At face value Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2019 album, Dedicated, and 2020 album-length EP, Dedicated Side B, may appear to be perfect complementary objects for Jandy Nelson’s 2014 YA novel, I’ll Give You The Sun.
But I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. They’re more than that.
I’m here to tell you that Dedicated and Dedicated Side B—or, as I shall be referring to it from her on, just Side B—don’t just share a lot of thematic material with I’ll Give You The Sun, thus making them perfect angsty Spotify playlist material. They are not akin to Sufjan Steven’s album’s, which all accidentally share their plot with The Song of Achilles, despite the fact that he only sings about Central American towns. Nor are they like Taylor Swift’s Lover, an album ostensibly about her relationship with Joe Alwyn, but also secretly a close documentation of various gay love affairs occurring between NHL players.
I’m here to tell you that Dedicated and Side-B are about I’ll Give You The Sun. Carly Rae Jepsen wrote both records as a conscious musical reimagining. And what’s more, I’m going to prove it.
At this juncture I should stipulate I’m writing this with the assumption that you are familiar with the works of Ms. Jepsen and Ms. Nelson in question. While I will copy and paste a brief Wikipedia summary of I’ll Give You The Sun, please know that any further explanation of plot will not be comprehensive, nor will it make a lot of sense if you’re not familiar with the novel (if you haven’t listened to Dedicated or Side B… shame on you).
[I’ll Give You The Sun] follows a set of twins, Jude and Noah. Although they were incredibly close at thirteen, three years later they are hardly speaking to each other. The early years are narrated by Noah as he struggles with an enormous secret that affects his past, present, and future. The later years are narrated by Jude as her life changes when she meets an arrogant and broken, yet beautiful boy. Jude also encounters a tormented, mysterious artist—an even more unpredictable force that changes her life, and Noah’s, forever.
Spoilers ahead (naturally).
Let’s start at the very beginning (I hear it’s a very good place to start), that’s right we’re talking structure. On its most fundamental level I’ll Give You The Sun is a novel concerned with duality.
There are two temporalities, two narrators, who are twins. Their arcs parallel, revolving around their relationship to their mother, to a romantic interest, and to each other.
This is, as I’m sure you’re realising, a lot of duality! Well, let me tell you, this isn’t even the half of it.
Additional instances of twinning include the beach, seasons (Summer is Noah’s, Winter is Jude’s), art as a means of emotional catharsis, nudity (nice), jumping from cliffs, parties as a place where Noah and Jude’s relationship permanently shifts, Noah being very drunk when said shift happens (we do not endorse alcoholism here at Manic, but also, nice), toxic dynamics with a bully named Zephyr (please explain this name, Jandy), and lying.
In a subtle, understated nod to this overriding theme of twinning, Jepsen infused Dedicated and Side B with so much duality that you’re pretty much being hit over the head with parallels at all times.
Again, let’s start with the obvious. Dedicated and Side B are not one, but two records. Two halves of one whole, if you will. I am personally of the belief that each record is supposed to represent one twin and thus documents events from their half of the novel, but I’ll dig into that in a bit.
Both records have one featured artist, Electric Guest on ‘Feels Right’ and Bleachers on ‘Comeback’. There’s an added temporal mirroring, with ‘Feels Right’ clearly being situated during the birth of a relationship, while ‘Comeback’ documents the emotions of a relationship’s aftermath.
Another parallel across records is the fifth tracks, ‘Everything He Needs’ and ‘This Is What They Say’. Both tracks are mid-tempo bops with a funk-synth groove. They, broadly speaking, represent the externalisation and internalisation of the same emotion—the chorus of both almost function as a call and response “he needs me/he needs me” says the former, “this is what they say/falling in love is supposed to feel like”, replies the latter
On Side B there are a pair of back-to-back tracks ‘Felt This Way’ and ‘Stay Away’, which are compositionally very akin to one another, and even share what is effectively the same hook, refraining the lyric “I can’t stay away away away away”.
Further instances of twinning abound, but who has the time? Moving on.
If I didn’t know any better (and arguably, I don’t) I would say that Jandy Nelson and Carly Rae Jepsen are actually the same person. Naturally, I have nothing to support his, mostly on account of it not being true. Look, here’s a picture of Nelson and a picture of Jepsen side-by-side:
These are clearly two different women.
Their output, however, feels cut from identical creative cloth. I’ll Give You The Sun came out in 2014. At that time Jepsen was at work on her then-soon-to-come 2015 masterpiece, Emotion. Now if we assume that all of her attention was given to the construction of that album—a pretty safe assumption, she writes hundreds of track for every album which she whittles down to a handful—then she probably didn’t have time to read I’ll Give You The Sun upon release. In fact, she probably didn’t get to read it until after she had released Emotion, gone on tour, and then released her 2016 follow up Emotion Side B (I have my own separate theory as to what those two records are about, but that’s an essay for another time).
The point I am trying to make, is that it is entirely likely that Jepsen didn’t read I’ll Give You The Sun until late 2016/early 2017, which also happens to be the time she started writing on Dedicated. Now, I cannot find any concrete evidence that Jepsen read the novel, but I know she did, because it reads like Carly catnip.
Jepsen’s music deals in emotional extremes. For the most part, she writes love songs, or more precisely, songs about the liminal space surrounding love. Where most artists write from one of two positions—”in love” or “no longer in love”—Jepsen writes about the journey’s that lead to those places. ‘Run Away With Me’ is about chasing love; ‘Call Me Maybe’ about the potential for love, the euphoric initial crush; ‘Your Type’ when that potential fails to eventuate; ‘Cry’ is about finding limits within love; ‘Roses’ about the regret of letting love go.
I’ll Give You The Sun tackles the concept of love in a very similar way. Noah and Jude spend maybe 10 of 400+ pages (of my second print copy) in relationships. The rest of the novel is given to love’s potential: yearning, chasing, rejecting, succumbing, and so on. The novel is literally divided down the middle, with a two-and-a-half-year gap separating the halves of the story. The element that would normally be the centre of the narrative—the great family tragedy—is literally written around, much in the same way Jepsen writes around the usual perspectives of love in her songs.
On a stylistic level, I’ll Give You The Sun again feels like something that Jepsen would find creatively stimulating. Nelson’s prose is full-bodied, ripe with feeling. In the novel’s opening line, she describes Noah running from Zephyr:
The whole forest floor shaking under my feed as a I blast through air, tress, this white-hot panic.
This is some of Nelson’s milder, more grounded prose.
It also aligns nicely with Jepsen’s creative point-of-view. In a Longreads article, Rachel Vorona Cote describes a particular moment when she saw Jepsen live. It feels thetical to her artistry:
She introduced “Too Much” by protesting the term’s premise: She had wondered, she told the audience, whether it was possible for a person to be fundamentally excessive. Her defiant conclusion: It was not.
If there were ever a writer to inspire Carly Rae Jepsen’s creativity, surely it would be Jandy Nelson.
As I established above, I believe that each record is about one of the twins, and by extension covers events that happen in their half of the narrative. Personally, I believe that Dedicated is Noah’s half, while Side B is Jude’s. This is backed up by the fact that Noah is the first narrator, and Jude the second, and likewise their corresponding records were released in that order.
Building on this, I believe that each record has one track that is the twin’s theme song. The remaining tracks document the emotions felt during specific plot points. It should be noted here that a song can, and often does, embody several characters or feelings simultaneously. Connections and recurrences are key themes throughout the novel; there’s a great amount of narrative symmetry between characters. Parallels not only can be drawn but should be drawn and Jepsen did just that.
Dedicated is Noah’s record.
His theme song is obviously ‘Too Much’. Nelson describes Noah as someone who feels emotions very intensely (this actually true of both twins, but Jude’s emotions tend to have more contours, whereas Noah’s are holistic and all-consuming). Take this Noah quote, about his ~feelings for Brian~:
His soul might be a sun. I’ve never anyone who had the sun for a soul
Now let’s Compare and Contrast with ‘Too Much’:
‘Cause I live for the fire, and the rain, and the drama too, boy
And it feels like you
I rest my case.
A large amount of Dedicated’s tracks are about various aspects of Noah and Brian’s budding relationship. ‘Now That I Found You’, ‘Automatically In Love’, ‘Happy Not Knowing’, and ‘Everything He Needs’ are pretty straightforward examples, however, there are tracks that reference specific elements as well:
‘What You In My Room’ — Windows are key part of Noah and Brian’s romance. The first time he sees Brian he’s looking out window. The first time Brian and Noah’s kiss, it’s after Brian enters through Noah’s window. Noah sneaks out his window to go stargazing with Brian. Window, windows, windows.
Key Lyrics: “I keep a window, for you, it’s always open” and “Don’t go (no!), the night’s not over/I just wanna get a little bit closer (a little bit closer)”
‘The Sound’ & ‘Right Words Wrong Time’ — One of Noah’s character traits is that he’s very, very, very introverted (mood). He rarely speaks, even when prompted, often forgetting to say the thing he actually intends to say. However, as their romance grows this becomes an issue, as Brian begins to make friends with other people, including girls (ew) who show romantic interest in him (oh no). Noah becomes jealous and resents the fact that he can’t express himself easily, and that this keeps him and Brian apart (at least initially). This is best embodied in one of the most memorable from the novel:
“I love you,” I say to him, only it comes out, “Hey.”
“So damn much,” he says back, only it comes out, “Dude.”
He still won’t meet my eyes.”
‘Right Words Wrong Time’ is about this quote specifically, ‘The Sound’ is about the broader feelings.
Key Lyrics (‘The Sound’): “I’ve been testing out the waters/I don’t think I can swim, love/With the way you rock me ’round” and “I don’t need the words, I want the sound, sound, sound, sound, sound”
Key Lyrics (‘Right Words Wrong Time’): “My baby, my baby/You’ve always got the right words at the wrong time” and “I don’t wanna see your face/I’m afraid I couldn’t wait for you/I’m afraid that I would break”
‘Feels Right’ ft. Electric Guest — This one is really straightforward, it’s about Noah and Brian’s relationship once they finally get together. It’s a very sweet and nice time for both of them. But also, it’s a secret relationship, as Brian worries about getting outed for a complex set of reasons (we’ve all been there). Tellingly this song has a featured artist, Electric Guest, who stand in Brian (Brian’s hair is also describes as standing on end, as if there’s an electric current running through it).
Key Lyrics: “’Cause it feels like I’ve never loved/Now I got ya/And I only think of you” and “True fact/Maybe I love you back, don’t ask/Nothing I want to say” and “You’re the one to change my mind/’Cause it feels right, when it feels right”
‘Julien’ & ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ — As I mentioned above, while Dedicated is Noah’s record, topics covered can be relevant to any character present in his half of the narrative. Case-and-point, these two tracks, which are not about Noah or Brian, but Jude and their (Jude and Noah’s) mother. Throughout the first half of the novel, Jude has a quasi-relationship with Zephyr, and Noah and Jude’s mother has an affair with a sculptor called Guillermo. These two tracks cover their feelings toward these men, with ‘Julien’ being about their outward feelings (Julien the stand in name for Zephyr and Guillermo), and ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ is how they perceive themselves in the relationship.
Key Lyric (‘Julien’): “Julien, in your heart, yeah, you must believe/Julien, it was more than a fantasy/To the end, through the last breath that I breathe”
Key Lyrics (I’ll Be Your Girl): “You’re my baby/Come to bed, I’ll be your girl” and “Standing at your door, calling out your name/Found me in the dark, find me here again/I’ve got nothing left, like a little protest”
‘No Drug Like Me’ — Ok, again, this track has a few meanings. It refers to Oscar, a model who Noah draws nude (long story). He has a very enticing personality but has a substance abuse problem—he becomes more of a character in Jude’s half, but he’s set up here. It also refers to a party Noah attends, where he takes him illicit substances. There’s a LOT of drama (even by high school standards), Noah realises how addicted he is to Brian (another drug refence) and a few other things happen Brian kisses Jude, Noah get’s jealous and has a major “does Brian NOT like me” moment. Just trust me this one fits.
Key Lyrics: “You say you love me but you wouldn’t dare-are” and “Feeling so intoxicated/Worried eyes, I’m open wide”
‘Real Love’ — This is about the climax of Noah’s half of the novel. He wants to find out if Brian loves him, Jude wants to know if their mother still loves her, their mother and father split and they want to find out if they can still get back together. All their relationships are breaking down, everything feels like it’s crumbling. Drama city, I’m telling you.
Key Lyrics: “The world is going crazy/And it feels like I just don’t know who to trust sometimes/Thunder’s coming over me, I need to get a hold of you now” and “And I’ve been feeling weak without it/Only want a real, real love”
‘For Sure’ & ‘Party For One’ — Ok, so as I mentioned much earlier, a key theme in I’ll Give You The Sun is lying. Noah tells some pretty yikes™ lies, and we don’t find out about it until toward the end of the novel, making it a hidden part of the narrative. Fittingly these two tracks are only on the extended edition of Dedicated, making them similarly “hidden”. ‘For Sure’ is about being him not honest to himself about his sexuality, which causes his relationship with Brian to fully break down. It’s also his mother’s knowing that she doesn’t want to get back with her husband. ‘Party For One’ is about a tragedy that Noah accidentally causes. That being: the death of their mother (again yikes). He then lies about causing her death, which—when combined with his collapsed relationship with Brian—makes him withdraw into himself, which is what ‘Party For One’ is about, the upbeat tone of the song Carly’s way of being “ironic”.
Key Lyric (‘For Sure’): “I’ve been thinking, we were over/I’ve been thinking, got to know for sure”
Key Lyrics (‘Party For One’): “Tried to let it go and say I’m over you/I’m not over you” and “Was it all a dream I let myself believe?/I’m not over this (I’m not over this)”
Dedicated Side B/Jude
I’ve said it before, but in case you’re not keeping up, I’ll say it again: Side B is Jude’s record.
After some analysis I have concluded that her theme song is ‘This Love Isn’t Crazy’. I believe this is her track mostly on account of the fact that most people think Jude is a little batty (she carries around her dead grandmother’s book of home proverbs); she has feelings for Oscar (now sober) which she thinks is crazy as All Men Are Bad; and her relationship to Noah, their father, and their mother (now dead) is cosmically broken, but she loves them nonetheless. Again, a kind of crazy. Here’s a Jude quote:
“I remember Guillermo saying the cracks and breaks were the best and most interesting parts of the work in my portfolio. Perhaps it’s the same with people and their cracks and breaks.”
Compares and Contrast:
“And for some time
I’ve been singing you a lullaby
Each night whispering that
It’s your right to hurt me, baby
If you wanted to
Oh, but love isn’t cruel”
Where Noah’s half of the novel is fairly focused on his romance with Brian; narrative elements with other character present but not dominant, Jude’s half of the novel is a lot more complicated. Her romance with Oscar is the primary romantic subplot, but her relationship with her mother and Noah are as important, if not more-so. Therefore, while Side B is a shorter beast, it also packs more into each song. A few are straightforward—‘This Is What They Say’ and ‘Heartbeat’ are clearly about Jude and Oscar’s romance—but other’s not so much.
‘Felt This Way’ & ‘Stay Away’ — Ok, so just then, when I said these tracks are more complicated and not always about Jude and Oscar? Yeah, these are two straightforward tracks about Jude and Oscar. I know, I know, I’m contradicted what I just said, shh. What makes them worthy of mention is that they have the same musical structure and embody Jude’s complicated feelings (you see she’s falling for Oscar but doesn’t want to). ‘Felt This Way’ is about her resisting, and ‘Stay Away’ is about her deciding that resistance is futile. She goes back and forth like this a LOT.
Key Lyrics (‘Felt This Way’): “But I can’t take much more of your hesitating/Both our hands speak for us and complicate it” and “Reading your mind’s getting hard to do/Breaking my heart if you don’t come through”
Key Lyrics (‘Stay Away’): “How can I stay away?” and ” I can’t take much more of your hesitating/Both our hands speak for us and complicate it” and “My home is your body/How can I stay away?”
‘Window’ — More twinning, windows! This song has a few meanings. Jude becomes Guillermo’s sculpting apprentice, but only after spying on him through the window of his studio. Jude also struggles to connect with people, and only does so for a few moments at a time. She and Noah are especially distant. They often go long stretches without closeness, with very small “windows” (eh? eh?) of emotional truth.
Key Lyric: “Keep a window for me open, open for me/Always, please don’t lock the door”
‘Summer Love’ — Right. So, this one is about Jude and Noah’s retrospective feelings for the summer where they both made romantic mistakes (in Noah’s half of the narrative)—for Jude, getting with Zephyr; for Noah, letting Brian get away and also outing him (yeah, that happens). We find out that Noah has been leaving messages for Brian on an online lost love forum (aw), and that Zephyr and Jude had sex and it was bad and Jude wasn’t ready and it traumatised her (yuck, Zephyr). Late in Jude’s half these feelings come to a head and they’re confronted—Jude regrets, Noah wants another try, blah blah blah.
Key lyric: “It’s my turn it’s our time/And I’d like to talk it over”
‘Let’s Sort The Whole Thing Out’ — This one is pretty straightforward but it covers a lot of plot. After a drunk Noah tries to throw himself off a cliff, he and Jude and their dad and Guillermo and Oscar sort out all the lies and miscommunication. Noah tells Jude that their mum was having an affair with Guillermo, Noah tells Jude that he drew Oscar nude once, Jude tells Noah she ruined his chance at getting into an art school (long story), Noah and Jude tell their dad that their mum was going to leave him, Oscar and Jude sort out their feelings and get together. It’s a song about explaining!
Key Lyric: “One more drink, let’s get to the bottom of it/I love you/Let’s sort the whole thing out”
‘Comeback’ ft. Bleachers —Ok, this song builds on the last one. If that was all about resolving plot, this one is all about resolving emotions. The “comeback” refers to: Jude getting her groove back, Noah getting his groove back, their dad getting his groove back, Brian coming back to Noah, Guillermo feeling close to Noah and Jude’s mother (through a bond with them), Jude resolving her grief over her mum dying and feeling close to her again. It’s very beautiful and nice, good job Carly.
Key Lyrics: “I’m at peace in the dark/When I know that you’re near/Hear the breath of your heart” and “And I won’t say you’re the reason I was on my knees/But I’m thinkin’ that maybe you’ll come back/Come back to me”
‘Solo’ — Throughout the novel Noah and Jude think of themselves as a unit. This a cute twin thing (I think? I don’t have a twin so I’m assuming). But it has a downside, as it means that their journeys are in lockstep. At its best it means they lift each other up, but in moments of strife, they drag each other down. Jude makes a sculpture of herself of Noah but then, in a very symbolic moment, splits it in half, freeing herself and Noah from their tether, allowing them to become whole selfs, resolving the twinning motif and all themes related.
Key Lyric: “You shine bright by yourself dancing solo”
‘Now I Don’t Hate California After All‘ — This song is about the novel’s final few pages. Jude and Noah’s relationship is mended, Jude and Oscar are together, Noah and Brian are back together, everything is peachy. A fact that hasn’t been relevant to this analysis until now is that this novel takes place somewhere in California. Noah hates California. Jude used to like it, but after their mother’s death hates it. The final scene takes place on a beach, and everyone is happy; everything is resolved, now they don’t hate California after all, guys!
Key Lyrics: “Now I don’t hate California after all” and “Love on the beach and the tide is high”
There you have it. My grand theory is laid out. Carly Rae Jepsen definitely, irrefutably wrote Dedicated and Dedicated Side B about I’ll Give You The Sun. How can you say I’m wrong?
After all this, we have one unresolved thread, track eight from Side B, ‘Fake Mona Lisa Lips’. Where does this fit in? From where in I’ll Give You The Sun did Carly draw inspiration? What does it reflect? Is it about Noah and Jude’s relationship to art?
I’m going to honest. I have no clue. It’s a weird fucking song, guys.