Unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you’ve heard Carly Rae Jepsen’s unbelievably catchy pop song Call me Maybe. The song has become an internet phenomenon with lip dub versions of the song being posted online by celebrities like Katy Perry, The Harvard Baseball Team, President Obama, and even the hosts of NPR did a cover of the song. Given the ubiquity of the song within pop culture, the song is worthy of sociological critique and I can guarantee your students will have at least heard the infectious number.
The Song Lyrics & Messaging
I’ve talked before about using pop songs to teach gender norms and Call Me Maybe’s lyrics are ripe for a similar class activity. The song lyrics are vapid, standard pop song romance themes. The crux of the song centers on this girl’s desire to have the object of her affection call her. It’s the same standard “pick me, pick me!” passive feminine messaging. Instead of taking what she wants, the girl in the song is hoping she can lure the boy into pursuing her. The title isn’t “I’ll Call You, Maybe”. Analyzing this song, especially if you are teaching right at this cultural moment, would be a great lead in to a discussion of gender roles and sexuality norms between heterosexuals.
To highlight the gendered messaging of the song, play the video for Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend right after showing Call Me Maybe. Bieber, who is freshly 18 years old, is trying to redefine himself as a mature artist (I just threw up a little). Anyways, the first release off his new album Boyfriend is a song projecting his power, affluence, and sexual prowess. Jepsen is asking you to call her maybe and Beiber threatens to burn you with fondue gravy.
Bieber and Jepsen are touring together right now (don’t ask why I know this), so their music must be targeted to a similar demographic. I brought up this apples to apples comparison with my class last spring and we had a great discussion when I asked them, “why are there such starkly different messages about sexuality and gender between these two songs?”
The Video: Heteronormative or Not?
The video for Call Me Maybe alternates back and forth between Jepsen playing with her band in a garage and a heteronormative fever dream that she has for the Abercrombie & Fitch male model that lives next door. The video is a straightforward crush flick (just made that up) until (SPOILER!) the boy she’s been eying gives his digits to the guitar playing dude in the garage.
So is the video enlightened and pro-sexual equality? Well another way to look at it is, the guitar player and Jepsen both seem shocked if not distraught. The video is sure to inspire a healthy discussion about heteronormativity, gender roles, and even the relationship between a piece of art and the audiences reaction. That’s not bad for a throwaway, soon-to-be-forgotten, summer confection.
Hey, I just wrote this,
And this is crazy,
But here’s my idea,
So teach it maybe
I’m certainly not the first to analyze the song. This post was inspired by this Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast and this Entertainment Weekly cover story. ↩
The song also demonstrates his ability to knock off Justin Timberlake and bite the Ying Yang Twins/David Banner style. Amiright? Huh? Huh? (Warning: Both these songs are astonishingly misogynistic). ↩