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Carly Rae Jepsen’s albums, ranked | CBC Music

The Canadian pop star recently released her 6th studio album, The Loneliest Time

We’re ready to fight for Carly Rae Jepsen’s No. 1 album. (Getty Images; graphic by CBC)

Last week, Carly Rae Jepsen released her sixth studio album, The Loneliest Time. Another chapter in her exploration of themes of love and ’80s synth-pop sounds, The Loneliest Time continues Jepsen’s hot streak as one of Canada’s best songwriters right now

While some people may only know her as the “Call me Maybe” singer, or perhaps for her 2015 cult hit Emotion, Jepsen’s career spans well beyond those highlights, going all the way back to her days fresh out of Canadian Idol. (Jepsen is by far the most successful artist to come out of that short-lived series.) A prolific songwriter — she often talks about writing hundreds of songs for each of her albums — Jepsen may not have put out a lot of albums, but her surprise B-side releases are so strong that they’ve become an integral expansion to the Jepsen musical universe.

While there are hints that a B-sides for The Loneliest Time might be coming in the near future, CBC Music wanted to take time to reflect on all the releases that the singer has put out so far. Below, we’ve ranked Jepsen’s albums from worst to best. 

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7. Tug of War, 2008

Revisiting Carly Rae Jepsen’s debut album feels like travelling to another time in pop history: synth-pop had yet to flourish, and rock was still the foundational base of pop compared to today’s hip-hop influence. This is where we find a post-Canadian Idol Jepsen, whose third-place finish on the show helped her secure a record deal with independent label MapleMusic. The resulting album, Tug of War, is rooted in acoustic guitars and folk sounds. When she does go toward a more pop direction, it veers closer to Jack Johnson than Cyndi Lauper. But even though this album appears last on our list, Tug of War isn’t without its rewarding moments. For those who were critical of Jepsen for catering to younger audiences with her followup, Kiss, her debut album shows a more mature approach to love and relationships, as she sings on the standout title track (and the single that took off the most, at least in Canada): “Don’t go out with the girls tonight/ I will turn to drink/ wondering who you’re screwing.” Jepsen completists will surely take some pleasure in exploring Jepsen’s true musical origins.

6. Kiss, 2012 

Some may have forgotten this by now, but Jepsen was introduced to the mainstream as Justin Bieber’s protegé. As a 26-year-old burgeoning artist, Jepsen’s affiliation with Bieber gave her a significant boost, but it muddled her brand. Stuck between a desire to experiment more as a pop writer and the pressure to repeat the overwhelming success of her hit “Call me Maybe” (still one of the best songs Jepsen has written), Kiss feels like a sanded-down effort of Jepsen’s later career triumphs. (A two-star Guardian review interestingly noted that Jepsen’s lyrics “are divested of all emotion.”) The album isn’t devoid of hooks though — “This Kiss” and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” could easily find a home on 2015’s Emotion — but it’s clear that Max Martin’s megawatt pop sheen wasn’t the right fit for Jepsen. Also, while the Bieber collaboration works beautifully on Kiss, many of us would like to erase the memory of that Disney-fied Owl City team-up. That was unequivocally not a “good time” for Jepsen diehards.

5. Emotion Side B, 2016

This EP almost never saw the light of day. Jepsen called her A&R to pull it the night before its release, as she told the Forty Five in 2020. They convinced her otherwise, and this collection of outtakes from her magnum opus, Emotion, had its time in the spotlight. Side B came to be because fans who loved the previous album kept asking Jepsen on tour if she had any other music like it — an Emotion 2.0, if you will. Considering she wrote 250 songs for the album, Jepsen could have done sides C through Z as well. Side B is a continuation of the themes explored on Emotion, although not as cohesive, production-wise. On Side B, Jepsen deals with the moments in-between: the sinking feeling before the heartbreak, the longing for connection that seems an arm’s reach away. She flits from detached dating on “The One” (“I don’t want to be the one/ it’s too much pressure”) to soul-binding connection on “Higher” (“Ever since you came around/ I feel more than safe and sound”). 

Jepsen’s writing is reminiscent of the way one might write a letter to a lover with no intention of ever sending it, the emotions too full to be shared face to face. Side B, and her music in general, feels diaristic in its delivery while remaining universally applicable — that’s Jepsen’s appeal. As we said in CBC Music’s list of the best Canadian songwriters right now: “She’s often derided for empty lyrics that reveal very little about herself, but that’s the genius of CRJ: the ubiquity is the point.”

4. The Loneliest Time, 2022

Jepsen introduced us to her most recent album, The Loneliest Time, by releasing the Rostam-produced “Western Wind,” a track that floated to us on dulcet tones asking, “Do you feel home from all directions?” Written during the pandemic and after the death of her grandmother, with whom Jepsen was very close, “Western Wind” was a subtle shift in focus for a songwriter who has soundtracked our love stories for the last decade, this time choosing to look further inward than she ever has before. More catharsis than euphoria, The Loneliest Time let us listen to Jepsen at her most hesitant and vulnerable, turning from that aforementioned ubiquity to mine grief, therapy and horrific dating app stories for an album that the singer hopes will be “a place where you can come to safely feel whatever it is that you need to,” as she told the Guardian.

Tonally, The Loneliest Time can be a little tough to follow — mid-album track “Beach House” tries to deliver tongue-in-cheek verses and falls surprisingly flat on that belted chorus — but there’s still a lot to love. Album opener “Surrender Your Heart” layers synths for one of the album’s best bangers as Jepsen exclaims “Surrender my heart/ (I’m out here in the open)/ I wanna get closer” on the chorus; the title track is a delicious disco power ballad with fellow Canadian singer Rufus Wainwright; and “Go Find Yourself or Whatever” slows everything down for Jepsen’s second song with Rostam, an unexpected but heartfelt number. (It’s also the first time she’s worked with Australian producer Alex Hope, who produced Tegan and Sara’s 2019 album, Hey, I’m Just Like You.) While Emotion and Dedicated weren’t knocked off their pedestals with this release, The Loneliest Time sees Jepsen continuing to define what a pop queen can do while entering the middle of her career.

3. Dedicated Side B, 2020

Dedicated Side B dropped one year after its namesake but, more importantly, Jepsen gave us her fifth studio album only a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic — a time we thought was the cusp of freedom heading into summer, but was instead the beginning of a long tunnel of isolation. For an artist who so joyfully writes about the taste of falling in love — the chase, the infatuation, the comedown — Dedicated Side B was the perfect gift for May 2020: a way for fans to let loose in their living rooms, dance on the furniture and pretend they could have a party about it. Jepsen always knew she wanted Dedicated to be a two-parter — “My publisher says I store songs in my cheeks like a chipmunk,” she told Switched on Pop in 2020, adding that she had requested a 50-track deluxe album instead — and luckily for us, her side Bs are no throwaways. From the ’80s-inspired album opener (and collaboration with producer Jack Antonoff) “This Love Isn’t Crazy” to the start-stop groove of “Window” to the delicious opening line of “Felt this Way” (“I tried your mouth and I can’t come back”), Dedicated Side B isn’t just a side album in the Jepsen catalogue — it’s canon.

2. Dedicated, 2019

Dedicated deserves this spot on the list on the strength of “Julien,” “Too Much,” and “Party for One” alone, but the entire album is magnetic. Those three tracks work as a standalone triptych, beginning with the longing for a lover to return, the reeling and second-guessing of the rebound phase and ending with the acceptance that she’s complete on her own. With familiar writing partners like Jack Antonoff and Kyle Shearer, she pens some of her most compelling songs. There’s a certain sexlessness that pervades Jepsen’s earlier music — the love she sings about is sanitized. Not on Dedicated. Lyrically, it’s more suggestive and representative of the experiences of a then 33-year-old. The tone of her voice is breathier and sultry in just the right places. Dedicated is CRJ grown up. On “No Drug Like Me” and “Want You in my Room” we encounter a woman in total control of her power. You can hear the influence of the ’70s, namely Donna Summer, in Jepsen’s vocal delivery, the lower register of her voice adding gravitas to the trysts she’s singing about. And it still packs her signature punch of belt-along choruses, heart-wrenching lyrics set against infectious pop melodies and reverence for the production styles of past decades. The album is undeniably sure of itself and the story it’s telling: of a woman coming to terms with the after-effects of love lost.

1. Emotion (2015) 

Emotion is a perfect pop album from one of the genre’s most skilled underdogs. Following 2012’s Kiss, many were ready to write off Jepsen as a one-hit wonder (CBC Music still regrets that statement, though this writer would have never let that happen), or as a technically proficient artist who lacked the personality to become a true star (more on that later). In sports terms, it felt like Jepsen was working under a 3-1 deficit, an impossible feat for teams to come back from. But on Emotion, Jepsen summons Dream Team-level powers of pop song-making with the help of Rostam, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Devonté Hynes and more. (Look, that level of hyperbole is supported by Jepsen fans who are prone to calling her the queen of many things.) 

From its opening moments of pure, saxophone-assisted euphoria (“Run Away With Me,” a track that I could dedicate this entire writeup to) to its emphatic and empowering finale (“When I Needed You”), Emotion is a no-skip masterpiece. To criticize Jepsen for lacking personality misses the point: songs about love are universal, and in Jepsen’s world, communal. Instead of digging for context or Easter eggs (something that suits other pop stars better), Jepsen generously leaves space for listeners to hop on the emotional roller coaster to find connection in the pursuit of love, whether that leads to failure or success. Love is messy, confusing and equal parts beautiful and heart-wrenching — and with Emotion, Jepsen assures us that ultimately, it’s all worth it.