The Musical Talmud - "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen

The Musical Talmud – “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Catch the first Video Musical Talmud, on the song you were probably singing in your head before you read this.

A new experiment — while I believe my commentary has a strong fair use and first amendment case, YouTube disagrees, so we’re going with Vimeo on this. Let me know what you think about the song and the new format in the comments!

34 Comments on “The Musical Talmud – “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen”

  1. Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

    Fenzel — I gotta say, I think this is great. I nearly snarfed my coffee out of my nose when you said “much ado about nothing” because I was laughing so hard.

    Great analysis and great inspiring new medium for conveying overthinking on the site.


  2. Gonzo #

    Perfect perfect perfect. I’ll never bring Foucault into a conversation without those sound effects again.

    However, I think your bringing up Foucault actually denies your statement at the end that it empowers women. Yes, she objectifies the man, but in order to actually come on to him, she has to be all bubbly and cute. Whereas the guy at the end can just walk up to the person he’s interested in and hand him his phone number, she sings and dances around, and has to preface her come-on with (faux-)hesitation and say “hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but…”. She has to be CRAZY in order to be forward to a guy! And she can’t even be forward about whether she actually wants him to call her, or why!


    • fenzel #

      Yeah, this doesn’t strictly empower women. It’s in the “maybe” space — it flirts with the idea of empowerment, but also derives pleasure from the presence of social restrictions.

      Her mentioning that it must be crazy for her to hit on this guy shows a certain amount of buy-in for social ideas of that kind of repression — while at the same time fighting against them with her actions.

      It’s not that she goes from being disempowered to being empowered, it’s that she’s always both — and those framed narratives coexist.


  3. Jeremy F #

    Great editing work – right off the proverbial bat, you get the medium.


  4. Jennifer #

    I love this analysis. It makes us girls feel less crazy for occasionally going completely nuts over a fellow. Explains it all, really.

    Interesting twist in the video that the dude is gay. Wasn’t expecting that from the song. Is that the “maybe”?


    • fenzel #

      Eh, I’m not a fan of making the guy in the video gay — it works against the song and shows the video director is not comfortable with the subversiveness of the song’s content – which is about a redirected form of the “male gaze” objectifying a man rather than a woman. Seems to me replacing the straight guy in the song with a gay guy in the video is a fear move.

      There are a lot of videos that don’t match up with the songs they are for at all – it’s hardly a novel concept. But I would interpret the song differently based on whether and how I am including the video as part of the art object, and I don’t think, even as one piece, there’s internal agreement between the lyrics and the visuals.

      The “Call Me Maybe” is another ambiguity — it is referring to her hesitancy about her calling him specifically because of social shame — playing coy when really she definitely wants him to call her — but it’s also sort of a “Call Me Ishmael” moment — she’s self-identifying as a between space, existing ambiguously among courses of action.

      Call Me Maybe because I am uncertain or conflicted — if not in terms of what I want, then definitely in terms of who I am.

      Girl/woman, masculine/feminine, virgin/whore etc. etc.


      • Will #

        I really liked the gay ending. If what you say is correct, it’s interesting in itself how, by this point, two dudes hooking up is now the less subversive ending. But that’s not how I interpreted it at all.

        What actually happens when you go out and try to pick up people you just met? Most of the time, they turn you down. By accidentally hitting on a gay guy, the singer is accepting the responsibilities as well as the rights of her new social role. Part of the reason that women are not supposed to hit on men is that women are supposed to avoid risks – which is why some people think women should run Wall Street banks. Men have been singing songs about this sort of awkward situation for a while (Pink Triangle by Weezer, for instance). Perhaps it is women’s turn.

        If you take out the risk that the guy is gay, you take out some of the edginess of it. If all men think the women who are gazing at them are super attractive and sexy, they don’t have reason to worry. Their place of power isn’t threatened. Women are just being helpful.

        It also changes the implied meaning of “Call Me Maybe”, the crux of the song, somewhat. I think it’s more subversive to say “Call me maybe, or maybe you’re gay or otherwise uninterested” is more subversive than “Call me maybe, or maybe you only want women who you ask out first”.


        • Keith #

          I see how the video’s message veers from the song’s lyrics, but I think the video is clever in its own way.

          What happens to the neighbor is a direct parallel to what Carly goes through. While Carly is washing her car, the neighbor is working on his. When Carly falls off the car, the neighbor goes to help her up. Carly thinks that’s her in to get to know him better. The neighbor is using the incident as an in to meet the guitarist! Note how after Carly and the neighbor make contact, the video reveals that the band is practicing in front of the neighbor. The neighbor is definitely in the Carly’s social circle now, but they each have their own motive. Even the singing of this particular song for the neighbor has its own purpose. Carly is singing Call Me Maybe as a direct message to her neighbor, but the neighbor is perhaps emboldened by the lyrics to finally make his move on the guitarist (he has his number written on a scrap of paper already!).

          At the end, they both make their respective moves and they’re literally simultaneously rejected by their crushes: as the guitarist looks up in disbelief, Carly is throwing her arms up in frustration in the background.


        • Upthrust #

          I appreciated the irony that making the guy gay could be a ‘fear move’, but I think Fenzel is right here. The song approaches the male gaze, which sets up women as objects of desire and men as those who do the desiring. In “Call Me Maybe” the guy is a desired sex object, and Carly is the one doing the desiring. In this sense, the song is doubly subversive, as it requires both the man and the woman to ignore their socialized gender roles.

          The video undermines this — while the guy Carly has a crush for is completely comfortable with Carly objectifying him, we of course learn at the end that he’s gay. This recontextualizes every scene involving the guy. Within the gay community, most men play double-duty as both the gazed and the gazer. When we do come across a straight man who is approached — and thus made aware of his objectification — he’s shocked (perhaps even afraid?). If we take all this information together: it’s perfectly fine for a girl to lust after a guy, but the only reason he seems so good-natured about it is he is probably gay. If you go after a straight man and give him your number, he is just going to be put-off.

          This is, of course, exactly what the song is wrestling with — how can a girl approach a guy without scaring him off? Much of the song is a rhetorical act reassuring the guy to whom Carly is singing that there is nothing to worry about. She’s not approaching him because she’s desperate (all the other boys try to chase her!). She endearingly acknowledges that giving him her number is “crazy”. She even asks him out in the least forward way imaginable: “Call me, maybe?”
          This has been our collective assumption, so it is hardly subversive to remind women that they can always be rejected. The subversive act is suggesting that giving a guy her number can actually work.

          *As a side note, I think the acknowledgement “And this is crazy” is the most effective line Carly employs in asking out the song’s hypothetical subject. At the same time that she recognizes she is acting counter to the traditional expectations from women by asking him out, that expectation is nullified. Certainly nobody listening to Carly actually believes she is crazy. Instead, the audience is made to recognize this expectation and to immediately recognize that it is actually that big of a deal. Going back to Foucault, she not only recognizes how the conduct of power would shape her actions, but then publicly lays it open so she might take a point of resistance. Specifically, she is mining the difference between “not being like everybody else” and being sick.


        • yellojkt #

          The gay ending buys into the ‘all the cute ones are gay” trope by saying that the guy is too hot looking to be straight.


      • mim #

        That is most definitely how it was intended and how it could be seen, but I think you could also use the twist to make a further point on the heterosexuel matrix here. The song is already picking at the social convention of the (straight)woman as passive, and by throwing in the twist you could also see a bit of a critique against heteronormativity. Since straight is the privileged position, everyone is assumed to be straight and straight people have the privilege to flirt with anyone they meet at any time and anywhere. By subverting a straight person’s expectations, it is also taking away the “right” to make assumptions about someone’s sexuality.


  5. Keith #

    Building on Jennifer’s comment, not only does the protagonist not the get the guy in the video, she apparently doesn’t get the guy in the song itself! It ends with a deceleration sound effect *whup whuup whuuuuuup* and in no point is it stated that a call was made. In fact, the second verse starts with “You took your time with the call…” and continues with “You gave me nothing at all…” so despite the singer’s pleading, the connection never happens.

    The other thing I wanted to comment on was the line “And all the other boys/Try to chase me” which sounds like an odd aside in a song that otherwise sticks to its theme of communication. To me it sounds like a bit of false bravado, saying ‘I’m not crazy-crazy because people are interested in me too,’ or to boil it down further, ‘I’m not being this forward because I’m desperate.’

    All in all it’s fun song on a lot of levels. Great video analysis!


    • fenzel #

      Yeah, the second half of the song there is interesting and offers a bit of a counterpoint to the first part — mostly I left it out for time.

      And the thing with the other guys chasing her shows that she hasn’t abandoned her traditional gender role and that, you’re right, she isn’t desperate. This is a departure from how she “normally” is – except perhaps one that sets up a new normal.


    • Gab #

      I don’t disagree with the interpretation of the line about other guys as her saying she’s not crazy-crazy or whatever. I’d like to add it could also mean (so a complementary, not an alternative) that it implies he should be excited about her acting out of step with traditional expectations because it’s for him. As in, “You should feel honored I think you’re awesome enough to break norms of society, since other guys have been around and I ignored them.”

      Fenzel, really liked the format. The little Foucault break had me rolling. I’m definitely using, “Somebody hit me with the Foucault!” next time I reference him in conversation (which happens often…).


      • cat #

        Gab, I agree with your insight. Especially with the enjambment of “It’s hard to look right/at you baby” which can be interpreted another way. It’s both difficult to look at him “directly” but it’s also difficult to look at him in the “right way”.

        I think one thing missing from the analysis is the consideration of the romance novel angle that comes up multiple times. Romance novels are not only extremely popular, topping bestsellers lists but they’ve also become a reasonably more socially acceptable avenue for exploring female sexuality and a romantic literary tradition. What does it mean for “Carly” to be attracted to this guy because this literary tradition has instructed her that he possesses the proper male form to be attracted to? What does it mean that when she tries to cast him in this role she can only do so through a dream/hallucination and is unable to maintain the fantasy/illusion?

        My first awareness of Carly Rae Jepsen was when she performed during the Billboard music awards and twitter responded with a flood of comments crying out “She’s 26!”


        • Gab #

          What the blazes is wrong with being 26, society?! Call me biased, but I happen to think it’s a very respectable age. Ahem.

          Don’t romance novels usually (or even most often) feature a very stereotypical power relationship, where the woman is somehow conquered (either because she was feisty and spirited and must be tamed, or because she’s innocent and inexperienced and must be enlightened to the wonders of… you know…)? If that’s the case, then not only is she stepping outside the traditional roles of the “reality” in which she lives, but also outside the roles in the fantasy world in which she is insinuated to frequently escape?

          And if that is the case, then what kind of “escape” are those novels for her in the first place?


          • cat #

            I think the issue with her being 26 is that as a society we’re uncomfortable with what we see as a false performance. So although she’s adhering to a certain male/female ideal, our impulse is to reject it as fake because she seems too old to be playing the role. Though there seems to be some tension between the youthfulness of her appearance and the song and the lust and sexuality of the visual images.

            I’d like to think that modern romances are a little more nuanced than that, but what I was hinting at was a sort of Northanger Abbey dynamic. She’s so caught up in what she’s been reading that it affects the way she responds to things in real life.

          • fenzel #

            It was probably from fans of hers who were much younger. They saw her as peers of their own, but really she is a peer of their teachers. That’s a pretty big jump.

          • An Inside Joke #

            I found the “All the guys chase me” line to completely back up fenzel’s premise of the man being “in her way” in a sense of preventing her from getting her target. If a socially acceptable role for a woman is to be passive and to allow a man to be the pursuer, then all the guys chasing her could very well be the proper man that Carly (as a character in the song) assumes she should be with, as a contrast to the subject of the song.

            I’d also like to say that I very much like this format for the Musical Talmud. It’s so nice to follow along with the song as the points are made, rather than having to scroll back and forth, pause, and rewind to listen to the appropriate lyrics as I read.

          • Gab #

            I like the Northanger Abbey angle a lot. And actually, the video, at least, is much like that book in that it sort of pokes fun at traditional romances and music videos. It isn’t over the top, per se, but I’m thinking particularly of the part where she falls off the car and then the very end.

            (PS- Have you seen the BBC adaptation with J.J. Field?)

  6. Timothy J Swann #

    This was really great – and yes, brilliant moments with ‘Someone hit me with the Foucault!’ and James Joyce’s nightmares. It seems that rhyme scene almost goes for the perpendicular each time – but then she steps back by going to the very same A for the next verse (I think) – so AAAB then AAAB again, which builds tension.


  7. Liffer Member #

    So … where can I get that “Michel Foucault!” sound effect?


  8. cat #

    @Gab No I haven’t seen it. I feel like I would like Mad Men and Downton Abbey and BBC adaptations of classic novels but I never have the time to watch them. One day. One day…

    Also, future post…we find another property that has this same theme and then compare it to Northanger Abbey. :)


  9. Wizardy #

    I really enjoyed this new format. And I agree that it helps to follow the analysis better. English being my second language, this format really helps me a lot.


  10. Tim #

    The new format is fantastic; and a great analysis to break it in with


    • cat #

      So I watched this again today. Some interesting questions…

      Why are they lip-synching and therefore adopting Carly Rae’s voice? It makes sense for the animals but presumably even if they’re not great singers, they could have sung the song. Or lipsynched over a track of a male singer.

      Why does the line “It’s hard to look right at you baby” come both times when the guys are standing in front of a church?

      Who are they singing to and why are they singing in a group? This changes the dynamic where there’s an object of desire and a person doing the wanting.


    • Pasteur #

      I wondered whether or not there’s something to say here – it’s brilliant and beautiful in all the right ways, but there’s an interesting difference. Cats are different than dogs – is there something to say about same-ness versus difference?


      • cat #

        I get that they wanted the dramatic punch and that for the most part to humans male and female dogs look pretty similar (especially depending on the breed). But you could have just put a bandana around the neck of another dog instead of having it be a cat. Assuming they’re not suggesting that being gay is analogous to being from a different species, I think the important point of same-ness is the impossibility of what the main character desires. The corgi adopts Carly Rae’s voice because although on the surface, it seems like what she wants is plausible, there’s ultimately something impossible about it that goes deeper than the orientation of the object of desire. That level of uncertainty, that “maybe” is always in play preventing the stability of the thought.


  11. elephants #

    I was like “meh, this will probably be good”.



  12. HBomb #

    Pete, this is amazing. I avoided this song until late last week, and now, of course, I love it. A commentary well done, two enthusiastic thumbs up!


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