It’s nearly impossible to definitively pinpoint the moment when a phenomenon hits its saturation point. Thanks in no small part to the internet’s insistence on not only “more,” but also “now,” we as consumers live in an era where there are more opportunities to kill the things we love even faster, and with only the click of a mouse. But it was possible to target something of a tipping point with “Call Me Maybe,” Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s inescapable hit that is most definitively the proud owner of the coveted title of Song of the Summer, 2012. Said tipping point came last week, in the form of click-baiting little headlines suggesting that the Crooner-In-Chief had finally succumbed to the will of the American people and taken on their favorite summer jam.
“Barack Obama Singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepsen”
The video was, of course, not quite what had been advertised (it never is, is it?); it was actually a mashup of clips from the president’s speeches strung along to the instrumental. It boggles the mind why anyone would want to create such a thing (never mind take the time to do so), but the clip was, in fact, pretty amusing. Yet, something about its release felt somehow… suffocating, thanks to what had preceded it. First there was the business card. Then the lip-dubs. The covers. The memes. A profoundly amazing mash-up with Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.” Type “Call Me Maybe Parody” into YouTube’s search bar, and you run the risk of having your eyes melt out of your face, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style. It had some rightfully crowing, “Enough already.”
Most recently, Jimmy Fallon hosted the 26-year-old ex-Canadian Idol finalist on Late Night last Thursday, and as a little internet-only aside, he, Jepsen and the Roots performed the song using only toy classroom instruments. Again, pretty amusing little video, but there seemed to be a distinct scent of “What the fuck do we do with this thing now?” swirling around that tiny dressing room. I mean, classroom instruments? What could possibly be next? Two xenomorphs jamming to it in the Prometheus cargo bay? Alia Shawkat reprising her Arrested Development role on Funny or Die? It chills the blood.
In the past, the worst thing that could happen to the Song of the Summer was it being played to death. But in the digital age, the pitfalls are boundless. As “Call Me Maybe” is increasingly meme-ified, it runs the risk of becoming completely mummified. This is how the seemingly un-killable is ultimately undone.
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
A troubling development, because “Call Me Maybe” is, by all accounts, a fantastic record, one that you remember where you were the first time you heard it. Music listeners of all pretensions and biases seem impervious to its charms. The fact that Jepsen is closer to 30 than 20 is actually one of the song’s greatest assets, a testament to the fact that flirtatious giddiness isn’t beholden to a certain age (or gender, for that matter). And of course, that hook. Simple, effective, and mega-adorable, it corkscrews into the brain all the more easily when augmented by those catchier-than-they-have-any-right-being strings.
On paper, there really isn’t any debate as to whether or not this thing is the Song of the Summer. Never mind that “Call Me Maybe” has yet to unseat Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” at the top of the Hot 100. (It will.) Hell, never mind the fact that the summer hasn’t even officially started. The best thing about a good summer song is that it’s both personal and communal, that no matter how many times you hear in the car on the way home from work, you’ll still probably put it on while you fix dinner in your apartment. But is there such a thing as “too communal”? And in the case of “Call Me Maybe,” is there a chance that we’ll all have killed it before we got the chance (or earned the right, rather) to really hate it?
Some of the blame can, in fact, be placed on the song itself. For something so unapologetically pop-smart and catchy, it opens itself up to a plethora of vulnerabilities. The hook is the real Catch-22: Sing along for a few minutes and you can come up with a pretty decent spin on it off the top of your head. Take some time to sit down and really flesh it out—as hundreds have apparently done—and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged meme. On its face, this kind of thing isn’t problematic or even unwelcome. But the seeming need to jump on things like this, all at once, that’s troubling, and perhaps dangerous for pop music in general. Not unlike all those boys out there chasing Jepsen, it’s just too hard to ignore them. The more pressing question is, “Why would you want to?”
Last year’s Song of the Summer came early, too. But how was it that Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” a song with the exact same replay value and just as cotton-candy addled as those two tutu’d, adorable white English children rapping along to it on daytime television, somehow impervious to the kind of digital bastardization that “Call Me Maybe” is currently being subjected to? Why did it take until August for “Super Bass” to reach the point that “Call Me Maybe” has in June? Some of it has to do with the fact that not everyone can rap along to a song no matter how many times they’ve heard it, so “Super Bass” wasn’t able to lend itself to parody as easily. Or perhaps the current fondness for “Call Me Maybe” far exceeds that of “Super Bass,” then and now (this is probably true). And if this culture no longer simply desires to kill the things it loves, but now absolutely requires it, is “Call Me Maybe” simply loved that much more? Maybe we should ask our pop stars to stop writing such memorable, immediately likable songs. The vulnerability of “Call Me Maybe” is a big part of why it’s such a success, but also its Achilles heel.
Some might think this saturation will ultimately spell out Jepsen’s downfall. She’ll be fine. She’s obviously game to play along in all of this done-to-deathness, and going on tour with Justin Bieber—who, by singing along with his friends and looking like a kid whose friends convinced him to sneak the Goldschläger out of his mom’s liquor cabinet, helped ignite “Call Me Maybe” fever. That clip, uploaded all the way back in February, remains one of the best tributes to “Call Me Maybe.”
Perhaps the song was, in fact, doomed from the start, its success born of the same kind of light-hearted re-jiggering that is currently fossilizing it in amber as we speak. Whether or not Jepsen’s follow-up single can hold a candle to “Call Me Maybe” is ultimately irrelevant, and seeing there are no unfortunate run-ins with skeptical Beliebers this summer (has Selena told her nothing?), she seems to have the goods to hang around for a while. Seeing if meme culture can be even the slightest bit responsible with whatever she offers next is a completely different matter.