“Run Away With Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen
The first thing about “Run Away With Me” is that it should’ve been the first single off Emotion. There is no question about this. I love “I Really Like You,” but the campaign to break it in the pop charts (and to an extent, the bright first-crush sound of the song itself) was a blatant attempt to replicate the success of “Call Me Maybe,” right down to Bieber’s promo pushes. It was predictable, even if the song stands on its own.
In an alternate, better universe, “Run Away With Me” was launched first. There, the narrative would have been, Listen to how Carly’s changed since 2012; listen to how great and unexpected this new song is. It probably performs about the same as “IRLY” on the charts: respectable but not great, but that wouldn’t have been the point. The point would’ve been to shift the narrative in Carly’s direction, to get people to think of her in the lead rather than following in her old footsteps. (Sidebar: I 100% believe this perception shift is what the promo-single release of “All That” was designed to do; I also believe it was already too late by the time Carly did SNL.)
Then: once Carly’s established some bonafides with a public that remembers her as a one-hit wonder, “I Really Like You” drops. And with some buzz already built over a song that everyone likes but that isn’t begging for attention, “IRLY” almost certainly goes top 10. And we get the five or so singles that Emotion deserves, and the world is a beautiful place.
We tragically do not live in that wonderful world. But this world is still wonderful, because we still got “Run Away With Me.” It was teased in a crappy live video back on May 3rd, and I have listened to it literally every day since. At first I worried I’d burn out. Then I worried the studio version couldn’t possibly live up the expectations I’d built from listening to that shit quality live recording. Then I learned I had nothing to worry about at all. On an album where every track speaks my thoughts, burrows deep into my head, synchronizes with my movements, “Run Away With Me” is the biggest and best. The one that hits the hardest, the one that sounds the most massive. I’ve generally got plenty to say about Carly Rae Jepsen, but this song. This song is just. so. much.
Like, I would’ve been happy with that cellphone recording kind of so much. Like, in whatever form it existed, I would’ve felt blessed by it kind of so much. Like, am I waiting this long to talk about the song itself because I’m afraid I’ll get burned if I touch its perfection. (I am, at least a little.)
All Carly Rae Jepsen songs sound great: one of her underrated talents is an ability to balance production so it never seems sterile or fussy, but always comes off brightly polished. But even compared to the rest of her oeuvre, “Run Away With Me” sounds immaculate. Sounds immense. Sounds like mythology in motion. The saxophone that opens the song is wistful, but reaching upwards: full of hope, as well as fear. The single drum beat that heralds the chorus is high and tightly gated, layered with a synth whoosh, an understated way to launch the song to the stratosphere. The vocal work is breathtaking, separate lines intertwining just short of harmony, with new parts introduced in the background before taking the lead in the song’s next section; they way they pass from one line to the next is exceptional. Eventually they double the sax hook, and that moment is nothing less than audio transcendence.
This is not to mention the lyrics, as brilliant as Carly’s ever been: “I’ll find your lips in the streetlights” presages the body horror/romance of “Who gave you eyes like that/ Said you could keep them” of “IRLY” in tighter form; “This is the part/ You’ve got to say/ All that you’re feeling” suggests the desperation that’s characteristic of Emotion’s blend of love and anxiety. They’re prelude to the song’s gorgeous, heartbreaking, goosebump-inducing bridge. “Over the weekend we could turn the world to gold,” Carly sings. It’s the song’s heart in a line, the desperate, headlong rush to make everything perfect, to create a world for yourself and your partner to exist in where everything is flawless. It’s simultaneously a gorgeous sentiment and the Chekhov’s gun that guarantees heartbreak to follow. The thing is, Carly doesn’t sing, “our relationship”, she sings, “over the weekend” - an important distinction. There’s a time limit here, there’s real-world, work-week constraints on this relationship. There’s pressure and there’s desperation hovering beneath this song. There’s a deadline. And there’s the ability to make it all so seamlessly romantic regardless of those undercurrents, the ability that’s essentially Carly’s trademark at this point.
“Run Away With Me” isn’t likely to be a huge hit, even if it deserves to be: it’s just different enough from what’s currently charting that it’d probably only work if the label put a huge amount of promo behind it (or if Carly was a more established artist), and they already threw plenty at “IRLY” to no avail. It makes me sad to admit this to myself, but the thing is: I can worry about these things when I sit down to write about the song. But every time I click play again “Run Away With Me” sweeps me up, detaches me from the frivolousness of these pedestrian concerns: reality melts away and I’m borne aloft on waves of distilled joy. Every “Oooh-oh”, every pulsing synth, every “Oh! my baby” (especially that), is a new adventure and a beloved gift. Every flourish or ad lib is a new wonder to explore. So maybe Carly never gets the success she deserves, or maybe it just takes another album or smarter marketing before it happens. But in 2015, for just over four minutes, she turns the world to gold.
My most, my one, regrettable feeling about “Run Away With Me” is that I couldn’t discover it for myself. I’m happy to share the rest of Emotion, grateful even because there are already so many amazing writers tugging the stuffing out of the album and handing it to me like a tuft of cotton candy. But I wish that I could have found “Run Away With Me” alone in my room, late some night or early some afternoon, and felt it sweep me up in revelation. As it stands, it’s dark and gorgeous and warm, and if I have to share it, I will.
But it could have been like “Love Goes On,” a song I vividly remember hearing for the first time. It was my junior year of high school, in the basement of my family’s tiny house, in the corner where my parents kept the computer. It was very early fall, still warm out, still the regular season but getting close to the playoffs and my dad would regularly buy a bag of Doritos to go with Cubs games because they were regularly winning games. He’d left, with my mom, to buy a car, a Kia Sephia, dark green, and I was in charge. College was a foregone conclusion and a lot of the serious striving of the past two years had exhaled into a message board or chatroom in the form of narcotic musical obsession. All but a handful of hallowed favorite bands were new to me and I’d wake up in the middle of the night to have some friend halfway across the world send me a Fairport Convention album. Undoubtedly, strains of research like cockroaches under a spotlight led me to the Go-Betweens that afternoon and I pressed play on “Love Goes On.” And I danced. I danced by myself alone in that drop-ceiling basement. I’d never heard such a pure and wonderful piece of pop music, such an uncomplicated and unfettered bit of whimsy. This was what I wanted for my life, I knew it; to dance around love.
One of the worst things adulthood did to me was mix dreams with achievement. Every time I want to loose myself from the world and imagine what could be, what would be if I had it my way, it triggers an alternating current that reminds me of my responsibilities and incapabilities. It’s not dismal – it’s practical – but in so many ways, what am I supposed to do when I hear a song like “Run Away With Me”? It’s the very heart of impulsivity and recklessness and tear-streaked cheeks. It’s everything I cherished that afternoon when I danced and my dad came home and the Cubs lost in the post season and I was crushed. Memories like these run backwards now. They begin with I was crushed and there’s no song that can fix it, though “Run Away With Me” tries. I envy the kids, ten or twenty or thirty years from now, that find Carly Rae Jepsen and let her set them free.