The current phenomenon of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen is one of the most exciting recent indicators of social change I’ve had the opportunity to observe firsthand. The song and its accompanying music video show that through popular culture, the picture of “wholesome” is rapidly expanding. It is with utmost sincerity that I propose we champion “Call Me Maybe” as being at the forefront of this progression.
There are three elements to the phenomenon of the song — the song itself, the cloying-then-clever music video and, most importantly, the spoof video made and released by Carlos Pena Jr. featuring Disney stars like Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale and Justin Bieber. Together, the triumvirate of ingredients produces a moment of social significance that is blaringly progressive in its casual and clever reference to homosexuality.
First, the song: hilariously simple and insecure, there is nothing in the lyrics that suggest any obvious political LGBTQ agenda — there isn’t any. I’ve toyed with the idea of suggesting some sort of double meaning in the first two lines — “I threw a wish in the well, don’t ask me I’ll never tell” — as a reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a foreshadow to the ending of the music video. But that would be inappropriate: (1) Singer/songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen (26 years old by the way, so don’t feel weird that you think she’s attractive, she is not 14) is Canadian, so Don’t Ask Don’t Tell isn’t that politically relevant, (2) the reveal of the music video that challenges heteronormativity is all the stronger because the lyrics don’t seem to be pushing a political stance.
I’d wager you’d be hard pressed to find anything obviously progressive in the lyrics. In fact, they absurdly and perhaps even regressively caricaturize gender norms by essentially lyricizing our imagination of teenage estrogen set loose upon the world. And the insecurity embedded in Jepsen’s decision to qualify the bold tag, “Call me” with “ … maybe” is perhaps even insulting to the feminist movement. No, there is nothing in the lyrics to suggest any sort of progressive agenda or, really, anything clever at all. I’ll say this much: the bulk of the bridge is, and I quote, “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I missed you so bad, I missed you so, so bad. Before you came into my life I missed you so bad, and you should know that I missed you so, so bad.”
So there’s that.
But the chorus is immediately appealing if only because of its thrilling use of the synthesizer. And say what you will about the lyrics, the song is just really, really fun.
Any real noteworthy message stems from the music video. Now, before you continue to read this, watch the music video (I’ll wait). Also, hi, thanks for getting to this point. Okay, have you watched it? ISN’T IT AWESOME?
Since you’ve watched the video, you know that all the cleverness comes from the “surprise ending” — our romantic lead, our fantastical hero, our abs upon abs, is gay, and gives his number to Carly’s guitarist.
Yes, the music video references homosexuality, but what is its political message — progressive or regressive? Director Ben Knechtel’s casual reference to homosexuality is a move that can be seen as socially progressive, but he also uses homosexuality as the punch line. Some may take issue with the guitarist’s reaction shot, which does not condone or seem to consent to the advance. Is it because the guitarist is homophobic? Is he just not gay? Probably. But might he also be, like those of us raised in a heteronormative world, just surprised?
In my opinion it’s the last one. Because I’ll bet you didn’t see it coming, either. And it is precisely that surprise that makes up the thesis of the music video: Knechtel lulls his viewers into a false sense of our expectations of conventional romance, and at the end he subverts our expectations by challenging heteronormativity. The reaction shot is the reaction shot of the audience — shock. It doesn’t pass judgment on the gay lead, who has been exaggeratedly romanticized over the course of the three-plus minutes. Instead, the punch line passes judgment on us.
All that is fine and good. But there have been other music videos and pop songs that have done a lot more for the gay rights movement than Carly Rae’s catchy, silly song. We’ve seen Katy Perry and Lady Gaga (among others) race up the charts with socially progressive pop songs. “Call Me Maybe” is neither the first nor last sensation to incorporate homosexuality in its content. The reason I believe “Call Me Maybe” is unique is because of the third element — the publicity boost the music video likely received from the recent Disney star spoof.
One of the primary reasons the song has become so popular is due to a music video spoof recently uploaded by Carlos Pena Jr. featuring various Disney stars (including Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale) dancing and singing along to Jepsen’s hit. As of this writing the spoof has attracted nearly 14 million views, more than twice the number of views for Carly Jepsen’s own official Vevo upload. The video is cute, fun and is basically just exciting because it humanizes Disney stars by showing them hanging out with each other. But they’re dancing to a song whose music video’s essence challenges heteronormativity, and in that context we have something new.
The Disney Channel is the image of wholesomeness, even if their stars later grow up to become Lindsey Lohans. The channel takes its responsibility as a showcase for role models very seriously because of the impressionable youth that makes up its fan base. When Justin Bieber publicly supports something or endorses something, his unquestioningly loyal fans seem to follow him. And he, along with Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale, have helped direct traffic to “Call Me Maybe,” by singing to it, and linking to the music video in the spoof’s description.
From the tweenage heart of pop culture, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale are implicitly supporting the message of the music video and, from the sincere place of just fooling around, have showed their support for the gay rights movement, a support I believe will be translated to their fan base. This fan base is growing to accept the gay rights movement by proxy, and is being raised by role models who casually and unceremoniously expose them to progressive ways of thinking.
For that reason, I’m led to wonder if “Call Me Maybe” is emblematic of a progressive trend that is beginning to take root not just among college-aged people, but in the Disney Channel-style world of young tweens. Maybe, just maybe, this phenomenon is a spark showing that American kids today will start to grow up with acceptance on a wider level, and “wholesome” can start to accept the gay movement as well.