There are a few reasons why an artist might release a new song and video simultaneously instead of parceling them out piece by piece. One of them has to do with attention spans: Opt for the less-is-more approach, and you can perhaps cut through the noise and clutter with one big drop. Another has to do with making a statement: Sometimes a video adds crucial context to a song, and the artist might not want you to experience one without the other.
It’s not clear which reason Carly Rae Jepsen’s team had in mind when they unleashed both her long-awaited new single “Party For One” and its accompanying video today (Nov. 1). Given the immense, critical acclaim for her 2015 LP, Emotion, it’s possible that they’re just trying to satisfy the ravenous appetite for its proper follow-up — an album Jepsen’s been teasing since at least early 2017. (And with Robyn’s first LP in eight years finally out in the world, Jepsen’s next on the list of cult pop stars overdue for a project.)
But viewed through the lens of the second reason — the idea that the video adds another layer to the song that Jepsen perhaps doesn’t want you to miss — then “Party For One” resembles something else: A concerted effort to shake off the eternally heart-eyed, 32-going-on-13 image the public has foisted on her, probably unfairly, due to the unabashed cheeriness of her music (“Call Me Maybe” is as giddy and bubblegum as songs come) and her professional associations with Justin Bieber (a key early supporter of “Call Me Maybe,” with whom she used to share management). A telling 2012 headline: “Carly Rae Jepsen Age Confusion: The 26-Year-Old Who Dresses Like a Tween.”
If you listen to “Party For One” by itself, the masturbation reference in the chorus (“I’ll be the one/ if you don’t care about me/ making love to myself”) may not have been that remarkable — just something par for the course in mainstream pop, where innuendos abound and self-love anthems have a long history. But in the video, in which Jepsen writhes around a hotel bed in her underwear while a host of other characters — including an elderly dominatrix-like figure armed with a bag of sex toys — let their freak flags fly in nearby rooms, the song’s mature edge becomes more pronounced.
It’s not that Jepsen’s music has been devoid of desire until now. “I Really Like You,” the first single from Emotion, basically describes a Netflix and Chill sesh from the perspective of a woman who has had enough Netflix and wants to move onto the chilling phase. (In interviews, Jepsen has spoken about trying to “age up” the song by writing some sexual tension into the verses to combat the sweetness of the hook.) “L.A. Hallucinations,” from that same album, kicks off with an image that evokes tangled bedsheets: “I remember being naked/ We were young freaks just fresh to L.A.” And she certainly wasn’t after her shirtless lawn-mowing love interest in the “Call Me Maybe” video because of his personality — otherwise the video’s last-second plot twist likely wouldn’t have been such a surprise.
Yet even as the “OMG she’s an adult” discoveries have quieted down — though they still happen! — traces of it inform Jepsen discourse in 2018: After all, if someone told you that her 2018 output would involve a dildo-wielding grandma, would you not have raised an eyebrow in a surprise? One user on r/popheads, the pop music hub of reddit where Jepsen is revered by many, may have said it best: “I’ve watched a lot of overtly sexual MVs [music videos], but I was not emotionally prepared to see a dildo in a CRJ MV. It’s like watching Peter Pan (CRJ) grow up lmao.”
“Party For One” is not a radical musical departure for the singer — with its slick synths and jaunty percussion, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Emotion, sandwiched between “Run Away With Me” and the title track. That album proved to skeptics that Jepsen made music for grown-ups; now with “Party For One,” she’s making sure you know she’s been one this whole time.