Surprising story behind massive pop hit
THERE'S something special about a Carly Rae Jepsen concert.
Maybe it's the heart-on-sleeve nature of her lyrics: All wide-eyed sincere proclamations of love and heartbreak that, when sung by a 33-year-old woman, give audiences permission to tap into their own inner teenager.
Maybe it's the fact that, four albums deep and with one world-conquering hit under her belt, she's still something of a cult proposition: Many a Carly Rae fan will have weathered the question "You mean the Call Me Maybe girl?" when praising her more recent efforts.
I spoke to Jepsen this week after she'd arrived home in LA, having tacked on a much-needed Thai holiday to the Asian leg of her tour.
Later this month, she'll visit Australia for her first headlining gigs on these shores, playing songs from her fourth album Dedicated alongside the ubiquitous Call Me Maybe, a song she now admits she's had a complicated relationship with over the years.
You've just been on holiday - do you get recognised much in those situations?
I feel like I'm pretty lucky that way. I don't have a ton of experiences of being overwhelmed. It usually happens one-on-one - a person in a restaurant saying, 'Hey, I like your music!' It's a sweet moment versus, you know, mania. I think it's the only kind of fame that I could manage - I don't know how people do it.
Let's talk about your tour. There's a very sincere element to your music that seems to carry over to your shows.
It's rare nowadays, with the way the culture's shifted with Instagram and texting - I know I sound like an old lady - but I do feel that people don't always say what they feel. It can be a relief to just put it all out there, all the raw feelings.
It's funny, last night I got home really jet-lagged and couldn't figure out what to do, so I started listening to old records. My mum was really into Supertramp when I was younger and I never really got it. Well, last night I did. I was listening to a song called Lover Boy and it was the same sort of way that I like to write: Real, earnest, painful, all the things at once (laughs).
If you were to just go by the charts, a song like Run Away With Me wasn't really a hit. But if you've spent any time online in the past few years, it's been inescapable. Do you feel like there are different ways to measure success nowadays?
I measure success not by charts at all. If I did I think it'd be a disappointment for me! I measure it being in the room, and by that feeling I just talked about. I had no idea I could be (playing) in Manila and people would know all the words to my B-sides and be singing them back to me. Those are the moments I take as my feeling of contentment. It doesn't just need to be about the charts.
Your fanbase takes you to some unusual places online - the inescapable Run Away With Me memes, the social media campaign to give you a sword. Do you monitor what's going on?
No, I'm the opposite. I found out months later about the sword thing, and I was like, 'Where did this start? Did someone make a petition for me to get a sword?' I would be on stage and I would receive all these swords and have no idea why - until I did, and it was this hilarious joke. From then on, every show, every night, got so many swords. Gotta love it. Luckily, whoever came up with it speaks to my humour. I love silliness.
Call Me Maybe was such an insanely huge song. Eight years and 1.2 billion YouTube views later, how do you feel about it?
I have an interesting relationship with that song. It's not been one thing - it's changed, as I think it would for anyone who's sung a song as much as I have that one. It was pure rollercoaster 'holy sh*t!' when it first came out, then it turned to, 'Uh-oh. I don't want that to be the only thing I'm known for'. It became a challenge and a little bit of a burden for a while. But I think I'm at a place with it now where I just feel grateful for it because it allowed me to have this platform to show the other type of music that I do. It's become a nostalgic moment in the show - and weirdly, it's the one song in the set I'm most likely to forget the words to. Luckily the audience picks up where I left off.
It really is one of those perfect pop songs. Could you feel you had a hit on your hands when you'd written it?
I don't think any of us had that feeling. I was even pushing for another song to (be released) first, so clearly I don't have the ears for what works and what doesn't. Even the way it was written - I don't know I look at it as the 'perfect pop song' versus a funky little creation that we got lucky on.
Cut to the Feeling is another fan favourite - but it was originally a leftover that didn't make the cut for your Emotion album.
Clearly, I would make a terrible A&R person. I fought to not have Call Me Maybe as my first single, and I didn't include Cut to the Feeling on my next album.
I think I thought it was a little too much like a musical; it was so over the top that I thought it belonged in some future musical I'd been dreaming of writing. Then the opportunity came along for it to be in (2016 animated movie) Ballerina. They were like, 'We need something over the top, wind through your hair …' I thought, 'Hmm … I might just have something.' The take-home is be as extreme as you need to be! No holding back.
Your music career started when you came third on Canadian Idol in 2007. Did you have any hesitations about going down that route?
I didn't want to go down the route of the reality TV show. I had a really clear view of how my career was going to look, but I didn't understand it's not just A + B and you become a singer. You have to come at it from all angles. I had a drama teacher who told me, 'You can't be picky and choosy. You have to knock on every door'. She drove me to the auditions, and I'm so glad she did. I thought it might get me some notoriety in Canada, but it really helped me to get managers, put out songs and actually get somewhere. Originally, I would've put up my nose to a reality show but I'm really grateful for it.
And as so many people have shown, it's really about what you do next.
Yeah, I think I saw the competition as a longer thing as just winning. I remember when I was in the top five and they were talking to us about the contract, I remember thinking, 'I think I'd like to come second because I don't want to sign that'. It was enough to make me realise the real competition came afterwards: What do you do (next)?
It's been six months since Dedicated was released - are you working on new music?
I've written a lot, but I don't know if it's for an album yet or if it's just for me. Right now I'm writing on the road, so it's folky guitar stuff. I don't know what I'm going to do with. But I'm definitely thinking about what flavour the next album will be, and this is part of that - experimenting with a few different directions first. And I do also have a lot of songs left over from making Dedicated that I'd love to give some light to. I think that's more in my mind right now.
You've said you wrote hundreds of songs for Dedicated. It must be daunting trying to pick a dozen or so to make the album.
I go a little A Beautiful Mind-crazy when it comes to selecting songs. In my little office I have little charts I've made and voting games - I've realised how huge of an issue it was for me to select. I hope I can overthink things a little less with my next project.
Carly Rae Jepsen's Australian tour starts at Sydney's Enmore Theatre on November 26 before shows in Melbourne and the SandTunes festival on the Gold Coast. Visit TEG Dainty for full tour dates and ticket info.