In the af­ter­math of ‘Maybe,’ Carly Rae finds new free­dom

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - AL­LI­SON STE­WART Chicago Tri­bune

Carly Rae Jepsen knew she would lose fans af­ter the suc­cess of “Call Me Maybe” wore off.

This is the nat­u­ral or­der of things: “Call Me Maybe,” the Cana­dian singer-song­writer’s first big song, wasn’t just a mon­ster hit, it was a cul­tural tsunami, a piti­less ear­worm that sold over 18 mil­lion copies, and went to No. 1 in at least 19 coun­tries. This kind of pop­u­lar­ity, she re­al­ized, was un­sus­tain­able.

But Jepsen didn’t know she would lose so many fans, so quickly. Dur­ing the song’s late 2012-early 2013 peak, she opened a sold-out arena tour for Justin Bieber, an early backer with whom she has oc­ca­sion­ally col­lab­o­rated. On her own, pro­mot­ing her fol­lowup al­bum, “Emo­tion,” she played clubs. “It was a se­vere change,” Jepsen says. “It was ac­tu­ally re­ally shock­ing to us. I think be­fore, open­ing for Bieber, you kind of get those sort of fans, and you won­der if they’re yours, or if you’re hold­ing them for a lit­tle while.”

“Kiss,” the 2012 re­lease that housed “Call Me Maybe,” was a sug­ary, tween-y pop al­bum that sold tol­er­a­bly well. “Emo­tion,” re­leased last sum­mer, is a grown-up pop al­bum with in­die in­cli­na­tions. It has done less well, so far birthing one mod­est hit (“I Re­ally Like You”). The ab­sence of a “Call Me Maybe”-sized smash is in­ten­tional, Jepsen says. “I don’t think there’s too many peo­ple who want to keep cre­at­ing the same music over and over. It was a great time of my life, and it took me on this wild ad­ven­ture that I never would have imag­ined for my­self, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a place where I was ex­pected to de­liver the same thing over and over. Not only would the pres­sure be high, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was ex­cited to try a kind of pop that wasn’t purely just pop.”

“Emo­tion” is synth-heavy and ’80s-skew­ing, with guest ap­pear­ances from former Vam­pire Week­end in­stru­men­tal­ist Rostam Bat­man­glij and Blood Or­ange’s Dev Hynes. If “Kiss” was a play for Top 40 star­dom, “Emo­tion” is a hip­ster out­reach pro­gram.

Jepsen’s un­likely ca­reer tra­jec­tory, from 2007 “Cana­dian Idol” al­so­ran to pop sen­sa­tion to cool-kid-beloved Se­ri­ous Artist, is some­thing she would have found un­think­able 18 months ago.

“It’s been a strange ca­reer that I’ve had, but I much pre­fer the at­ten­tion that we’ve got­ten from this al­bum ver­sus not re­ally be­ing able to go any­where, the way it was with the last al­bum,” she says. “I feel much more com­fort­able. When I was at the height (of my fame) with ‘Call Me Maybe,’ it was a lit­tle bit too much, al­most. This feels bet­ter. And also, to be rec­og­nized for some­thing that feels more au­then­ti­cally you is the best feel­ing.”

“Emo­tion” isn’t a dra­matic de­par­ture like its pre­de­ces­sor, it’s a pris­tine, catchy dance-pop al­bum. But it has has­tened the nat­u­ral weed­ing-out process that all newly minted stars with one big hit must go through, sep­a­rat­ing ca­sual fans from Carly Rae Jepsen fans.

Jepsen was on the verge of turn­ing 30 when she made “Emo­tion,” mid­dle-aged in pop star years, and she had lit­tle idea who her au­di­ence was. When she fi­nally be­gan play­ing shows to sup­port her new al­bum, she dis­cov­ered that her new fan base was big enough to fill large clubs, and old enough to drink. This was strange, but “it wasn’t scary,” she says. “There was a new free­dom to be on­stage and be able to speak more can­didly, to tell back­sto­ries of how these songs came to be, and not have to cen­sor any of it. I found my­self much more at home around peo­ple my own age.”

In re­cent months, she has also had to re-ex­am­ine her re­la­tion­ship to “Call Me Maybe,” which had been bound up in anx­i­ety and pres­sure and a fa­mil­iar­ity that bred con­tempt.

“It’s been a chang­ing thing. I think be­fore we had this al­bum out, there was a frus­tra­tion. I was def­i­nitely tired (of play­ing it), but it was al­ways one of those songs the crowd would kind of pick up and sing for me. It just be­came this kind of sin­ga­long num­ber. Now I quite en­joy it. It’s shock­ing to me that I would change my feel­ing about it, but it’s the time of night where ev­ery­one comes to­gether, and we do it as a team.”

RICHARD SHOTWELL, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Carly Rae Jepsen says her new al­bum, "Emo­tion" does not have a "call Me Maybe"-sized hit and that "feels bet­ter."

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