Contrary to what everyone is saying, this song doesn't sound like the '80s, but it has a refreshing emotional tone nonetheless. It isn't bratty, emo, or self-absorbed. It's basically sincere, uncomplicated, and other-pleasing.
For 20 years, female pop singers have been broadcasting how little they depend emotionally on men. Either they're scum and don't deserve attention ("No Scrubs," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"), or they're fleeting conquests of empowerrrd womynnn ("Shoop," "Blank Space"). Two sides of the same slutball coin (both types ironically sung by a virgin who only "dates" fags, Taylor Swift).
The songs that are supposedly about being in a loving stable relationship don't ring true and sound forced ("I Wanna Love You Forever," "Umbrella"). Perhaps that's because there aren't any songs about the initial infatuation that establishes the couple's chemistry as a prelude to love. (Again, not talking about the shallow "I'm hot, you're hot, let's do it" songs about lust at first sight.) If we're not convinced of the organic nature of their first encounters, then hearing about pop singers' steady relationships will sound staged and going-through-the-motions.
Wholesome, bouncy songs about the initial stages of courtship used to be a dime a dozen back in the '80s and early '90s -- "I Think We're Alone Now," "Shake Your Love," "I Love Your Smile" -- but there are notable differences from today's "I Really Like You".
The singers from the good old days were teenagers, who sound more believable than the nearly 30 year-old Jepsen when it comes to feeling butterflies in the stomach. They also sounded more mature back then, as though they'd been infatuated and in a relationship several times already, whereas Jepsen sounds more like a sixth-grader getting her first crush. Another case of Millennial stunting caused by helicopter parents socially sheltering them.
And of course they don't sound anything alike. The older songs are melodic, the verses are sung rather than mumbled-and-shouted, the drumbeat is more elaborate than a metronomic thud, and the instrumentation is rich rather than sparse.
It goes to show how superficial music critics are, that they lump songs together that use the same family of instruments, rather than, y'know, how it actually sounds. "Synths + drum machine = SO '80S!!!" It's more like a contempo pop song wearing an '80s costume. The video is also a dressing up as an '80s video, with Tom Hanks replacing Chevy Chase as the comedic actor who lip-syncs the lyrics while acting goofy.
Even the tone, while unlike the typical self-absorbed or self-conscious tone of today's music, isn't at an '80s level of letting your guard down. It's more like the atmosphere of the mid-to-late '50s, although I can't think of a good comparison song off the top of my head. Something in between the forced sound of the Chordettes, but not as sincere as the girl groups of the early '60s.
In general, the people looking to make the Next Big Thing should stop trying to copy the '80s and look more to the late '50s and early '60s. That was the beginning of the outgoing and rising-crime climate that would reach its culmination in the '80s. It's hard to imitate an apex, but less daunting to recreate the simple inchoate beginnings.
Once we finally do shift from a cocooning to outgoing social mood, it'll only be at the level of the last shift circa 1960. We're not going to skip straight to the end. Our mindsets, both the musicians' and the audience's, will be more aligned with those of 1960 than 1980 or 1990.