In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Carly Rae Jepsen- “Call Me Maybe”
HIT #1: June 23, 2012
STAYED AT #1: 9 weeks
For anyone who has any memory whatsoever of the year that was 2012, you probably have “Call Me Maybe,” the lone #1 hit from Canadian reality show runner-up turned critical darling, Carly Rae Jepsen, ingrained into your brain for life. It’s a song that became such an overplayed cultural phenomenon at its peak that it’s hard not to hear it with fresh ears for me and many people my age.
If there was one song that represented 2012 in my imagination it would have to be “Call Me Maybe.” Once you hear that opening of fluttery synth strings you know what’s coming. What comes is one of the most maddeningly catchy choruses ever made telling a crush to call you or not. It’s enough to trigger flashbacks and make me want to hide somewhere when it’s playing.
Growing up in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Jepsen first found her interest in musical theater performing in many school productions. (The #1 single in the US when Jepsen was born: Starship’s “We Built This City.”) Being the daughter and stepdaughters of teachers, Jepsen had also considered being a music teacher before her acceptance into the Canadian College of Performing Arts led her to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. Soon after, Jepsen moved to Vancouver working various jobs including at a coffeehouse where she would perform at their open mic nights.
It was around this time when Jepsen’s high school drama teacher encouraged her to try out for Canadian Idol, American Idol’s northern counterpart. Appearing on Season 5 in 2007, Jepsen came in third which when looking back Jepsen was grateful for, “It was like all the exposure without the devilish contract at the end.” She went back to Vancouver soon after when her demos caught the attention of a local music exec signing Jepsen to a record deal and recording her debut album. Her acoustic-folk leaning debut, 2008’s Tug of War, did little in Canada selling only 10,000 copies with its two singles, the title track and “Bucket,” peaking moderately on the Canadian charts.
In most cases, this wouldn’t amount to a long-lasting career. That would soon change in a big way. Jepsen and her guitarist/songwriting partner Tavish Crowe began writing what would become “Call Me Maybe” as a folk song with lyrics and ideas that were meant for different songs. Working in her Vancouver apartment, Jepsen sang some lyrics while Crowe played some chords. Initially, its world-famous chorus wasn’t even the chorus, “We had a verse, we had a completely different chorus, and I thought that what I was singing at the time “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy” was just, like, filler lyrics. I mentioned to Tavish that we would fix them later, and he said, ‘No, I think they’re kind of quirky and light-hearted and fun. I think we should keep those.” Jepsen said the song wasn’t written out of any experience though the bridge was inspired by an ex.
Soon after, Jepsen took the song to her producer Josh Ramsey, singer for the Canadian band Marianas Trench, who honed in on its pre-chorus realizing it was more catchier than the actual chorus they had written and encouraged her to create a new song around that pre-chorus. That wasn’t the only change. Ramsey also helped to change up the song’s style turning it from an acoustic folk song, the type that Jepsen was known for at that point, and into a straight-up dance-pop song. (Marianas Trench have never gotten a Top Ten hit. Their highest-charting single, “Astoria” peaked at #53 in 2015.)
Despite all the work, Jepsen wasn’t sure about “Call Me Maybe’s” hit potential initially wanting another song of hers “Curiosity” to be released as a single. That changed when she asked her friends and family to pick the single with many of them liking “Call Me Maybe” more so that’s the song that got released. Upon release in September 2011, “Call Me Maybe” didn’t exactly set the world on fire debuting on the Canadian charts at #97 in October. Jepsen wasn’t well known enough yet that she was working as a waitress when “Call Me Maybe” began to climb up the charts. She was gonna need some outside influence to break “Call Me Maybe” into the mainstream.
Enter Justin Bieber, an artist that will eventually appear in this column including for his current #1 this week, who while in his home country for the holidays heard “Call Me Maybe” on the radio a lot leading him to tweet, “Call me maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen is possibly the catchiest song I’ve ever heard lol.” At this point, Bieber had already made his name as of the biggest teen idols in the world with a rabid fan base and social media following. A star like him endorsing a song from a relatively unknown artist helped a lot in breaking Carly Rae Jepsen worldwide. Soon after, Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun signed Jepsen to his label Schoolboy Records and its major-label distributor Interscope.
Soon after, Bieber gathered his then-girlfriend Selena Gomez, another artist who will eventually appear in this column, and other famous friends for a lip dub to “Call Me Maybe.” When posted onto YouTube in February 2012, the clip exploded generating a million views alone on its first day and helping to further “Call Me Maybe” into a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Soon after, many people would be posting their own lip-dubs to “Call Me Maybe” along with covers, parodies, and memes that helped to fuel sales for the song pushing it to #1. Once I saw the early viral parodies, I was hearing “Call Me Maybe” for the rest of the year. And I can’t stand it.
Lyrically, “Call Me Maybe” touches on a very teenage situation: a girl seeing a love at first sight and trying to muster up the energy to talk to that love. In the verses, Jepsen sings about being obsessed with this guy that it gets in the way of her life at least from what I can make out. But of course, it’s all about that chorus where Jepsen just meets this guy all nervous but for no apparent reason gives him her phone number and says to call her maybe.
Right away this is stupid. How do you call someone maybe? Wouldn’t you want this guy to call you back? The more notable stupid lyric that everyone remembers is when Jepsen sings this line on the bridge, “Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad.” How is that possible? How do you miss someone before you even met or knew anything about them? I’m asking too much here am I?
Aside from the stupidity of these lines, my other main problem is that there’s nothing much to it. We don’t get any major plot advancements of Carly Rae Jepsen actually getting a call from this guy or going out with this guy. It just stays in this giddy anticipation phase throughout. Musically, “Call Me Maybe” fits with the lyrics and tone. It’s pure dance-pop but has a bubblegum style quality to it that bodes well with the teenage nature of the song. There’s also a nice disco style thump in the beat and synth strings that raises the song up for me but not by a whole lot.
There’s a funny quote I found from Jepsen’s Canadian Idol audition where one of the judges remarked she was “21 going on 14.” That judge wasn’t exactly wrong. Jepsen delivers “Call Me Maybe” with a very teenage innocence that makes you forget about the fact that she was 25 when the song was released. There’s nothing remotely sexual about “Call Me Maybe.” If this song had a rating it would be PG. I didn’t know about Jepsen’s age at the time of the song’s popularity but looking back it’s weird to think she was this old. From her singing and her looks at the time, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought she was a good ten years younger. She does pull this off well, I will admit, but it still doesn’t make it look any less immature.
We see this innocent teenage attitude in the music video which first shows Carly Rae Jepsen inside reading romantic novels while checking out her crush while he mows her lawn with his shirt off. When he looks to Jepsen in the window, she’s frightened and quickly gets down. In between scenes singing with her band, we then see Jepsen trying to attract her crush by washing a car looking at him nearby trying to catch his attention. While laying on the car, she falls on the ground where her crush goes over. In the final scene, we see her crush give his number to one of her bandmates implying that he’s gay to the shock of the band member and Jepsen.
Admittedly, this song isn’t for me and for what I tend to value in music. It’s probably stupid to say I don’t like “Call Me Maybe” because of its massive overplay considering other songs that I hear nonstop are songs I happen to love. But sometimes overplay can make you realize a song’s flaws much quicker than most and it’s very apparent with “Call Me Maybe.” Every time I have to hear this cute nothing of a song that got played everywhere at its peak, I just want to run to the nearest bathroom and wait for it to be over. If you find enjoyment in the song then more power to you. For me, I’ll be happy to go the rest of my life without hearing “Call Me Maybe.”
Carly Rae Jepsen wouldn’t get back to #1 after “Call Me Maybe.” She would land one more hit in the Top Ten with the Owl City collaboration “Good Time” which peaked at #8 later on in 2012. (It’s a 6.) The massive success of “Call Me Maybe” didn’t help in getting Jepsen’s other work to chart. Due to this newfound success, Jepsen’s label had her put together a new album quickly with Kiss released in September 2012. The album peaked at #6 on Billboard’s album charts with its last two singles “This Kiss” and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” peaking in the lower rungs of the Hot 100.
Jepsen wouldn’t be this big again but she’s stuck around. Her next two albums, 2015’s Emotion and 2019’s Dedication, showed Jepsen diving more into the dance-pop direction that “Call Me Maybe” forged. Both albums were hardly commercial successes in the Billboard sense but received critical praise helping to reinvent Jepsen as a critical darling and a cult favorite pop artist. Outside of music, Jepsen also went back to her musical theater roots acting on Broadway in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2014 and in FOX’s 2016 live adaptation of Grease. She’s doing fine.
BONUS BEATS: There are so many viral lip-dubs and parodies of “Call Me Maybe” that I could post all of them here. But to keep myself disciplined, here’s the 2012 USA Olympic Swimming team and their lip-dub to “Call Me Maybe:”
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell for no apparent reason breaking into “Call Me Maybe” with Gayle King during a 2012 appearance on CBS This Morning:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Elizabeth Banks singing “Call Me Maybe” to a Jewish rabbi in 2014’s Walk of Shame
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bit from a 2014 American Dad! episode where Roger is dancing at a school dance while “Call Me Maybe” is playing:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson singing “Call Me Maybe” in 2016’s Sing:
(There’s also a scene in 2018’s Tully where one of the characters sings “Call Me Maybe” at karaoke but I couldn’t find video of it anywhere.)
THE NUMBER TWOS: Ellie Goulding’s airy indie-pop sleeper hit “Lights” peaked at #2 behind “Call Me Maybe.” It’s an 8.