Carly Ray Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is pure bouncy and accessible pop. This is the kind of song that you could mock easily if you transposed the lyrics onto a slower and more sober tempo. But that’s neither here nor there because it nonetheless communicates an emotion and a desire familiar to all of us: the perfect conjunction of infatuation, longing, and possibly love that sometimes accompanies meeting someone new. For young people, this possibility seems always within the immediate horizons of experience—at least as a fantasy that gives structure to many of the social interactions they engage in. For older people, things are more muddled. Some ding-dongs probably still think in terms of the shallow illusions that make life bearable. Take a stroll down the personal ads and you will find some sad sack that insists that s/he “still believes in true love and that I’m going to find the one.” I hope you’re just saying that, I find myself thinking. Against the background of those fantasies, “Call Me Maybe” also serves as a negative of what is lost when love, sex, and desire become disentangled from each other as the small catastrophes of life multiply before us.
The premise of “Call Me Maybe” is the chance encounter between the song’s protagonist and a stranger with whom she is instantly smitten and whom she invites to contact her. Her vulnerability at the overpowering urge generated by the situation and the willingness to make herself available to someone she doesn’t even know creates the drama of the song. Probably all of us know the feeling it describes, the physical want and the emotional overload that comes with a deep, deep infatuation with someone new, an infatuation that you know will overcome you and transform into love under the right circumstances. If you don’t know the delight and agony of that feeling, then you, my friend, need to get a fucking life, pronto. But if you’ve been through that gauntlet a few times and you’ve also experienced all the other tragically banal consequences that accompany this process, then the song hails you on a different frequency.
When I was young, I fell in love every day. I couldn’t have a conversation, a long interaction with a pretty girl without losing myself in the churning waters of affection. A kiss—let’s not even mention sex—sometimes felt like a wedding vow, and if this seems overwrought and melodramatic, it’s because it was. I’m not sure when sex and love become separate things for people but for some this a progression. Sexing it up safe in the knowledge that it will never have anything to do with love seems like a kind of freedom to many. And at some point even sex and desire can become disconnected—I don’t just mean in the case of long term relationships when sex becomes an option between doing it and watching Law and Order and you’ve seen that episode twice already—so that sexual relationships can be maintained without any real sense of desire. Beyond nourishing our hopes and illusions, “Call Me Maybe” also awakens memories of all the things some of us have lost over the years. I’m not sure I have it in me to experience again what the song describes but in the paradoxical poignancy of its happy rhythms it reminds me that I once did.