The 37 greatest Carly Rae Jepsen songs, ranked
To Carly Rae, on her 37th birthday: a love letter in the form of a list
Queeries is a column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
If you read this headline and thought to yourself, "But are there even 37 great Carly Rae Jepsen songs?" I regret to inform you that you have disrespected my queen on this, her 37th birthday. Since the overblown success of "Call Me Maybe," there's been a persistent problem among a certain subset of society who continuously have failed to see the simple truth: very few people have ever offered us more truly exceptional pop songs than Ms. Jepsen.
In addition to being her 37th on earth, this year has marked both the release of her sixth studio album The Loneliest Time (though it was unfairly overshadowed by Taylor Swift releasing Midnights on the same day) and a pretty notable anniversary in terms of Jepsen's narrative. It marked 10 years since "Call Me Maybe" catapulted her to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it would stay for nine straight weeks. And despite a pretty prolific career cranking out bop upon bop upon bop ever since, too many still primarily associate her with that track. So in honour of her birthday, I'd like to list her 37 greatest songs as proof that Jepsen has proven herself time and time again.
Obviously, this is an entirely subjective ranking that was genuinely challenging to narrow down. I'm already aware it leaves off tracks beloved by many (I apologize in advance to the churches of "Julien," "First Time," "No Drug Like Me" and "Let's Get Lost") and does not include anything predating "Call Me Maybe" because I've never been able to quite get on board with Tug of War (her 2008 album released shortly after she finished third on Canadian Idol). But I hope it serves as both a tribute to her excellence and a plea to the unconverted: yes, Carly Rae Jepsen has 37 great songs. She probably even has 73.
Happy birthday, Carly Rae.
37. "I Really Like You"
One thing I really, really, really, really, really, really will never understand about our popular culture is the great failing of a fact that this song — released as the lead single from E•MO•TION on March 2, 2015 — is the last time a CRJ song charted on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. And honestly, it barely even made this list! That's not to say it's not a really good song (just one "really," though), but Ms. Jepsen has released so many even really-er good songs (more than half of the album it's on is undeniably better) that it's a remarkable shame she hasn't had at least 37 Billboard top 10 hits by now.
35. & 36. "Turn Me Up" and "Tiny Little Bows"
Too many people dismiss all the songs on Jepsen's 2012 album Kiss that are not called "Call Me Maybe." A Rolling Stone "review" even dared to call it "mediocre dance pop" that is "light on memorable hooks." I dare you to listen to either of these songs (and most of the rest of the album) and not have them stuck in your head for the rest of the damn day.
In addition her five full-length albums, Jepsen has twice graced us with "Side B" editions (for E•MO•TION and Dedicated) full of tracks that are just as good — if not better — than most of the songs on the albums they were cut from. The first of many such examples on this list is E•MO•TION Side B's "Higher," a crisp, soaring ode to new love that is notably the only song on this list that Jepsen did not co-write (hitmakers Greg Kurstin and Claude Kelly did).
33. "Western Wind"
I was admittedly among the many who found "Western Wind" a bit too minimalist for a Carly Rae Jepsen lead single. And while I was grateful it didn't serve as a representation of its album The Loneliest Time's general vibes (I personally do not need a Solar Power era from Carly!), I've found myself really falling for its delicate breeziness and soulful lyrics with time.
32. "Favourite Colour"
A very last minute entry because the editor of this column was genuinely shocked at its absence, leading me to revisit it over the weekend. And she was right — it deserves a spot! Like "Western Wind," this represents a softer, more mellow side of Jepsen that takes a bit more patience to fall for. But if you listen real close, the song's bright baby blues gonna paint you up, you up, you up. (I apologize for this and in advance the many questionable uses of song lyrics to come on this list.)
31. "Talking To Yourself"
With its addictive baseline and earworm chorus, it was love at first listen for this breakup banger from The Loneliest Time — and I was pleasantly surprised to find out it would ultimately not even crack my top 5 songs on that album.
29. & 30. "Warm Blood" and "Black Heart"
Whether it's that you'll find her in his black heart or that his warm blood feels good and she can't control it anymore, Jepsen turns cardiovascular systems into metaphoric bops in two of E•MO•TION's most underrated tracks. ("Warm Blood" is also notably her first collaboration with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, who also produced the aforementioned "Western Wind.")
28. "This Kiss"
One of several non-"Call Me Maybe" singles off Kiss, critics initially propositioned "This Kiss" could follow its predecessor "and be one of the biggest songs of the fall of 2012. It's that catchy." And they were right... about it being catchy. While it did chart (86th in the U.S., 23rd in Canada), this was essentially the beginning of popular culture's inability to embrace Jepsen on the level she deserves. Ten years after this song was released, it's still incredibly infectious (even if a little lyrically adolescent by Jepsen's standards, though that's more than reasonable given she was only 26 years old at the time).
27. "All That"
It's difficult not to make every other entry on this list a track from E•MO•TION, which is one of the ultimate no-skips pop albums ever made. And this Prince-inspired ballad belongs here for the built-to-last chorus alone.
26. "Real Love"
It's less of a popular opinion among even her fans, but Dedicated, Jepsen's 2019 follow-up to E•MO•TION, is nearly as no-skip worthy as its predecessor, and this achingly vulnerable track is real, real easy to love.
25. "Making The Most of the Night"
Jepsen makes the most of some bass line funk and huge percussion in this joyride of an E•MO•TION standout that was co-written by Sis and all of the Haim sisters, no less.
23. & 24. "Bad Thing Twice" and "Shooting Star"
It's only been a month or so since The Loneliest Time came out, so I do caution that not enough of its tracks have settled quite enough to have a fair placement on this list. But "Bad Thing Twice" and "Shooting Star" each make pretty compelling cases as instant Jepsen classics. They also seemingly nod to Robyn (in "Twice," which feels like a sister track to her "Honey") and Kylie Minogue (in "Star," which feels like an homage to her), two other performers who have rightfully been put on giant pedestals by their queer fans even if mainstream society had made the ridiculous decision not to follow suit.
22. "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance"
All three of Jepsen's "deluxe edition only" E•MO•TION songs have now made this list ("Favourite Colour" and "Black Heart" being the others), though "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance" is my unquestionable favourite. Originally written for her 2011 EP Curiosity, it was re-developed several years later with producer Max Martin, and it is legitimately god-tier dance floor pop.
21. "Your Type"
One of Jepsen's best mid-tempo ballads, the heavily 1980s-inspired "Your Type" is all the more iconic for being about time Jepsen accidentally fell in love with a gay guy, which is kind of a metaphor for her entire career!
Jepsen and her collaborators are reported to have written some 250 songs for E•MO•TION, eight of which were relegated to its "Side B" edition. Remarkably, three of those songs are among my all-time CRJ tracks, starting with "Fever," which quietly opens with the most Jepsen of lines ("Don't tell me this is how it ends") before her voice and the synth builds to the booming declaration of the song's chorus. No one does breakup anthems like Jepsen, and this is just one of many, many examples on this list.
19. "Too Much"
Jepsen released five singles from Dedicated, one of which ("Julien") barely missed this list. The other four? All in the top 20, beginning with its final single "Too Much," a breathy mid-tempo bop about Jepsen's grappling with the insecurities of excess. It should have been a #1 hit everywhere, but it did hit that number on the charts in Taiwan!
Though it hasn't seemed to have caught on too much (yet) with her audience at large, this gorgeous, sombre standout from The Loneliest Time really shows Jepsen at her best both lyrically ("Moonlight, stars in the water glow / Swim out, baptize me indigo") and in terms of the complexity of the vocals (that crack in her voice on the "didn't feel so good" line just hits). Wouldn't be surprised if it climbs up to my personal top 10 with some time.
17. "Gimmie Love"
Gimmie the bridge of yet another E•MO•TION classic over and over again, please.
15. & 16. "When I Needed You" and "Now That I Found You"
A very Jepsian emotional evolution in two tracks, she takes us from one booming declaration ("Cause where were you for me / When I needed someone / When I needed you? Hey!") to another ("There's nothing like this feeling / Now that I found you") in a pair of perfect examples of her ability to dig into the rush — whether bad or good — of relationships.
14. "Surrender My Heart"
It's a bit of a mystery to me why this self-love anthem wasn't released as the first (or second, or third, or fourth) single from The Loneliest Time. The album's soaring opening track, "Surrender My Heart" offers the quintessential euphoria of Jepsen at her best — but with a twist. Instead of asking for vulnerability from a lover here, she's asking for it from herself.
13. "Want You In My Room"
Jepsen has never sounded hornier than this Dedicated highlight, and yet somehow she manages to make horniness sound tender, as a true queen should.
12. "Tonight I'm Getting Over You"
Though it may have ultimately resulted in a remix featuring Nicki Minaj that felt extraordinarily forced and unnecessary, there's no denying the OG version of this Kiss single was that album's greatest sign that Jepsen had far more to offer than "Call Me Maybe."
Spacey, muted synths carry one of Jepsen's bleaker breakup songs (though even at her bleakest, there's always optimism lurking in Jepsen's voice), and also one of her very best.
I had initially resisted including any songs in which Jepsen is the featured artist, but this A.G. Cook-produced duet with Charli XCX (who, like Jepsen, is wildly underappreciated by straight society) from Charli's mixtape Pop 2 is just too perfect a union to pass up celebrating. More over, it feels as equally Carly's song as it does Charli's, with each singing roughly half the song and two having paired up to co-write it.
"Be tormented by me, babe" is perhaps my favourite opening line of any Jepsen song, and things only soar from there.
8. "Call Me Maybe"
Did you think I just wasn't going to include it? It's still the massive global hit that it was 10 years ago for a reason (it's so fun), and say what you want but it very much holds up. I just wish the seven songs that rank above it had been the massive global hits they deserved to be, too.
7. "Boy Problems"
Jepsen's most IDGAF examination of relationship troubles ("I think I broke up with my boyfriend today / And I don't really care / I've got worse problems") is also one of her very best.
6. "Party For One"
I am fully aware of this song's detractors, even among Jepsen's most fervent fans. (And perhaps the fact that it was released at the height of one of my worst breakups has clouded my judgment.) But as far as I'm concerned, from the second its infectious beat starts, "Party For One" supplants itself alongside Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" as a post-breakup empowerment anthem for the ages.
4. & 5. "Roses" and "Comeback"
The best tracks from each "Side B" and her best two songs to have never been released as singles, Jepsen mines her emotional depths so beautifully in both "Roses" and "Comeback" (the latter of which features Jack Antonoff's Bleachers) that it is truly shocking neither were deemed worthy of each album's initial release.
3. "The Loneliest Time"
A top contender for my favourite song of 2022, I've listened to Jepsen's wistful, disco-tinged power ballad of a duet with Rufus Wainwright (one of Jepsen's musical heroes, and really an ideal pairing) at least once a day since it was released. And while it didn't quite top charts, it did become a massive hit on TikTok thanks to its infectious bridge.
2. "Run Away With Me"
From its iconic opening saxophone to its towering chorus, this song has been stuck in anyone with remote taste's head, heart and body, body since the moment it was released in July of 2015. The best track on one of the best pop albums ever made, it is an extremely close second on this list.
1. "Cut To The Feeling"
No song released this century has cut to joy — the feeling Jepsen has sonically epitomized over the past decade — quite as much as this flawless song. Truly Xanax in your ears, it's (narrowly) the ultimate example of why we're so very lucky to have this birthday queen there for us, even in our loneliest times.