Call Me Maybe – An Appreciation.

Clearly, I’m late to the party.  I downloaded this song, along with “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Starships” because I’d finally accidentally-heard them enough to think I should intentionally-hear them.  All three are now lodged in my brain and getting a lot of lip-sync work on the treadmill.  I like how “What Makes You Beautiful” sounds like “Summer Lovin'” when it starts and how “Starships” feels like it changes key in the bit after the chorus.  I can’t help put my hands slowly into the air as Nicki Minaj mangles (minajangles?) some rappy thing just before it.

But “Call Me Maybe” has my attention today.  It’s perfect pop.  It created Carly Rae Jepsen (via Bieber and Canada) who has since been semi-ironically referenced on “Girls” (Soon-Jee storms off on Booth after eating the rosewater ice-cream to join her boyfriend who is doing lights on the CRJ tour).  The thing that surprised me most about CRJ is that she’s 27.  Which seems old.  Until I remember I’m enjoying the song and I’m a decade oldER.

The song starts with (probably) faux strings doing a little bit of a rhythmic thing.  I like this as it’s a little bit disco and tells you the producers know this is good classy pop.  Unlike Minaj’s, which is good trashy pop.  Carly sings:

I threw a wish in the well/don’t ask me I’ll never tell/I looked to you as it fell/and now you’re in my way…

I was very pleased to see a pop song where three lyrics in a row actually rhymed.  Not false-rhymes but real ones.  At first I thought Carly was being coy (Coyly?) about “I’ll never tell” since it’s obvious what the wish is, but upon reflection she must have wished to fall in love with the next guy she saw, who happened to be (according to the video) a hot homosexual gardener.  The “now you’re in my way” sets up a kind of interesting tension – CRJ wanted to be in love, but now that feeling is stopping her from moving on with her life.

I trade my soul for a wish/pennies and dimes for a kiss…

Oh well, good things can’t last…

I wasn’t looking for this/but now you’re in my way

Ok, maybe I was overthinking that wish – if she’d wished to fall in love but then claims not to be looking for it, something’s awry.  Perhaps it’s just Carly acting coyly again.

There’s more lyrics which don’t really mean anything and then a really cool rocket-ship sound that propels us into the chorus.  This is where the disco strings really kick in.  If you’re a fan of ELO or Hooked on Classics or young enough not to know they ever existed thus aren’t hugely embarrassed by how they dominate the chorus of this song, you are in for a treat.  I think these strings contributed hugely to the success of the song.  And of course, it’s a very catchy chorus-

Hey, I just met you/and this is crazy/but here’s my number/so call me, maybe? (punctuation my own after listening to the track many times)

It’s hard to look right/at you baby/but here’s my number, so call me, maybe?

It took me quite a few listens to realise that those two lyrics were one sentence.  “It’s hard to look right at you, baby”.  Not “It’s hard to look right”.  Because what teenage girl or gay can’t identify with how hard it is to look right?  Even when it’s being sung by a woman in her late twenties with a severe fringe who’s wearing socks and heels in the cover art?  But no, it’s “It’s hard to look right at you baby”.


The chorus repeats again but does two really fun things underneath – first there’s two “sonic glisses” as I’m calling them.  Glissandos are when pianists run their fingers down the keyboard to create excitement.  My boyfriend, a composer and pianist, loves glisses.  I tried doing one once and it really hurt my fingers.  The “Call Me Maybe” glisses are tuned to a kind of outerspace frequency but they’re definitely glisses.  The second fun thing underneath this chorus is a jangly guitar joins in very quietly, along with a high pitched alarm, creating a tense kind of giggly feeling – JUST LIKE FALLING IN LOVE AND BEING TOO NERVOUS TO SAY, “HEY, CALL ME” OR EVEN “WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER” BUT “CALL ME, maybe“.

There’s a lyrical addition here

And all the other boys/try and chase me/but here’s my number/so call me, maybe?

Nice tactic Ms Jepsen.  The old “everyone wants me (but I’m not a slut)” technique.

You took your time with the call/I took no time with the fall/You gave me nothing at all/but still you’re in my way

Nice to see the triple-rhyme back.  There’s been an interesting development in their relationship.  He’s been a typical male and held off calling.  CRJ has fallen straight away, perhaps at the wishing well, and the object of her gaze (a verbal pun that pays off in the final moments of the video clip) has shown little interest, which is infuriating and intoxication to a girl who “all the other boys try and chase”.

I beg and borrow and steal/at first sight, and it’s real/I didn’t know I would I feel/but now it’s in my way

A tortured triple-rhyme this time.  She’s forcing the English language to do things it doesn’t want to do, much like Lorenz Hart used to, and it’s a rhyme won on a foul.  But now to the content – what does she beg and borrow and steal at first sight?  Has this obsessive love caused this former good girl to do things she never thought she would?

Those silly lyrics about skin and ripped jeans and hot nights follow again and all anyone really wants us to hear is “Where you think you going, baby?”  So, now he’s the boy she’s chasing.  It’s gotten tough.

And we’re back in the chorus, with all the same disco strings, sonic glisses, jangly guitars and electric triangles.

Then we get what’s passing for the middle eight or bridge in this song.  It’s quite mystical, this section:

Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad/I missed you so bad/I missed you so, SO bad/Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad/and you should know that/I missed you so, SO bad

“Bad” then gets condensed, repeated and sent off into the aether.

Ok, I get what she’s saying.  Before she met the guy, she didn’t realise there was an absence in her life, an absence that might be called “love” or “lust” or “ego transference”.  However, it’s kind of nonsensically over-romantic to baldly state “before you came into my life I missed you so bad”.  What with all the other boys that were trying to chase you.  What was so special about this guy anyway?  Anyway, it’s a nice-ish sentiment and appeals to the modern-day tween who is just waiting for someone to rescue her from the monotony of not having “in a relationship” ticked on Facebook.  Musically nothing really happens here, but there’s a nice descending pattern that gives it structure.  Then disco strings and sonic glisses take over again.

Then we have the patented Britney moment where the singer sings an already established chorus over a minimal backing before it all kicks in again!  Dance floor time!  Jangle guitar!  Electric triangle! Weird mystical bridge with descending pattern!

Then the very odd ending.  The “slowing down the tape” ending.  Which is so odd as this is now the digital world.  What does it signify?  Did the guy never call her…again?  If you’ve seen the clip, that’s where you can add the “she’s just seen he’s a homo” moment, but the production would have occurred before the clip, so I’m just going to assume the production engineers went: button the song with an orchestra hit? Fade out on disco strings? Fuck it, let’s go with robot running out of batteries.

This is probably where I should admit that before I heard this song, but I’d heard OF it – ie, seen it in the iTunes chart – I thought it was a song about a girl called Maybe.  Like it was going to be some Sara Bareilles-type folky song like “You Can Call Me Al”, with an odd weekday name like the Addams family’s daughter or Portia’s from Arrested Development.  In fact, having now googled “daughter from Arrested Development” I find her name was Maeby.  So, if this was used underneath the soon-to-be-released movie of Arrested Development, you literally can call her Maeby.

Published by bryantandfrank

Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank make musicals. And other things.

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