competition some twelve years ago, Jepsen’s been winning at fostering a long-term career in the face obstacles and barriers that would have cut lesser artists off at the knees. Contestant on a popularity vote singing competition? She effortlessly skipped over being viewed as a glorified karaoke singer with a respectable debut album (2008’s Tug of War). One-Hit-Wonder syndrome? “Call Me Maybe” may have been an earworm burrowing into our collective brains in 2012, but its parent album, Kiss, had more than enough to recommend it to pop music fans and critics alike. By the time EM•O•TION rolled out in 2015, Jepsen’s humble charm and pop acumen shred any doubt that she was in it for the long haul.
As with EM•O•TION, Jepsen had hundreds of songs written for Dedicated that needed sifting down to a manageable album’s worth of ready-to-present material. KonMari enthusiasts understand the extreme discipline needed to sort through one’s bounty of work to decide which songs spark joy and connect to make as cohesive a whole as possible. It’s fitting then, that Jepsen’s fourth long-player started life under the anodyne working title Music to Clean Your House To, as Dedicated indeed feels like a disco-fueled spring cleaning — a fresh (re-)start on a new career phase.
Opener “Julien” is breezy without being vapid; its shimmery synths sweeping in the decidedly laid-back vibe Jepsen was aiming for on her “chill-disco” record. Borrowing its funky bass from the 1980s without any intention of returning it, “Julien” gives Jepsen’s voice room to bounce rather than belt. She sounds seductive, strong, and wholly assured of herself. That attitude carries through on “No Drug Like Me”, “Happy Not Knowing”, and “The Sound”, a bass-heavy highlight. The Jack Antonoff-produced and co-written “Want You In My Room” comes the closest to sounding like old-school Jepsen, with its brassy, polished production bolstered by affected and multiplied backing vocals and just the hint of outro sax.
While Dedicated’s top half is heavy with jams like “Now That I Found You”, its second is light on stand-outs, the super chill groove of “Too Much” and powerhouse closer “Real Love” notwithstanding (“For Sure” and previously single ”Party For One” round out the tracklisting on the Deluxe edition). Initially, this imbalance makes Dedicated sound unbalanced, but what becomes evident upon further, deeper listening is that Jepsen’s purposefully changing up the tone and the temperature. Even in its least inspiring moments (“Feels Right”), Dedicated finds Carly Rae Jepsen ever faithful and steadfast to her own intent and vision. By cutting out the wide-eyed naivete of “Call Me Maybe” and toning down the overt pop overtones of E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen avoids the greatest pop music obstacle of them all: recycling past success and relying on former glories to get through another album cycle. Dedicated is the sound of Jepsen leaning into next-level pop stardom.