Back when Carly Rae Jepsen was really blowing up, by which I mean gaining popularity with some of the more idiosyncratic and picky pop-music fans and/or nerdy music critics circa her middling-selling 2015 album Emotion, I, as a picky pop-music fan and nerdy movie-not-music critic, found myself trying to explain why I liked CRJ so much. (I challenged myself not to cite her haircut at any point in this exercise.) I landed on this: She is old.
Not old by normal standards—she’s five years younger than I am, and I’m still young, right? Right?!—but for a pop singer having her big (which is to say medium) 40,000-copies-in-six-months moment, CRJ was kind of on the old side. She was nearly 30 when Emotion came out; even when her actual megahit “Call Me Maybe” took the world by storm in 2012, she was in her late twenties, and a full nine years younger than Justin Bieber, the beloved pop singer who gave her a major commercial boost. Listening to Emotion, I had the distinct sense that this was a person who had lived with herself—her personality, her disappointments, her music tastes—a little longer than the barely-formed kiddos hailed as ingénues and prodigies at 17, 18, 19, the normal (which is to say insane) age for coming of age as a peppy new pop star.
That might seem absurd, because Emotion does include as one of its highlights a song called “I Really Really Really Like You.” By most standards and by her own design, CRJ’s musings are not overly sophisticated. She captures crush-rush and shruggy-emoticon break-ups and fleeting empowerment; she’s not introspective and melancholy and wry, like Jenny Lewis (to cite another singer I’d follow anywhere at this point). But the craft of Jepsen’s songs is often sophisticated, and that’s especially noticeable on “Want You In My Room,” a cut from her hotly anticipated 2019 record Dedicated.
I get the sense that Dedicated received a relatively muted reception from some of the CRJ faithful—though anyone faithful enough to see her in concert could see the new songs greeted with appropriate rapture. It’s not quite as bouncy or immediate as Emotion, and feels a little more, well, yeah, mature. A little more MOR, if we’re feeling unkind. But the album’s many highlights reveal themselves; it just happens a little slower than it did on Emotion. And the great thing about “Want You In My Room” is that it’s not especially tasteful. CRJ kicks it off with kind of an exaggerated seductive-baby voice, giving way to sultrier-toned come-ons in the next verse, and then a robo-voiced chorus stating her desires plainly: “I want you in my room,” the voice I visualize as Robo-CRJ robo-sings. “On the bed, on the floor,” Regular CRJ adds. There’s a falsetto “I wanna do bad things to you!” and an invitation to “slide on through my window.”
Double entendres aside, there is something admittedly strange about a now-34-year-old woman asking a potential conquest to “slide on through my window,” or even, for that matter, referring to “her room.” There’s something deeply teenaged about that imagery; even a grown woman living with roommates probably doesn’t need any visitors coming in through the bedroom window (indeed, that’s more of a frightening image, yeah?), and the possessiveness around that bedroom, where the wildest places to fuck include “the bed” and “the floor” (oh heavens!) has a stereotypically girlish quality to it. But as ridiculous as this all should be coming from an adult, “Want You In My Room” is a weirdly joyful, maybe even knowing bit of pop ecstasy.
I read somewhere when this record came out that CRJ’s aesthetic is to be, somehow, innocently horny: Ready for action in a sweet, vaguely romantic sort of way. I don’t know where I read this, and my efforts to find out by Googling “Carly Rae Jepsen” “girlish” and “horny” were not fruitful—not because of the disaster I anticipated as soon as I pressed “enter” but because a lot of the types of writers who like to overuse the word “horny” also really, really, really like Carly Rae Jepsen. But it is a brilliant observation, and gets to the core of what I love about Jepsen in general and this song in particular.
It’s a description could, with a little tweaking, apply to an innocent teen-pop star fumbling into “sexy” adulthood and not quite sealing the deal (Selena Gomez, maybe?). But that’s where Jepsen’s sophistication comes into play: Not necessarily in the content, but in form. “Want You In My Room” is just loopy enough to sound like a natural outgrowth of Jepsen’s dreamy but self-aware sensibility; it’s a robo-voiced daydream about bringing a guy home where “home” is something simple and manageable, an easy and relatable image to conjure. That’s where “horny” enters into it, too. As much as a lot of pop-music imagery has traded on inappropriately young women (girls) enacting some creepy male fantasy, “Want You In My Room,” with its multiple layered vocal styles and playful musical bounce, feels like Carly’s narrative, like she’s singing into a hairbrush, pretending to be a pop star who’s pretending to be a teenager. It’s hard to imagine this song in this form being sung by whatever starlets it might superficially recall; without a lot of detail, without naming names, or even without much runtime (under three minutes!), it’s CRJ’s story all the way.