I like this Zach Kelly piece in the Village Voice about the spread of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” as an internet meme, but I also disagree with him almost completely about what the end result will be. He uses phrases like “mummified” and “frozen in amber” to describe the ultimate effect of the constant flow of tributes, covers, and parodies of the song (a flood that shows no sign of abating). His idea is that the song itself will be buried in the detritus that has built up around it, and will eventually be pulled under and disappear.
As I see it, the effect will be exactly the opposite. The tired old idea of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery is to the point here, and much the same can be said of parody. It’s important to remember that parody is directed more toward objects of affection than hatred, which is the case in satire. The object of parody is never forgotten or lost because it’s the things that are most loved about it that are the actual subject of the parody. All these tributes and covers and mashups aren’t diminishing “Call Me Maybe”; they are constantly reminding us of just how great it is, how influential it is, and how inspiring it is.
Part of Kelly’s mistake, I think, is that he’s viewing “Call Me Maybe” in isolation. It’s another “song of the summer” (an idea that irritates me more the more I think about it, though the commercial reality is undeniable), just like Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass” last year. Comparing the two songs is instructive, but Kelly misses the real difference. “Superbass” is, essentially, a hybrid of the music of two different pop generations: the hip-hop past, and the dance music/teen-pop influenced future. With one foot in each camp, it came across as something of a mess, despite its greatness. That messiness, of course, was part of its greatness, but it was also what prevented it from becoming the overwhelming force that “Call Me Maybe” has become.
But “Call Me Maybe” isn’t just a great pop song: it’s a pop explosion, the breakout moment of a movement and a generation that have been growing up and growing larger over the last five years, a generation that has only been waiting for the call that will bring them to the fore.
Over the weekend, after watching the new Blu-Ray of Yellow Submarine, Jaq and I were inspired to watch A Hard Day’s Night and Help! again, as well. Near the beginning of A Hard Day’s Night, it occurred to me that the Beatles were the perfect storm of pop (not an original idea, I know). That is, they contained all the elements, and found themselves in an atmosphere, to make them more than just pop stars, but a true cultural phenomenon. This was more than being in the right place at the right time; they also possessed all the right attributes: their music was not only catchy and exuberant, packed with earworms that have lost none of their effectiveness fifty years on, it was also very good, and often great, full of surprises as well as references to a pop history that stretched back at least three generations. On top of that, they were personally charming, intelligent, witty, and good-looking.
“Call Me Maybe”, in its own, smaller way, is another perfect storm: an excellent, catchy song, packed with the exuberance of youth, sung by a woman who, though I can’t vouch for her wit or intelligence, having never seen or read an interview, is both cute and charming as a performer. It’s also the right song for the time (if anything, not a moment too soon). It’s not just the song of the summer, it’s possibly the most important record of the year, or the last five, one that people in the future will look back on as a sign of things to come. Mummification isn’t the problem: if there is a problem, it’s going to be in controlling the forces that “Call Me Maybe” is helping to unleash. Not that they can be, at least for now.