If music like Jepsen’s has been losing its ubiquity, it would stand to reason that it’s because the formula has exhausted all its possible permutations. How many times can “Thriller” and “Like a Virgin” and “Just Dance” get rewritten? Sure enough, the first singles for Jepsen’s latest album, Dedicated, did give the impression of someone stuck in a pleasant cul-de-sac. The synthetic sparkles and volcanic choruses of “Now That I Found You” and “Party for One” work as spectacular calisthenic fodder, but they don’t pack much surprise.
Yet dig more deeply into Jepsen’s new album, Dedicated, and you hear signs of a genre worth preserving. With her spry and youthful-seeming voice, Jepsen has long found ways to inject new vibrancy into the clichés of romance (a goal accomplished, for example, with the simple complication of maybe in “Call Me Maybe”). She’s talked, for this album, about wanting to make “chill disco” and about becoming “more confident in my weirdness.” These statements nail the strengths of Dedicated, whose highlights make the case that pop has a point beyond selling records: paying tribute to the wildness of human emotion in a controlled, reassuring format.
Skip to track four for a dazzling and hilarious distillation of this idea. Produced by Jack Antonoff, “Want You in My Room” blasts past any stigmas about “good taste” to evoke a rom-com set in a bouncy castle. Amid Fisher-Price congas, “Paradise City” guitars, and Daft Punk robo-vocals, a series of short and varied exclamations ricochet with an odd sort of grace. The effect is cheesy, yes, but imagine a fine Camembert disguised as a Kraft Single. When a saxophone erupts in the third minute, it’s nearly as joyful as the one on Jepsen’s 2015 classic “Run Away With Me,” except for one bummer factor: the song’s about to end.
That’s okay, though, as what arises next is just as strange and brilliant. “Everything He Needs” reworks something Shelley Duvall mewled to Robin Williams in the 1980 film Popeye into a psychedelic take on lust. The chorus has Jepsen making a hiccuping sort of ascent, like someone hopping a staircase two steps at a time. Saloon piano, funky laser noises, and two manipulated vocalists—one low and spooky, one a digitized opera squeal—jeer along, with increasing hysteria. For the bridge, spoken word turns to hallucinogenic slurring—“not just physically ... emotionally … spiritually … intellectually ... sexually”—before fish-tank bubbles go pop. It’s way better camp than anything at the Met Gala.
Later in the album, “Real Love” cements Dedicated’s triumph. Whereas “Want You in My Room” and “Everything He Needs” use uncool sounds for kooky fun, this track has trendier ingredients: new-new-wave synths trembling like so many lower lips, and a post-chorus EDM explosion. She bends the template for a moving story, still. A breakup is on Jepsen’s mind, but she’s less torn up than giddy for the next romance. “I’m not even scared,” she gasps, for true love is nourishment, and she’s “been feeling weak without it.” Just as the first swell of ecstasy seems imminent, the music pulls back, almost cruelly. When the much-anticipated party finally does crash in, it absolutely communicates the sating, the recharging, that Jepsen craves.