In the aftermath of ‘Maybe,’ Carly Rae finds new freedom
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.”
Carly Rae Jepsen says her new album, "Emotion" does not have a "call Me Maybe"-sized hit and that "feels better."