“Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad.” - Carly Rae Jespin, “Call Me Maybe”
“And it feels like I am just too close to love you.” - Alex Clare, “Too Close”
I own these two songs. I like both of them, although “Call Me Maybe” has been so admittedly played out that I can no longer tolerate it well. They’re both catchy as hell, and I’m not too cool or too old to ride the wave of a great pop song.
The one thing that unites the two, sound-wise, is how dependent their choruses are on a memorable and unusual hook. For Carly Rae, it’s a pseudo-orchestral punch, and for Clare it’s a deep syntho-whomp. Both are marketing genius, from the extent that they provide these songs a sound that is truly unlike anything else in on their pop timeline.
The best pop songs do the expected, with a few unexpected twists. These two pop songs are different thanks to their sound, but their lyrics, while perhaps clever, anchor firmly to our gender stereotypes.
You have Carly Rae, whose heart has been claimed by a dude before she even knew him, and I don’t think she means “knew” in the Biblical sense. I think it’s the very girly act of knowing your heart belongs to someone, and a girl’s mission is to find out who possesses this mythical key. She’s ready to fall the second he calls her.
It’s an adorable, young girl view of love and boys. While it naturally drew in my daughters and millions of preteen kids, there was something so syrupy and sincere -- if you could find the sincerity in its nonsensical clever lyrics -- that even guarded adults found themselves softened to it.
“Call Me Maybe” is the ingenue’s answer to “Tik Tok.” While Ke$ha was overtly slutty and world-weary, Carly Rae is just waiting to be swept off her feet. You can almost imagine any girl in the world, caught in a sexual/ethical moment of crisis, with miniaturized versions of these two ladies standing atop each shoulder, whispering both sides of the argument into her ears.
We’re just too close. We’re such great friends. I just can’t risk that friendship by continuing to have wild sex with you. Because, like, you’re so awesome. (And because I probably want to have sex with somewhere between 1-23 women I’ve already identified and, possibly, already slept with. But this is just a parenthetical. The real reason we have to break up is because, um, we're besties.)
These songs are so alluring and catchy because, unfortunately, some niggling gender stereotypes aren’t going away anytime soon. More importantly, some gender stereotypes are based in a healthy chunk of reality.
Scads of preteen girls and young women continue to long for their One True Love, their Prince, although we are starting to see this myth/goal lose its grip. On the other side, millions of men have grown up believing that a woman simply cannot be a great friend and great lover at the same time to a singular dude, and it’s truly a tragedy for my gender and for the relationships they can’t seem to have or hold onto.
Well geez. That’s a depressing ending note. I think I’ll cheer myself up by watching two men beat the shit out of one another with Kendo Shinai bamboo swords.