Carly Rae Lyrics Man Repeller
A Lyrics Expert on What Makes Carly Rae Jepsen Like Nobody Else

To a casual listener, Carly Rae Jepsen makes catchy pop music. But to music critics and her fanatical fanbase, there is a depth to her lyrical approach that — especially when combined with her bright, upbeat production — sets her apart from her contemporaries. “All of her songs have this cutesy pop sheen,” says Chris Mench, News Editor at Genius, “but there are dark things in there, too.”

I called Chris to learn more about what easy listeners might be missing. Beyond being a fan himself, Chris has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about Carly’s career (like in this piece about how the “Call Me Maybe” chorus was originally written as filler), so ahead of her fourth album, Dedicated, which dropped last Friday, I asked him to breakdown five songs from her third album, Emotion, which reconfigured her place in pop culture.

1. LA Hallucinations

I remember being naked
We were young freaks just fresh to L.A
Never cared about the fake kids
We would write and sing and wear whatever

But money makes your whole world spin
‘Til everything is dizzy and suddenly…

Planes I’m hopping
Cards I’m dropping
No shop can fill me up
There’s a little black hole in my golden cup so
You pour and I’ll say stop

This song is about her moving to L.A. and being this bright-eyed artist, but as she gets more famous — hopping on planes, dropping cards — the tone changes. The line that always stands out to me is “there’s a little black hole in my golden cup,” which is sort of the idea that money can’t buy happiness. All of this fame and all these experiences she’s having are draining out of what’s supposed to be this beautiful and successful thing for her. I love the idea of “L.A. Hallucinations” — how everyone comes for the dream but the reality of living there and trying to make it is not all that it’s cracked up to be, and can change you as a person.

2. Warm Blood

And I cannot control it
The way you’re making me feel
And you have got me going
Spinning in circles ’round your warm blood

Warm blood feels good,
I can’t control it anymore
Sweet one, you should stop me there
But I keep on talking
I would throw in the towel for you, boy
‘Cause you lift me up and catch me
When I’m falling for you

Warm blood, underneath my skin
Warm blood, my heart is pumping
Warm blood, underneath my skin
Warm blood, my heart is pumping

This is probably my favorite song by her. Originally the lyric was supposed to be “warm love” but Rostam Batmanglij [her collaborator] from Vampire Weekend misheard her and thought she said “warm blood,” and she was like, “I didn’t say that,” and he said something like, “Well, you need to say that because it’s way better.”

The song has some weird moments. It’s about love but it’s also sort of macabre — or even gory. Relishing in someone’s actual blood and orbit? It’s gross, almost. But the song is also about a crush; she can’t control her feelings and she’s soaking in their presence — basking in their glow. It’s much cuter if it’s “warm love” — it’s an innocent crush. But when she says “I’m in your warm blood,” it takes on an obsessive tone.

3. Run Away With Me

You’re stuck in my head, stuck on my heart, stuck on my body, body
I wanna go, get out of here, I’m sick of the party, party
I’d run away
I’d run away with you

This is the part, you’ve got to say all that you’re feeling, feeling
Packing a bag, we’re leaving tonight when everyone’s sleeping, sleeping
Let’s run away
I’ll run away with you

‘Cause you make me feel like
I could be driving you all night
And I’ll find your lips in the street lights
I wanna be there with you

Baby, take me to the feeling
I’ll be your sinner, in secret
When the lights go out
Run away with me
Run away with me

Emotion didn’t really feel like any other pop album of 2015, and I think that’s what people liked about it — that it sort of harkened back to some older pop music. And if you look at some of the big songs, like “Run Away With Me,” there’s this boundless optimism behind her lyrics and sound. She has this ability to capture what it feels like to be a teenager in love, just feeling like you want to get out of there and run away with someone. There’s an innocence to it that’s really captivating. She really excels at that and “Run Away With Me” is a perfect example of that skill.

4. I Really Like You

I really wanna stop but I just got the taste for it
I feel like I could fly with the boy on the moon
So honey hold my hand, you like making me wait for it
I feel like I could die walking up to the room, oh yeah

Late night watching television
But how’d we get in this position
It’s way too soon, I know this isn’t love
But I need to tell you something

I really really really really really really like you
And I want you, do you want me, do you want me too?
I really really really really really really like you
And I want you, do you want me, do you want me too?

You also see that sensibility in “I Really Like You.” It’s literally almost childlike — the lyrics are just “I really really really really really really like you.” I think she went with that as the lead single for a reason. There’s this dichotomy to her music: a really innocent side to it where it’s just harmless crushing, which speaks to our more fairytale sensibilities, and, in contrast, these darker images or moments on Emotion where the fairytale for her is sort of shattered — and yet she still portrays it in an unbeat way. The darkness is disguised behind a bubblegum sheen. Some of the earlier songs on the album, like this one, kind of set this up and then later you’ll be jamming to a song and you think, wait a minute, this is kind of dark.

5. Black Heart

I don’t care about your good intentions
I care more about your bad dreams
I want a love on a new dimension
You know I’m gonna be

Under the blossom tree
Come a little closer, won’t you come a little closer to me
You’re my miracle

Under the blossom tree
Come a little closer, won’t you come a little closer to me
‘Cause you’re my miracle

In your black heart, is where you’ll find me
Cutting through the cracks of the concrete
In your black heart, is where you’ll find me
Waiting, oh

This is one where there’s a lot of infatuation but something darker as well — she’s growing out of the cracks of the concrete of his black heart. She’s almost weaseling her way in there. It’s about getting to know the ugly and darker sides of somebody and living inside of those moments and intentions as a means of really getting to know them.

There is something to her lyrics that feels very personal, like you’re peering into her well of emotions, and they’re relatable to a lot of people. I think that’s what makes her stand out compared to her peers — people feel a connection to her that they might not necessarily feel with an average pop song about partying or dancing. It’s more self-reflective.

Graphics by Madeline Montoya. 

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