Arts·Sounds Like Summer

Carly Rae Jepsen's music feels like what I never thought would happen: falling in love in the summer

"The secret we sometimes forget about pop music is that it holds devastating truths that only feel right and easy to explore over a sumptuous beat."

'Pop music holds devastating truths that only feel right and easy to explore over a sumptuous beat'

(CBC Arts)

The last hot, hazy days of August warrant a look back — a look at what made summer what it is, or maybe what it once was and what it could have been. For our essay series Sounds Like Summer, we asked writers to reminisce about specific moments, reflect on feelings about the season's immense pull over us and conjure up the sounds associated — musical and otherwise. Summer's nearly over, but the reverberation of a particular mood remains.​

During the summer of 2015, I fell in love. "Don't you always fall in love in the summer?" is a reasonable follow-up question to this statement. (To me, specifically, if you know me, as I have fallen in love often and furiously — but also generally, too, because summer love is a thing, if Grease taught me anything outside of how important and useful hairspray is.)

I didn't expect it, which is how I knew this was going to be one of those unbelievable life-changing moments: infuriatingly inconvenient but beautiful and remarkable. This is the kind of love in pop songs — hyperbolic and big, feeling as though it could never, not in anyone's wildest reality, actually be real. How on earth can love feel like an accelerating, repeating chorus of ahhs and yeahs over a mesmerizing drumbeat? There may be better and wiser songs dedicated to the nuances of love and swimming hopelessly in it, but pop will always do it the very best.

I loved him the moment he told me, but I didn't really understand until many weeks later, walking toward him, toward his home — which would eventually become my home, our first home together — how deeply in love I was with this bright blue-eyed creature who appeared in my life so suddenly. My revelation occurred at one of Toronto's most beloved landmarks with a soon-to-be pop cult classic: my first listen of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Gimmie Love."

For many music writers — or music insiders and industry people — it is egregious that Carly Rae Jepsen is not, in fact, the sole pop heir apparent of not just Canada but the entire world. We're livid that she isn't so much more when she means everything to us. She is gloriously talented, we amass online to wail for years, but not making hand over fist of cash and charting exceptionally high every single week on Billboard, and that reality is especially hurtful to us. (Does she care as much as we do? We've never asked.)

Jepsen released E • MO • TION three years ago last week, a record that proves to fans and critics she is more than just a one hit wonder or a sugary, bubblegum act with no substance. The album holds some of the most forward-thinking pop of that time (for the record, Jepsen worked with production wizzes like Dev Hynes and Greg Kurstin — he worked on Adele's "Hello" if you need a refresher about how good he is.) Also, E • MO • TION has the single best intro to any song ever on "Run Away With Me" and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. But it was "Gimmie Love" that I stuck to — that I am still stuck on to this day.

Summer in Toronto reminds me of the now gone Honest Ed's and its absolutely gaudy sign. The enormous light bulbs fixed to the rusty orange sign lit up the blackest summer night sky; a night where you'd see only one star cut through the muggy haziness and call that a victory of the season. It was a beacon of how Toronto's past so easily slid into its present, a marvellous house of wonder. You never knew why it still existed, but how could you ever live without it?

One day that late August in 2015, I had decided to walk from my house to his, fuelled by the energy of E • MO •​ TION, revelling in the temperature of a night so different and easy compared to the day. I remember that I even felt cold. "Gimmie Love" cued up and there, beside a pile of trash cans, before ducking into the alley between Honest Ed's to profoundly feel the revelation I was about it have, my epiphany occurred.

"Gimmie Love" thumps like a heartbeat on the dance floor doused in black light. It's a summer song if there ever were one. It bumps, swoons, giving off aural sparks of glistening, fragmented colour. It's sensual, sexy even in its pacing between Jepsen's breathier pauses in the chorus. It's also lyrically vulnerable and small, before it swells, like the sonic equivalent of waves breaking on the shore.

When I first heard Jepsen sing, "I know I said that I'm too scared to try," I remember pausing and rewinding to go back and hear it again. If you know me, you know that while I fall in love fast and furiously, I rarely let my very guarded walls fall down, often running as far away from any sort of real commitment. (If you don't know me, now you know a deeply personal truth.) While I loved him then, and love him still, those were real words I had said time and again; pushing away something good out of fear that it would, at some point, end abruptly like they all had. The secret we sometimes forget about pop music is that it holds devastating truths that only feel right and easy to explore over a sumptuous beat.

"Gimmie Love" boils down all of that tension I felt, the push and pull of desire and vulnerability, to a very accessible point. To be caught up in a pop song while being in love, is, I believe, the point of pop music in general. To have that occur in the summer, the season most harmoniously joined with the spirit of pop music, was a synergetic alignment I never saw coming. When Jepsen sang, "Wanna feel like this forever, forever / It's the way we are together / And I never thought I'd ever say forever," she sounds a little cheeky but genuinely happy, tempering what could be an overwrought sentiment about loving into something relatable.

Pop songs about love crystalize a very precise moment, keeping it frozen and suspended. I love my partner now, three years later, and I promise to always make room for love in our future because love, and the both of us, will evolve over time. This song, this moment of my summer, doesn't account for the work that comes with loving: the enormous responsibility of handing your heart over to someone and saying, "Please, don't hurt it." But it's a good reminder of why I promise to keep doing that work.

The temperature will replicate the cool breeze I felt that August night (at some point, but maybe in October) and I'll cue up "Gimmie Love" — bringing myself back, vividly, to what it was like to give into something I'd always been afraid of before, and how good that feels.

About the Author

Sarah MacDonald is a music and culture writer whose work has appeared in The Walrus, Flare, NOW, and many more. Previously, she was an associate editor at Noisey Canada. She's happy to be here.