I used to love Summer Jams--a part of me still does. For that reason I would like to apologize personally to Carly Rae Jepsen for having, to date, not been pissed off about or aware of how frequently her single's been played on the radio.
I hope my credentials are in order: When I was 12 I owned the "All Star" CD single; when I was too old, really, to have an excuse I admired Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun" for how baldly it wanted to be a summer single. It seemed determined to prove that the genre existed, and I was okay with that because every May, even as my tastes grew more stereotypically state-school/liberal-arts-major indie, I would try to figure out what that year's Summer Jam would be, as though every year would have one as obvious and appropriate as Smash Mouth's.
I just got back from a month overseas, and as I turned my phone's data back on and paged through my Twitter feed by Lambert's baggage claim I realized that every third tweet was about something called "Call Me Maybe" and how ubiquitous it was. (When I left all these tweets were still about Gotye.) Suddenly I realized: You guys had Summer Jammed without me. I'm not mad, just... disappointed. And I'm just now catching up.
I'm listening now, on one of those YouTube bootlegs 14-year-old girls make in Windows Movie Maker. (So far as I can tell there are already three of these Lyrics Videos with more than a million hits.) It's much... bubblier than I thought it would be; it sounds, at first blush, like one of those songs Disney would toss the less-popular co-star in one of their TV series--as a kind of peace offering after they canceled it because Hillary Duff was already too famous.
When I first heard her name, before I checked Wikipedia an hour ago, I was convinced she was one of those Disney stars, but I see now that she's a Canadian Idol refugee, which is fascinating. The song just ended, and honestly I'm having trouble figuring out what's made it so different from, say, a random song by Lalaine circa 2003; it's got a big, poppy chorus, but it doesn't feel so inevitable as "Somebody That I Used to Know" or "We Are Young" did when I was leaving the country back in May.
Okay: The chorus hit again, just now, on my second or third time through the song, and now I get it. The disco strings are still keeping me from understanding it as a summer single--they feel a little too brittle for that--but the vocal and the lyric, with its nicely imprecise, dialogue-y language, are big and earnest and Taylor-Swift-like, and the chorus bursts out of the verse like somebody involved was listening to a lot of post-Pixies alt-rock beforehand.
By listen five or six it does feel inevitable. Maybe it's just been a while since we had a big, preteen-approved pop song that felt even a little clever, but the lyrics, and the tone they convey, feel just about perfect for hitting a broad audience. You may not identify with the lyrics anymore, if you're not 12 and ready to kill yourself because you don't have any new Facebook messages from that boy on your iPod Touch, but they probably don't annoy you. They move seamlessly across audiences, from "This is my life!" to "This could maybe be my endearingly earnest little sister's life, if this woman weren't two years older than I am."
I'm not quite ready to go to Sam Goody, buy the CD single, and listen to it over and over in my Discman, but that's never really the point of the Summer Jam. The point, in our increasingly fragmented music-listening culture, is to have something to collectively tweet, complain, and argue about as the weather warms up and we all relax a little. For that it'll do--it's already done--quite nicely.