Friday, November 9th, 2018

Carly Rae Jepsen – Party For One

She’s back! But will it be Carly Slay Jepsen, or Carly Rae Flopson?


Julian Axelrod: Six years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen released a different single featuring romantic indecision and a plucked string intro — maybe you’ve heard it? That was before she became a huge star, before she failed to secure a similar-sized hit, before her career rehabilitation as a critical pop darling. I don’t know whether the parallels between her breakthrough single and her new one are intentional, but it serves as a nice summation of her career thus far. “Party For One” isn’t an insidiously catchy juggernaut like “Call Me Maybe.” It’s smarter, sneakier, more patient with its hooks. It doesn’t explode into a cloud of confetti, it slowly unfurls into a mile-wide canyon of yearning. Its highs are high (the tribal drum thwack before the chorus is my personal favorite) but it doesn’t come close to the sugar rush euphoria of Kiss or the heavenly neon throb of Emotion. And yet, this is exactly the song Carly needed to release right now. After years of idolatry and hyperbole, she doesn’t have the luxury of lowered expectations anymore. There was bound to be a slight air of disappointment to whatever she released, so she stuck with her signature sound.  Maybe she’s got another “Run Away with Me” up her sleeve, or maybe she’s settling into a long career of solid pop hits that won’t set the world on fire. But either way, she’s figured out how to satisfy her fanbase while keeping us on our toes. Releasing a pretty good comeback single is the smartest career move she’s ever made.

Tobi Tella: As someone who has always liked Carly Rae but never been a full-on dedicated fan, her return was still exciting, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like this. It’s not the deepest thing in the world, but it’s a really interesting take on the “self-love” anthem song- it’s not a bunch of generic platitudes strung together but a song about being okay spending time with yourself. It may not be Emotion, but few things are. 

Edward Okulicz: Elevated from CanCon obscurity by one worldwide megahit, sadly Jepsen is going to experience the long decay in popularity that’s inevitable unless you come up with another. “Party For One” definitely isn’t it; its production is sparkly and Jepsen is vivacious, but the song’s basic and can’t even wring a wink out of its lyrics. Coming about 15 years after Britney’s “Touch of My Hand,” it’s not even an interesting set of lyrics, either. As cool a person as she seems to be, she’s a cult artist peddling pop of limited mass appeal to a small, concentrated fan base. Come to think of it, it’s as if “Call Me Maybe” never happened at all.

Juan F. Carruyo: An amazingly universal and quasi-risqué ad for masturbation as a cure for a broken heart. Sadly, this only has the chorus going for it, which takes up about two thirds of the song, so a 6 it gets. 

Katherine St Asaph: More than any of Jepsen’s other singles, “Party for One” tries to be a direct sequel to “Call Me Maybe”; the first couple bars suggest its intro played on a toy xylophone, the same string flourish plays in the background, and the story is a thwarted crush (despite the internet’s fixation on one throwaway line) with a direct callback in “somebody’s in your way.” Like “Backseat,” it’s fanservice, exactly what anyone asking for Carly Rae Jepsen music was asking for. But once again there’s one sound that torpedoes the song for me, and this time it’s the vocal production: Whoever did it does not, indeed, care about her. The digital hiccups on “some-body” and the bridge’s “par-ty for one” are one thing, and a bad thing, but how does one of the warmest, sweetest vocalists in pop sound this dry? Fortunately, and fittingly, this resolves itself once the background vocals swell around her — because what is a Carly Rae Jepsen single for, if not communal joy?

Alfred Soto: I appreciate CRJ’s ambition to write, record, and release a single whose self-cannibalization is so mediocre.

Alex Clifton: It takes about fifty seconds for this to really click into gear for me, but once “Party For One” gets going, it’s as relentlessly catchy as anything CRJ has ever written. My love for “Cut to the Feeling” was immediate and all-consuming, but this one has taken a little while, in part because it’s far more mellow than I expected. I usually think of CRJ as sugary high-octane pop that makes you want to cry from overstimulation (in a good way), but “Party For One” takes a different tone. Call it maturity if you want; it’s certainly less teen-poppy in its emotional intensity and presents a more measured view of post-breakup self-love. But maturity doesn’t mean an absence of feeling for a second. Jepsen still cuts quickly to an emotional core that few others can reach. “Making love to myself, back on my beat”: a whole story about finding and loving yourself once more in eight words, and one that conjures up the listener’s own breakup experiences. Other pop stars just sing about feelings. Jepsen’s great gift is that she makes you feel them.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Party for One” finds Carly in the throes of a breakup, its verses loudly expressing a lingering sadness that doesn’t get explored sufficiently. Its chorus shoots for celebration, but the pick-me-up mantra is laced with disappointment, the blankness it produces neither fun nor insightful. While it represents the sluggish and challenging ascent out of one’s post-breakup doldrums, this odd emotional middle ground is unfamiliar territory for Carly. It doesn’t grant her the opportunity to express the fullness of any single emotion, and it’s in this mixing of multiple, complex feelings that we witness the actual maturation of her career thus far. The most incisive line finds consolation in an uneasy revelation: “You don’t care that I’m making love to myself.” That image of intimacy and self-love and empowerment being sullied by her ex’s absence is disorienting. Even when she touted, “All that we could do with this emotion,” there was an innate understanding of what she meant despite the ambiguity. Here, everything she says is direct and obvious but the results are of dissonance and confusion. “Party for One” consequently feels incomplete and hollow compared to rest of her discography. Carly knows that anyone facing romantic woes will find this to be more true to life.

Thomas Inskeep: Her last three first singles from albums, plus a non-album single: “I Really Like You” > “Cut to the Feeling” > “Party for One” > “Call Me Maybe.”

Stephen Eisermann: Reminds me too much of Hailee Steinfeld’s superior self-love track to make that much of an impression, I’m left pretty cold by this song. I will say that I could listen to CRJ repeat “back on my beat” for hours, though, as her phrasing there is top notch; alas, those are just four words of an otherwise slick, very uninteresting, pop track.

Hannah Jocelyn: The initial reaction, after “OMG YAS CARLY SLAY,” was …that’s it? The Carly memes continued, the sword memes resurfaced, but aside from a couple of “lol Carly made a masturbation song” and “omg the video has a dildo in it” tweets, the response feels muted. I Really Like You,” even as history has rewritten it as a “Call Me Maybe” retread, was the first time Carly won me over — the lush percussion, the sensual but radio-friendly lyrics (“how did we get into this position?”), and just how hard that chorus punches. Obviously, “Run Away With Me” is a flawless, gorgeously romantic song. So compared to those, “Party For One” is just so short and underwritten; there isn’t even a real bridge, and the arrangement isn’t nearly as imaginative or fussy as the best songs on Emotion (or Kiss!). The issue is that Carly is meant for calculated bombast, and scaling her down like this doesn’t work. Still, it’s pretty great. There’s nothing try-hard or edgy about it despite the subject matter, to the point where “making love to myself” might as well be a “Cake By The Ocean” situation. Yet this wasn’t written with Mattman & Robin — who also worked on the singles for Emotion —  but with Captain Cuts, who have worked with the Chainsmokers and Walk The Moon and aren’t as natural a fit as the Swedish duo. Yet as anemic as “Party For One” is, as little as it evolves, there are just enough touches in the lyrics (“back on my beat!”) and production to keep it from being an actual letdown. It’s a cliché to say that her B-game is most artists’ A-game, but that’s absolutely true here. Sure, it’s disappointing when you think of all that she could do after Emotion. But instead of getting a revelatory pop song, we merely got a very good one. 

Will Adams: What’s great about breakup songs is that they come prepackaged with subtext, namely the “I’m over you/I’m not over you” paradox. It’s then left with the writer to figure out how much to pull from each direction. In true Carly Rae Jepsen form, she manages to tease out even more nuance, like the quietly sad resignation of “back on my beat” or the trance synths boiling over in the chorus. The arrangement’s more streamlined and percussive than she’s used to, which is why it maybe lacks some of that e•mo•tive sparkle. But in the throes of rejection, a big, obvious banger can be the perfect salve.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This has enough moments of greatness concentrated in its chorus– the drum rhythm, the quick switch-back from “If you don’t care about me” to “Making love to myself”– for the overall product to cohere. But from that opening synth onwards, “Party For One” feels weirdly on autopilot: it’s a Carly Rae Jepsen song that exists because there should be Carly Rae Jepsen songs.

Reader average: [4.58] (12 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

3 Responses to “Carly Rae Jepsen – Party For One”

  1. it’s ok, but i wish it had the disco donna summer influence she briefly hinted at last year.

  2. Katherine, it’s impossible for me to believe that this is a more direct sequel to Call Me Maybe than I Really Like You

  3. the lack of musical or lyrical callbacks, for one