I am not good at letting go. Like so many of us, I listen to music for clues on how to deal with the pain. When I first streamed Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest album, “The Loneliest Time,” I was thus misled; what I supposed would be a record of emotional turmoil and perturbation was in fact one of energy and optimism: of faith in love, resilience in heartbreak and the jubilation of romantic reconciliation. Its last two songs, “Go Find Yourself Or Whatever” and the album’s title track, end the record on a somber-sweet note. Maddeningly, they suggest that the best — and perhaps only — way to get anywhere is to return to where you came from.
To love or to let go? Mikaela Straus, otherwise known as King Princess, faces the same evergreen question on “Hold On Baby,” which came out this past summer. She performed three of its songs on a stirring NPR Tiny Desk Concert released last week. In “Cursed,” she is bracingly honest, spurning a lover for the curse both their company and their absence have held over her. On “Let Us Die,” the closer for both the album and the Tiny Desk, she proceeds further down this path, accepting, and even fueling, a relationship’s demise in what she asserts is a necessary act of love.
Jepsen’s and Straus’ records thus offer two different approaches: to reconcile with a past lover, or to “Let Us Die.” Jepsen oscillates between stripped down, airy acoustic beats and her more familiar rapturous, candied pop as she evokes both the sentimental powers of the past and her own ever-flowing fount of affections. Straus sounds resigned, resolute and rousing as she, in cathartic alt-rock anthems reminiscent of the early-aughts, avows that what once affected her must not any longer.
On “Go Find Yourself or Whatever,” Jepsen holds on to a hope she knows is tenuous, ending each aching chorus with a quiet “And I will wait for you.” The song hinges upon a “someday”; Jepsen yearns for the passage of time to heal her broken heart even if she does not believe in it. More importantly, she wants to reach a point of forgiveness: to be able to hold on yet again through the act of first letting go.
“The Loneliest Time,” a duet with Rufus Wainwright, exhibits an exceptional musical chemistry and accordingly opens paths toward new emotional possibilities. In it, Jepsen and Wainwright have a conversation that is uncannily symmetrical: two past lovers finding their way, with each step increasingly certain, back to one another and into a golden sunset. Their honeyed harmonies fill you up, leaving you not quite sure of what’s real and what’s not, always questioning but always holding on. It’s a gorgeous feat, brutally idealistic and yet suspiciously true — a triumph of a contemporary love song.
Other songs on “The Loneliest Time” bear echoes of this relentless hope. In the album’s opening track, “Surrender My Heart,” Jepsen bursts forth with a promise to place her faith in love, which for her means to be vulnerable to love’s mystifying powers. On “Joshua Tree,” she is actively in search of amazement, whether by the stars and the cosmos or by someone else’s being. On “Far Away,” she feels, in fact, not so far away from a past lover, always within a leap’s distance from “that conversation” or reintroduction with somebody she retains affection for.
“It’s a curse to be your friend” may sound harsh, but embedded in the ambivalence of a chorus that also sings “it’s a curse to be alone,” the line becomes a bit more understandable. King Princess’s “Cursed” explores this emotional trap, ultimately opting for severance so that she and her lover each can just “be.” While she knows this isn’t easy — “I miss you more the more I grow” — she also knows she must bite the bullet. It’s best, she finds, to rid oneself of the metaphorical bricks inside their coat.
In “Let Us Die,” Straus advocates for death and love at the same time. The song is heavy with noisy, messy timbres, not unlike the discomfort and destruction Straus sings of. For her, the death of a relationship is not an end but a means toward loving that person. Death generates something beautiful and absent in its wake, and death is only inevitable.
To pick either of these paths is, of course, only so easy. Jepsen and Wainwright propose a sparkling, enveloping fantasy, and Straus a painful resolution to the pain. Is loving the same as letting go? Whom do we love when we let go? Neither offer a sufficient answer, but perhaps listening to both in tandem might offer some sense of completion. Perhaps each is a way of loving, an attempt at love, and therefore neither way is so different at all.
Becky Zhang PO ’22.5 likes listening to music, especially while in a moving vehicle.