Pop is timeless. That’s sort of what’s cool about it. At its best it’s really universal and effortlessly relatable. At its weakest, it’s boring and predictable music rehashing tired tropes we’re all sick of. And sometimes instead of being timeless it falls into anachronistic.
And that’s squarely where Anointed Summer Jam of Twenty-Twelve “Call Me Maybe” ends up.
I’m just going to assume you’ve heard it. Because it’s fucking everywhere. But if you’re somehow unfamiliar, it’s a pretty trifle built on giant, robotic string hits and a really nineties dance beat made of what appears to be about six different synth sections each doing their own thing. It also contains the infinitely looped refrain:
Hey, I just met you,
and this is crazy,
but here’s my number,
so call me, maybe?
Let’s get something out of the way fast: This is a song about female desire which treats lady lusting as a normal thing. Her gaze is lustful and a little objectifying without being too creepy (“ripped jeans, skin was showin’”). Good job on those counts.
But honestly, I think that we need to acknowledge that frank expressions of female desire in pop music are actually a dime a dozen. I can think of fine examples all the way back to the sixties and throngs of examples from the past few years alone. The new battleground for the depiction of desire in pop is in the details. And the details here are all wrong.
It all comes down to “crazy.” And “this.” It’s a pretty great indefinite reference. What’s crazy? Is it the singer’s feelings, the situation, her forward offering of her number? For my money, it’s definitely the last one. So we’ve got a woman declaring that her oh-so-forward offering-a-number with the suggestion that maybe this boy should call her maybe is basically the action of someone who’s “crazy.” And she feels awkward enough about doing it that she needs to offer it with that uptalk-y, diffident “maybe.”
So female desire exists. It’s normal-ish. But pursuing it even a little bit is “crazy.” I hate preachy conclusions, but here’s one anyway: Pop has stopped short of the finish line. It has foregrounded and normalized desire and sex in ways that have definitely helped a lot of people not feel like lust-monsters for experiencing desire. But then shit like this happens. And suddenly it feels like you’re back at square one and you remember that pop music’s broad appeal means that sometimes what breaks through is the stuff that entrenches the old guys-go-first courtship tropes that we all wish would go the hell away.
At least we’ve still got Kanye West? “No Church in the Wild” contains a pretty great outlining of safe boundaries for a poly relationship. On the other hand, elsewhere on the same album is a lengthy discussion of “how many bitches [he] owns,” so I guess you can’t win ‘em all.
 For those curious, I think Annie’s “Heartbeat” is a nearly perfect entry into the “drinking, dancing and nearly-anonymous sex” genre of pop music. It’s a song that manages to make sweaty dance-floor hook-ups with people whose names you don’t know sound pretty sweet and pretty life-affirming.