What Would the Next 'Call Me Maybe' Even Sound Like?

The hype for Carly Rae Jepsen's new track isn't quite warranted, but it sheds light on what makes a pop song into a classic.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Imagine, for a moment, an alternate universe in which Kanye West has decided that Carly Rae Jepsen is a musical genius of Beyoncé-like proportions. Some guitar-toting songwriter beats Jepsen at an awards show; West leaps on stage to object. In the ensuing Internet fight about the nature of musical merit, inevitably someone tweets out a side-by-side comparison between the two contenders' lyrics, intended to make the pop singer look stupid. (In the case of Beck vs. Beyoncé, it was the oh-so-deep “I’m so tired of being alone / the penitent walls are all I’ve known” vs. the joyous dada of “Shoulders sideways / smack it, smack it in the air.")

The Jepsen song chosen for scorn, undoubtedly, would be “I Really Like You,” released on Monday. Here’s the main part of the chorus: “I really, really, really, really, really like you.”

As always, making fun of pop lyrics as they're written on the page is a pretty silly exercise. Repeating “really” five times in a line, 67 times in a song, is an example of how professional songwriters bet on the lizard-brain appeal of repetition, but it’s also an example of how simplistic music can be art. The track is about a very-specific phase of a romantic relationship—when you’re so into someone but, as Jepsen sings, “it’s way too soon” to call it “love.” So you use linguistic intensifiers on the other L-word, like. There are other ways of describing this emotion—see: metaphors—but none are as straightforward as this one. Jepsen's dumbstruck, but not dumb.

The flood of “really”s here are actually a point in favor of the argument that she’s released a song that lives up to “Call Me Maybe,” her 2011 smash. One of that track's many charms was that its lyrics used a worn-out adverb—"maybe"—to make a story about love at first sight feel specific and relatable, rather than generic and tired. Now, Jepsen's using another seemingly boring adverb to revitalize a story everyone's heard before.

There's perhaps been nothing as universally embraced on the pop charts since "Call Me Maybe," and its success made the singer a critical darling, the kind of person who might “save pop.” It also put her in the grand tradition of musicians struggling to transcend one-hit wonderdom. Jepsen's manager, Scooter Braun, said he he told her "that she couldn't come out with anything unless it was on the level of 'Call Me Maybe.'” With “I Really Like You,” he says, “now we have a new one that is on that level.” A few early appraisals have agreed.

Unfortunately, while the lyrics are charming, “I Really Like You” only highlights what made “Call Me Maybe” so musically wonderful. A puzzlebox of melodies and countermelodies, with the violins cheerfully interlocking with the vocals, it was a remarkably timeless bit of songcraft. It was also, in a way, novel: At a time when pop music is dominated by what the Quietus writer Daniel Barrow labeled “the soar”—a whoosh of ecstasy that makes the chorus tower, skyscraper-like, next to the the verses around it—“Call Me Maybe” was a little trickier. “There is nothing more arresting than the tease of a ‘maybe,’” the musician Owen Pallett wrote in his must-read analysis of the song for The Guardian. “This tease is in the musical material as well; the song fidgets and never sits still.”

“I Really Like You,” by contrast, is all about the soar. When the verses end, a synth chord hits like an blast and hangs there; in the weightless aftermath,  Jepsen chants her really-reallys. It’s basically the same slammingly epic formula behind Sia’s “Chandelier” or Katy Perry’s “Roar”—certainly catchy, but not at all surprising. And while “Maybe” defied the electronic-dance zeitgeist with its bubble-gum strings, “I Really Like You” is firmly on-trend: All gated drums and background ghost-yelps, it features the same mid-tempo sonic blend perfected by Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods.” You might call this aesthetic an '80s throwback if wasn’t all over, say, Kelly Clarkson’s snoozy new album.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be a hit; in fact, that it resembles a lot of other popular music could mean that it is. I like the way the “reallys” come out of Jepsen's mouth in an excited tumble. I like the way the song reminds me of how I’ve felt about certain people, at certain times. Unlike "Call Me Maybe," it's designed to fit into what's on the radio rather than defy it, and that's really, really fine.