Entertainment & Arts

Carly Rae Jepsen: Pop's queen of over-thinking

Carly Rae Jepsen Image copyright Interscope
Image caption "I went insane," says Jepsen of making her new album. "I can't believe I did this again."

Two years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen took a break from her pop star life and boarded a plane to Italy.

The goal was to take a holiday by herself, away from the hustle of LA, free from managers and entourages and the constant ping of emails.

It didn't go quite to plan.

"I'm so used to travelling with a whole army of helpers and people around me that I forgot my credit cards," the Canadian singer says, giggling self-consciously.

"And then I couldn't find the dude from the Airbnb I was staying at. His name was supposed to be Giorgio, and I went around looking for him. Some old man came up to me, who I thought was Giorgio, and he pinched my cheeks and said, 'Ciao, bella' and took off!

"I was like, 'This is not a good start.' But it turned itself around pretty quickly."

Plot Twist

Jepsen, who shot to fame in 2012 with the smash Call Me Maybe, had just broken off a relationship with photographer David Kalani Larkins. She embraced the freedom and self-reliance of travelling alone.

"You have to get comfortable with bringing your book to dinner and that being your date," she says. "You ruin the night if you start thinking everyone's looking at you because you're by yourself."

The trip went so well, in fact, that the star briefly contemplated staying put.

One of her Instagrammed holiday snaps even came with the caption: "She writes something like 50 tunes for her next album, takes a break in Italy and - plot twist - never comes back."

Jepsen's fans went bananas.

"Please don't threaten me like this," wrote one. "Don't you dare," fumed another.

Two hundred songs

To her fans' relief, Jepsen came to her senses and resumed work on her fourth album, Dedicated - but they had a long wait ahead of them.

Those 50 songs became 200 as the star abandoned her plan to write a record of "strictly understated disco" and started trying out new guises.

Two hundred songs is only 13 fewer than The Beatles released in their entire career. And Jepsen claims to have recorded a similar amount for her previous album, E•MO•TION.

"I was complaining about this to a journalist in LA," admits the star, "Like, 'God I went insane. I can't believe I did this again.'

"But this woman said, 'I think you should see it as a gift that you're so prolific and you don't get writer's block.' And she's right.

"It doesn't mean the songs are always good - it just means that I always have ideas. And when you've got 100 songs, it's easier to hear criticism because you're almost grateful for it... Like, 'Good, we need to get rid of 99 of these.'"

Image copyright Interscope
Image caption "I love writing songs, there's nothing I want to do more in my life."

Jepsen's original concept of understated disco wasn't totally jettisoned, though.

You can hear it on Dedicated's opening track, Julien, a simmering reflection on fleeting romance that Jepsen calls the "heart" of her album.

"It felt different to what I'd done before, and also different to anything I'd heard, which you're always hoping to find," she says.

Like a lot of the songs on Dedicated, Julien creeps up on you slowly until, one day, you find yourself singing it out loud in a crowded elevator.

It's a new avenue for the star, who's still best known for Call Me Maybe - once named by Billboard as having the "greatest chorus of the 21st Century".

That song rightfully spent four weeks at number one in the UK - but the album it appeared on, Kiss, was rushed and underwhelming, and Jepsen seemed destined to become a one-hit wonder.

She defied that label - I Really Like You reached the top 10 three years later. The album E•MO•TION, made with indie producers like Dev Hynes and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, won Jepsen a dedicated fanbase and was critically acclaimed, but its other singles missed the charts.

In a more cut-throat era, a singer who didn't churn out top 10 singles more consistently might find themselves on their record label's garbage pile.

Now, streaming has created an environment where stars like Jepsen, Charli XCX, Marina and Christine and the Queens can thrive without diluting their sound for the mass market.

"I love to be aligned with those ladies!" beams Jepsen. "It doesn't have to be this extreme, sell-your-soul-and-try-to-recover career. I think people are craving something less strictly defined than what pop used to be."

'Crazy cat lady'

That said, Jepsen hasn't lost her knack for a gargantuan chorus.

Now That I Found You is the album's most exuberant moment, inspired by her new boyfriend James Flannigan, a British songwriter who'd worked with Dua Lipa and Black Eyed Peas before meeting Jepsen at a writing camp in Nicaragua.

But the video flips the lyrics on their head - with Jepsen offering her devotion to a rather confused-looking cat.

She says her boyfriend is indirectly responsible.

"He's very spontaneous in nature," she explains. "One day someone posted that there was a stray cat on Facebook. An hour later the cat was living in my bed.

"This was around the same time that I was recording the vocals for Now That I Found You, and it was stuck in my head: 'Waking up next to you every morning.'"

"So I was singing at this cat every morning and giggling about the absurdity of it, sounding like I was dedicating an extreme love song to my cat.

"Then we were talking about the video and I felt a little nauseous about the ideas that were coming in. It was all so stereotypical, like, 'It'll be a romantic scene on a beautiful mountain and you'll run towards each other in slow motion'.

"I was like, 'Nyeh… what about cats?'"

She adds: "All my friends said I'd been rehearsing the part of a crazy cat lady for years, and it's time I just embrace it."

Image copyright Interscope
Image caption The star is a one-woman meme machine

If the video goes viral, it won't be Jepsen's first time.

Her songs have an uncanny knack for becoming memes (Run Away With Me played by a seal is peak internet), while fans rally around the star's social media posts, proclaiming her the "queen" of every minor detail - "Queen of black nail polish", "Queen of large body of water in the distance", "Queen of no armpit hair", and the inevitable but amazing "Queen of maybe getting called".

"But if I'm the queen of anything," deadpans the star, "I'm the queen of over-thinking."

The online love-fest culminated in a campaign to give Jepsen a sword. "I like her and think she should have one," reasoned one of her fans.

The prophecy was fulfilled when Jepsen was presented with an (inflatable) sabre live on stage at the Lollapalooza festival in 2018.

"Oh yeah! A sword!" she proclaimed, adding a few parries and thrusts to her performance before "knighting" her guitarist.

"I was like, 'this is getting out of hand,'" she laughs at the memory.

"But I love things that are silly like that. I think that's part of the beauty of what we've been able to create - that people are happy to be celebratory and joyful around us.

"There's a kindness to my fans. I don't know how we got so lucky. It blows my mind."

Carly Rae Jepsen's album Dedicated is out now on Interscope.

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