Welcome to the first proper installment of RetroPop! A blog in which I, your humble guest writer, bring together my loves for the Billboard Hot 100 and bodacious bits from female artists of the past. It's all based on my argument that lady-related pop messages of today are no less worthy than pop messages from the canon of women artists throughout history, and that by comparing them a bit maybe we can have some fun and give today's female pop stars a bit more cred in the process. (Possibly making us "thinking girls" feel less guilty about bustin' a move to Beyoncé? Added benefit.)
Today, in this first true demonstration of the RetroPop mashup style, we'll take a look at some parallels between Carly Rae Jepsen's dancelicious song of the summer, "Call Me Maybe," and my favorite Jane Austen novel, good old Pride & Prejudice (P&P).
To help you get in on the action, here are the lyrics for Jepsen's song. If you haven't read Pride and Prejudice, then I both pity you and suggest a few quick fixes: try the Keira Knightley feature film version or a swift reading of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. P&P&Z is like 90% original P&P but with the added benefit of ninja action sequences… and for some reason that speeds the reading process right along. Of course, there's also the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle BBC multi-part series, which is clearly the superior option, but indulging in this version is only encouraged if you have the time to really savor all the many hours of Regency-era delight. Don't cheat yourself of this experience. There are a LOT of empire waist dresses to appreciate. Anyhow. Now that you know what we're mashing up, let's carry on!
There's obviously lots we can compare between the CRJ tune and P&P. The use of nouns and verbs? Check. A general romantic motivation? Check. But, honestly, there are several complementary thematic points that raise some interesting questions and comparisons.
The first thing that came to mind when I began scribbling down similarities between Austen's book and Jepsen's single was that both pieces capitalize on female emotional ambiguity. In the world of P&P, we have lovable Lizzie, who's being all, "Oh, I hate Mr. Darcy, though I am strangely attracted to him, and I will be reasonably pleasant to him while secretly hating him but then the more I actually really do like him romantically I'll be even meaner to him and eventually push away all Mr. Darcy's affections due to uncontrollable anger resulting from a series of miscommunications. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THESE MISCOMMUNICATIONS HAPPENED when I am being so forthright about everything!" (Hey, wow, did I just summarize that entire plotline in one run-on sentence? I still think you should watch the BBC version.)
Meanwhile, over there on the radio, we have the Jepsen song's protagonist being (to use my mother's language) "forward" enough to proposition someone by passing along her phone number, but then she backs off by couching it in ambiguity when she actually talks to the guy/girl. To wit, what's with the "maybe" part at the end? HERE, I AM BEING FORWARD AND GIVING YOU MY NUMBER but, eehee, like, I dunno? Is that what's happening? I'm actually asking. I guess that's what flirting is all about. Never been too good at that skill, myself. I'm the one who keeps suggesting my single friends ask their blind dates if and why they believe in God. But that's a whole other blog for another time.
So yes, there is a question to be asked about why these supposedly strong female heroines are muddling themselves up in all this ambiguity. But here's what I think is the more interesting query burbling slightly beneath that primary one:
Why is it that "in person" the thoughts and motivations of Lizzie Bennett and the "Call Me Maybe" protagonist are both mired in ambiguity, while in the world of writing (that is, in Carly Rae Jepsen's note with the raw information of her phone number in it that we see in the video and in the many, many, many explicitly information-laden notes to and from Lizzie in P&P) letters are a space of transparent thoughts and feelings?
Does the expectation that a woman should act deferentially in social situations continue to endure today—and so it is only on the page, a place of creativity, that the "Call Me Maybe" heroine and Lizzie Bennett can truly be honest and forthright? Is the success of Jepsen's song proof that many young women like her protagonist know how they're expected to act and thus only feel free to rebel in the written realm?
Think on it while you let the tune roll, and weigh in in the forum section, below. Comment me maybe?
Previously: Introducing RetroPop