Carly Rae Jepsen always wanted to perform. Her childhood was littered with high school musicals and chasing the spotlight.
“I knew I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t have the full scope of what it was to be a performing artist,” she reminisces. “The first time I started to dream beyond talent shows, musicals and the things that my hometown community had available to me was around the age of 17, when I started to write songs. That changed this little annoying showgirl quality that I had as a child, and it made me more introverted.
“I love the idea of getting to take time with your feelings, to express them in a way that’s more potent. I wanted to perform, but more than that, I wanted to write. It wasn’t just to get attention but to connect.”
She dropped out of college, and poured her energies into this newly focused dream. Writing and performing around Vancouver, as well as working three jobs to cover her rent, Carly Rae chased her passion wherever it took her. At twenty-one, she went on Canadian Idol at the insistence of an old high school teacher and came third. At twenty-six, she released ‘Call Me Maybe’ and grabbed the attention of the globe.
Fearless with a daydreamer’s smile, ‘Call Me Maybe’ swirls with wishing well hope, gut-led want and a heart that’s fit to burst. Something about its no-nonsense romance and wildest dream escape struck a chord. A lot has changed for Carly Rae Jepsen in the years since, but that desire to connect has never wavered. Nor has her ability to.
“It’s always incredible to me. I’m not trying to say this in an overly humble way, but it really is a shock. It could have gone so many different ways. My grandmother’s always humbling me by saying, ‘Hey, you take the good with the bad; you never know what’s coming’.”
But it’s been nothing but good so far, and her new album ‘Dedicated’ sees the good get greater.
“I’m always shocked and amazed when we play festivals, and people have learned the words and are singing with us. It makes me less nervous to be on stage. It’s one thing to be a performer, hoping that people like you as you sing to them, it’s another thing to completely forget that you’re even there because the crowd’s taking over and you’re just a part of it.
“I can’t say that I know the answer to [why people connect with my music], but I’m very, very grateful that people take the time to listen. If it does do the amazing job of connecting in some way, then I feel extra, extra lucky to be a part of it.”
Following the inescapable might of ‘Call Me Maybe’, and the album ‘Kiss’ (2012) that stuck to its shadow, Carly Rae Jepsen felt like she had something to prove with whatever came next.
“I know that’s the wrong answer, but that’s the truth. I struggled with that a lot because I knew that ‘Call Me Maybe’ wasn’t the only side to who I was as a writer or what I like to do musically.”
Following a stressed out night in New York, she had a talk with guitarist, co-writer and friend Tavish Crowe.
“I’ll never forget him presenting it like, ‘This is a dream come true. You finally have a stage for people to hear what I know you can do and what you know you can do. Now you just have to be brave enough to show it’.
“It really changed my thinking about the whole project after that. I tried to change the ideas of ‘pressure’ and ‘proving something’ into an opportunity to show the world something that I knew I had in my belly.”
The result was ‘Emotion’ (2015). An album that fell in and out of love, there was plenty of pain, triumphant, uncertainty and glittering assurance. It saw Carly Rae shift from sugary pop idol to smart pop star. More than a guilty pleasure, Jeppers became cool. Not that she’s so sure.
“I don’t know if anyone should answer yes to [thinking they’re cool]. You immediately become uncool when you’re like, ‘I’m the coolest’. Trying to be cool is the epitome of uncoolness. It’s an interesting idea, what cool means though. I think cool means not thinking too hard about if you’re cool or not.
“As I’m getting older, I’m realising that being a pop artist isn’t defined by this one shape you have to fit into. It’s about being authentic. It’s being ok with what you can offer, and realising I love pop – but maybe not in the same way that Britney Spears or Cyndi Lauper does.
“As long as you are showing yourself to people as you are, and not having expectations of yourself that maybe you can’t even meet, ‘cos God knows I can’t dance, maybe that’s the best chance you have of being quote-unquote cool.”
That, and making killer pop records that are strong, vulnerable, honest, exciting and true, probably helps.
Four years later, and Carly Rae is back on her beat with ‘Dedicated’. Diving deep, reaching far and delivered with those starry eyes twinkling in the adventure, it sees Jeppers continue to shock and delight as she tells fantastical tales of the everyday.
“I’ve just kind of been experimenting and writing to figure out what it was that I wanted to do differently with this album. I wanted this to represent a different era of my life. It would have been wrong to try and do the same thing twice, and I was really curious about a lot of different flavours of music, from disco 70s jams to 90s influences.
“Luckily I had a label who understood that my process was a long one with making an album and were willing to let me travel to figure that out. I went from Sweden to Nicaragua a couple of times to New York City before I started to make a collection of what I felt like was gonna be the album for me.”
“It was actually fun,” she continues. “When I first went to Sweden, I came home with what I thought was the album. Then it kind of became this weird game of Tetris where I kept on replacing songs with something that felt better.”
The only song remaining from that initial batch is the handclapping haze of ‘For Sure’.
“I always start off with mission statements. I was exploring these understated 70s disco rhythms, and I thought I would make this ‘music to clean your house to’ record, but then different experiences happened.”
Instead of fear, “there was excitement about that. As an artist, you want to surprise and to be unexpected. I’m glad I got to go to those places. I always feel like music decides at the end of the day. And luckily, I do really enjoy the process of recording. I could quite happily be locked away in different studio settings, with different people, and make eighteen different albums before I chose one to release.
“It did kind of take people at my label being, ‘Ok! We like a lot of these songs; you need to choose’. I forget how much I enjoy the other aspect of it though, which is wearing sparkly things and getting to go out and travel, so I’m glad someone put a stop to it otherwise it was just going to continue. I think I used every waking hour ‘til the last moment that that deadline arrived to rethink things and write new songs, just in case.”
In the ever-evolving pursuit of what would come next, Carly wrote around 200 songs. In that time, she also performed as Frenchy in Grease: Live!, did voice acting work for the film Ballerina, toured America with Katy Perry and worked with Charli XCX on the everything-we-hoped-it-would-be-and-more ‘Backseat’. Every decision she made seems to be driven by the desire to have a good time.
“You know me well,” she laughs. “When it comes to performing, I make decisions based on ‘do I want to do this or not?’ That should be the reason why you’re making any artistic decision. Through all of that though, the main focus and the thing on my mind every time I’d go to sleep or wake up was definitely ‘what’s right for this album?’
“It sounds a little bit like I lost my marbles, and maybe I did to some extent. But for me, it takes a long time. Making a record does become my obsession for a while. I love being in that. To me, the album is so glorious.”
She knows the album, as a format, isn’t as popular anymore but as a vessel for escape, storytelling and connection, it’s still perfect.
“It needs to have the right intro song, and the whole body of work needs to fit. That’s why it was fun to have so many songs to choose from because it became about making a good playlist versus just picking good songs. It was about a bigger moment than that.
“It’s a big responsibility to release an album because it’s just… out there! And it’s gonna be there after you’re gone. The weight of that bears heavy on me, of making something that at the very least you can be proud of.
“Even when I was just exclusively releasing music in Canada, I understood the importance of taking that walk on the beach, sitting with the song and making sure that, even though you might change your mind on something, it was a fair representation of your life in that moment in time. If it was, you could live with whatever came next.”
“With a theme like ‘Dedicated’, there’s lots to explore,” she explains. “There’s the idea of love and commitment, adulthood and all the things that I’m bad at. It’s not just about eternal love; it’s about what it means to be dedicated to someone.
“About two years ago, I met my current boyfriend, and we’d been friends for maybe a year and a half before that. He had been going through some heavy stuff in his life, and I’d written a song for him called ‘Dedicated’. It didn’t make the album, but I was so hooked on that title.”
There were a lot of working titles, as you’d expect from someone who writes 200 songs for a fifteen track record, “but there’s something I love about the simplicity of a one-word title,” Carly says. “I always have. At the beginning, ‘Dedicated’ just seemed like the theme of what I was going through in my adult 33-year-old mind, of what it is to commit to somebody, to choose what I want and all the confusion that goes along with the number of options we have in this day and age, but it’s starting to mean more to me.”
The haunting insistence of ‘For Sure’ “delves into the doubt, and the voice in your head that overthinks everything. I struggle with that voice a lot, so it was fun to include that song because it’s a big part of ‘Dedicated’, but in the opposite way.”
The moonlit prowl of ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ “was the first really angry song that I’ve had, that deals with jealousy and being a nighttime voyeur who’s creeping out your ex on the internet. That’s not really something I’d pushed myself to write about before, but it’s a very human thing.”
While the bubbling ‘Too Much’ “is another song where I explore the intensities of my feelings. I can be a lot for a new person to take on.”
“I’ve really found relationships, in general, to be such a thing of fascination for me, that I don’t stop writing about love. Love doesn’t get old for me, so ‘Dedicated’ felt very fitting for that reason.”
And, as one of her friends commented when she saw Carly’s board of 200 potential songs for this record – “‘No one has been more dedicated to making a project come to life than you. You really put your blood, sweat and tears into it’.
“I still have a desire to make pop songs like an old 40s song, where the words leave a lot to the imagination but for me, they’re extremely honest.”
‘Party For One’ is a jubilant explosion of self-love, but “the story itself comes from a place of loneliness. I realised that recently, in my own life, there hadn’t been a ton of one on one time. There’s been a lot of crazy travel and a lot of one and a half year long relationships. When I was finally in a place to be alone, I wasn’t really used to how to do it right.
“This concept of enjoying time with yourself and really getting to know yourself, which I think you have to do at different stages and eras of your life. It’s not like you get to know yourself at seven and you’re good. You have to relearn as you go.
“We indulged further with the video, getting to show that this is a struggle for a lot of people but to not be ashamed of what you do alone in your room or how you celebrate what makes you feel good when you’re spending time with your own self.”
Carly Rae Jepsen’s music champions collaboration. From the way she writes songs with other people, through the lyrical content of exploring yourself alone and with others, to the way they connect with the world at large, ‘Dedicated’ is a communal parade.
“That’s the joy of what this career has, this ability to go meet strangers, try to connect with them and then create something new that didn’t exist the day before you met. It’s magic and it never really gets old.
“Listening to the songs that were cast away, I do have a craving to be able to do the journal-type album,” she admits. “But the craving that I had with this album, and with ‘Emotion’, is to let them be the listeners’ song, allowing them to seep into your day and let it be what it means to you.
“It’s always something I’m thinking about when selecting songs. It’s not that I’m afraid or ashamed to share my story, but to me, the key to pop music is connection. If a song can’t be something that you hear and feel like it’s narrating your own life in some way, then I haven’t done my job.”
No matter how many people are involved, or what story she’s telling, Carly never loses her sense of self in her music.
“Lyrics are such an opportunity for me to tell a story that is something hopefully universally understood or felt. That’s one of my favourite parts of music. I’m also the type to come home after a session when everyone else thinks a song is fine and I’ll rethink it and rewrite a new verse or just change a word around. That’s my perfectionism kicking in.”
Carly still calls Tavish late at night when she’s losing her head.
“I do remember there was a moment when I had maybe two hundred songs that I was really married to for this album. I had label people and friends who all had different opinions. He knows me really well, and he allows me to share my own opinion in a way that no one else can.”
He flew from Canada to visit Carly in LA for a weekend.
“We just went through them all. It was this beautiful process of listening to them all and saying goodbye to the ones that I was hooked on for maybe the wrong reasons. Maybe they meant something to you because the song was about a guy you had a crush on, but is this song really doing anything? He allowed me to talk it out.
“It’s great when you have somebody like that in your life, especially in this business where’s it’s really easy to just listen to louder voices than yours. It’s a dangerous thing if you start to do that.”
Carly finds herself in other people, and people find themselves in her words – the dedication goes both ways.
“I hope there’s one song in particular that connects to the listener. What took me so long in writing this, is that I wanted there to be something for everyone. I don’t know if it’s possible or if that’s too huge of a mission statement but that’s what I was hoping to do, and I hope it’s not the same song.
“That’s the thing I love. I love when the band comes, and they’re passionately fighting about songs – one person hates one, the other person loves that exact same song. To me, that’s when you have something.”
One of the most open-armed moments of ‘Dedicated’ comes with the electro-skip of ‘Everything He Needs’. Full of self-belief, it sees Carly at the height of her power as she declares, “he needs me. Not just physically; emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. Always.”
However, getting it on the album saw Carly take on Disney. And if that’s not proof of her dedication to each moment…
“Do you know the Popeye film that had Robin Williams in?” she asks. “One of my favourite writing days was with CJ Baran and Ben Romans, two writers I worked on the most with, we have this absurd, musical theatre side to everything we do.
“We were looking at old musicals, and I don’t even know how we landed on Robin Williams doing Popeye, but Olive sings this song about how Popeye needs her because he doesn’t have a woman, basically. We found the hook of that so creepy, catchy, confident and ballsy; we wrote a whole song around that idea.
“We ended up taking that hook, and we changed little things, but we had to contact Disney for permission, which was a fight. It was the last song that made it onto the record. It’s not an easy thing, to get Disney’s permission. Every person at my publishing house told me it wasn’t going to happen.
“I was so heartbroken that I did this theatrical move, even though it was probably only going to make someone cackle when they got the email, but I went to Disneyland. I wrote up a fake contract that said ‘he needs me’ and I stood in line to make Mickey Mouse sign it. Then sent it around to the publishers again asking ‘Are you sure? Mickey Mouse, the big star boss, says it’s ok’. Two weeks later, someone said fine, go for it.”
And they did.
“My dream is that we get to do a little Popeye video for it but who knows how far we can take things?”
It’s Carly Rae Jepsen. She can take things as far as she wants.
On Carly’s upcoming tour for ‘Dedicated’, $1 for every ticket sold will go towards the Crisis Text Line (a charity that services anyone, in any type of crisis) while the San Francisco date is raising money for The Trevor Project (a national organisation providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under 25).
“There’s the obvious reason, which is we need to be giving back in every way that we can, and then there are personal reasons. This was an important foundation for me because one of my best friends growing up was kicked out of his house by his adopted family after he came out as gay. I know he’s gone to places where he could have used help, and he could have used a friend, but there weren’t many in sight at the time.”
The fact the money comes from ticket sales means her audience is aware and directly involved.
“The idea of getting to be that friend for somebody makes me feel like we’re moving in the right direction. All the audience get to feel like they’re connected to that, which is a nice feeling. You can’t feel bad about that.”
In a world, in a scene, that’s lent towards darkness in recent years, Carly is a never-ending beacon of positivity. Sure, her current playlist might be “super-depressing” full of Leonard Cohen deep cuts and Laura Mvula’s ‘Show Me Love’ on repeat, that makes her want to sit with a glass of wine and be alone for a minute but when she writes, that’s something different entirely.
When she was younger, the way Carly experienced music with her family was through living room dance parties.
“They’d happen after dinner, my uncle would bring out a guitar, and my dad would be singing, and we’d all be hitting tambourines or taking over the dancefloor, and it became a really communal place.”
For a time, the album was called ‘Music To Dance To In Your Living Room Versus The Club’, because she “was hoping to create that sort of connection and joy.”
“I don’t go in with the intention to have a joyful quality to my music,” she continues. “In an almost fantastical way of escapism, it just feels like what I crave to do. I don’t overthink it too much. Maybe what propels it is just getting to perform live, and what it feels like to have the ability to spread some joy in a moment.”
She’s dedicated to giving it her all.
“For me, I don’t feel worthy having a job like this if you’re not going to put it all in for your fans and show them that the love comes straight back.”
Taken from the June edition of Dork, out now. Order a copy below. Carly Rae Jepsen’s album ‘Dedicated’ is out now.
Words: Ali Shutler