Carly Rae Jepsen, out of the shadow of 'Call Me Maybe'

It has been 4 years since Carly Rae Jepsen took the world by storm with her infectious blockbuster “Call Me Maybe.”

The Canadian pop singer and songwriter’s earworm of an anthem also broke the Internet. It spawned dozens of parodies and video lip-sync covers from erstwhile couple Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez (the one that started it all), to U.S. President Barack Obama (thanks to clever editing), Katy PerryJimmy FallonHarvard's baseball team, or American soldiers in Afghanistan

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How could Jepsen follow something once massive and ubiquitous? The music industry has seen too many one-hit wonders come and go. For a while, not even she herself could escape the shadow of “Call Me Maybe,” the lead single out of the other arguably underrated tracks on her sophomore effort, Kiss (2012).

“We had the biggest single in the world last time and didn’t have the biggest album,” her manager Scooter Braun told The New York Times. “This time we wanted to stop worrying about singles and focus on having a critically acclaimed album.”

Jepsen’s answer was Emotion (stylized as E•MO•TION), a record infused with '80s nostalgia. Several months of patience and hard work went into polishing the album, and reportedly more than 200 tracks were whittled down to 12 (16 on the deluxe version). The result is solid and impeccable – achieving near-universal praise.

Writing for Vulturethe pop critic Lindsay Zoladz argued, “Emotion has been championed by critics, discerning music snobs, and anybody else who likes rooting for a well-deserving underdog.” Although the record is still unabashed pop music with its effervescent and danceable tunes, Jepsen curiously acquired some sort of indie “cred.”

Chalk this up, perhaps, to Jepsen sitting in the studio with some names admired in these circles. Jepsen told Stereogum“I wrote with some of the biggest pop writers, and then I wrote with people who I just admired myself with my taste, which is a little bit more left of center.” 

There are the Swedes, Shellback and Mattman & Robin, who worked on Taylor Swift’s 1989, but there’s also Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Devonté Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim and Charli XCX).

Jepsen, however, doesn’t entirely ditch the bubblegum sensibilities that helped propel “Call Me Maybe” to the top of the charts.

Instead, she refines her craftsmanship while coming up with a standout like “I Really Like You,” the nearest candidate as a sequel to the 2012 smash hit with its equally catchy chorus, “I really, really, really, really, really, really like you.”

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Jepsen, fresh off a string of critical successes on Emotion, sat down with the media and candidly answered a few questions – just a day ahead of her Monday concert at the Araneta Coliseum. 

On releasing Emotion to critical acclaim

“When it [came] to this particular project, it was something that I didn’t wanna rush. It was something that I wanted to be proud of myself. With everything that I’ve ever released, there’s this sort of grace period, before you sort of share with anyone, where you have to make your own peace with what you’re making and you love it. I really love Emotion.”

On her favorite tracks from Emotion

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“I think ‘Emotion’ was one of my favorite ones. There’s a reason why I titled the album that. It was one of the first songs that sort of sparked the direction for me, and I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, this is what I want to do.’ In fact, I can remember coming into New York, and I was like, ‘I think it’s gonna be something like this.’”

“’All That’ – I really love that song. […] I can even feel bare naked in a weird way when I play it because it’s such a heart-baring sort of song. I remember the first time we did it on SNL [Saturday Night Live] – same thing. It was really exposing moment, and I’ve never felt that nervous doing anything before.”

“Another song that I think is my favorite, is one of the last songs on the album. It’s a song called ‘Let’s Get Lost’ because – I don’t know – it’s got sax…” 

On her songwriting process

“It was two and a half years [working on Emotion], if you spread that out […] I still to this day, am writing at a pretty high pace. […] I was just recently in Malaysia with my guitarist, and we were up in the hotel room working on a new song, and he’s asking me, ‘What’s this gonna be for?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ I can’t not do it. I love writing!”

“There’s a realist and this sort of fairytale-ish side of my personality, and I think that I’m constantly battling those two. But when it comes to music, that’s the place where your imagination gets to be at play. You don’t think about the real rules of the world, or how it all kind of sometimes works. It’s a lot more poetic, and I allow myself to go there.”

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On her sources of inspiration for Emotions

“I’ve [worked] with Rodgers and Hammerstein [material, via Cinderella on] Broadway. I wouldn’t say there’s anything, musically, there was anything there, but their feeling of romance definitely worked in that way.”

“I was really into Solange [Knowles], which led me to Dev Hynes. I was into Sky [Ferreira], which led me to Ariel [Rechtshaid]. I think a lot of these people was into music that I researched, ‘Who produced that? Who wrote that? How can I get a hold of them? Would they want to work with me?’”

“I kind of like old-school '80s artists. I was really into Prince. I remember running to him in the morning [before] Cinderella rehearsals. And then also, early Madonna…”

“[I also get my inspiration from] different places. I go to a session, and we’re all like fresh off the table. It’s a lot about […] that childlike imagination, where you have also no filters about being scared about your idea being stupid. You’re gonna have to immediately trust people and love people when you write with them because you’re really offering up a vulnerable side of yourself.”

“And that just comes from, I think, brainstorming as a group than sort of singing things and trying things on. In that case, you can really fall into a melody or a rhythm that gets you before a lyric does. However, if I’m writing alone, or if it comes from a place where I’d like to […] document a couple of ideas before a session and bringing an idea to the session, that’s usually taking place where the initial spark came in from a lyric." 

"I’ve got a real obsession with words. I have a real obsession with relationships. Whenever I go to dinner or if meet somebody new, I’m generally asking them about their love life […] and then writing it down later on.”

“Even with Emotion, […] I wanted it to be something that wasn’t just a reflection of my own personal life, but something that could be a reflection of everyone – so, a universal sort of common thread to it. I’ve felt yearning. I’ve felt that heartbreak. I felt that jealousy. I think, we all have. That’s my fascination with love...” 

On how playing Cinderella on Broadway changed things

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“In L.A., [I was in] a session every two days with new writers. For me, that’s not my favorite way to write music, I really like to get in a room with people who I’ve been proven I have a good vibe, and then spend a couple of weeks maybe on one song – even on two – [then] you get it right. And you really, really work it. So I was getting really frustrated, and I couldn’t articulate why this wasn’t working for me. I had a lot of material, but none of it felt like quality.”

“And then the Broadway opportunity came around. My childhood dream was like, ‘Do it! Do it! Do it!’ and I did it. It was the best decision I’ve ever made because not only was it a nice, sort of, departure from this little bubble I’ve been it [with] pop music. It was a whole new world, and it was also a whole new city. It kind of gave me time to reflect on why that wasn’t working and really be able to articulate to my team and everybody, ‘Hey, this is how I’ve been writing songs forever. This is what works for me. When I come back from Cinderella, this is how I like to continue it.’ Everyone was on board, and I started during the process of Cinderella, and I think […] it was really healthy for me in a lot of mental ways, too…”

 

On what has changed since ‘Call Me Maybe’

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“If I look at what I who I was yesterday and who I was last year, it’s like a completely kind of ever-changing thing. I think that reflects the music that I do, too.”

“I think [we went through it] as a happy rush. We were all excited about it. It was ‘Call Me Maybe’ and then I’d taken off. I just moved from Canada to L.A, and I even said I also [got to work] with the ‘Wizard of Oz.’

"This amazing kind of roller coaster was about to take place, but there wasn’t a lot of time to really sit and reflect, and think about mission statements, like, ‘What do I want this album to be? What sort of experimental time do I have to try things on?’ And that’s what I really felt was a crucial thing to ask for. Luckily, I got a team around me who got that, and who were willing to say ‘Take as long as you need,’ like, ‘Come back when it’s ready.’”

On the top of her ‘wish list’ of collaborators

“One of the initial sparks of this album, for me, was when I was in Osaka and I got to see Cyndi Lauper play at a festival [Summer Sonic] there. I’m just a huge fan of her writing. So, if I could have a really big wish list, it would be to work on a song with her one day.”  

On collaborating with the most influential hit-makers in the industry

It's pretty surreal. I can remember when I was living in Canada, one of my writing partners, Ryan Stewart. Every time we wrote a song, we would say, 'I wonder what Max Martin would think?' And I'm like, he was sort of, like, the Wizard of Oz.”

“And when I finally moved to L.A. and got my first real break outside of Canada, one of the pinch-me moments was when my label hit me up and said, 'Would you like to go speak in front of Max Martin?' I called Ryan right away and said, 'We're going to go meet the Wizard of Oz!' And that's exactly what it felt like.”

“Since then, not just working with him, but just even some people who aren't as well know but who are also extremely talented – it's one of the greatest gifts of this experience.” 

On collaborating with indie darlings Rostam Batmanglij, Devonté Hynes, and Ariel Rechtshaid

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“I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen with this album. I knew that I did want it to feel more mature, and I think that I did try every sort of avenue.”

“I also felt a desire with this album [Emotions] to kind of color a little outside of the lines, and try some sort of collaborations that people wouldn’t necessarily pitch. I ended up meeting Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid, and some of these producers, [who did] music that I was loving but wasn’t from the same world of pop as me. And I think that’s a gift where you would have two different artists come from completely different places. You make something new together.”

“Rostam, actually, was the one who reached out to me to say, ‘Would you be interested in trying to write a song together?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds incredible!’ I think there’s a desire, not just from pop artists, but – I don’t know – every artist to sometimes do something a little bit different and unexpected.”

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“Driving to a session, my dad was like on speaker phone with me in the car. He said, ‘Oh, what are you doing today?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, another writing session.’ The phone cut off, and all he heard was that I said ‘Vampire.’ At the end of the session, he called back, ‘How did it go?’ I was like, ‘Oh, it was really good, we worked on a song called ‘Warm Blood.’ He was like, ‘You wrote a song called “Warm Blood” with a vampire!?’ No, it’s called Vampire Weekend – it’s a band!”

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t really sure what the outcome would be. I just knew that the best songs would […] rise to the top. I must’ve written over 200, and at the end of it, the 17 that you hear are the 17 that just ended up being my favorite ones. It didn’t really matter in my mind, like, who did I work on them with or how will this be received. It was more like, well, these are my favorite tunes.”

On meeting the ‘Chandelier’ singer, Sia

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“That was another incredible, sort of, stars aligning in my life. The first time that I ever saw Sia was when I was bartending at the Media Club in [Vancouver], Canada. It’s just like this really underground sort of music club, and she came in to perform a live show. And I wasn’t supposed to be working that night, but I somehow convinced my manager that I would work this extra shift so I could get, kind of, free tickets to her concert. She blew me away.”

“Then fast forward 3 or 4 years later, I’m in a session with her that was set up by my label, with Greg Kurstin [a frequent Sia collaborator] as well. […] I was very nervous. Generally, I don’t feel nervous, but with her I was really intimidated ‘cause I was such a fan for so long. I showed her the beginning of something I started with my guitarist Tavish Crowe, [a song] called ‘Boy Problems.’ She really embraced it, and then later on we were together on ‘Making the Most of the Night.’”

On having millions of followers on social media

“First of all, I never really think about that […] Seriously, because it’s just that intimidating, and I probably would be frozen with every tweet. I think in general, I look at it as a way to invite people to things and keep them informed about what’s going on.”

“On Instagram, I look at it as a way to kind of document the memories. We kind of go at a pretty intense pace when we’re traveling. It’s a new country almost every 2 days, and that’s really exciting. But there are some times, […] I come at home, and it’s almost like it’s been such a whirlwind. It takes kind of going back into your feeds, and feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that! Oh yeah, it was amazing!’ I think it’s important that I feel like […] an old lady in a rocking chair, still back on my Instagram, laughing at moments like that.” 

On her best memory from her 2013 Manila concert

“I remember being kind of scary still, but exciting scary. I think any time that I go on stage, there’s always a two-song moment where I’m just sort of shaky, and it’s not that shaky, necessarily. It just takes me a second to ease into my skin.”

“I can remember still being quite intimidated. I don’t feel those shakes any more lately. It’s luckily kind of just transitioned into just pure excitement and celebration, but I think that’s why I feel very excited about the show is there’s a new kind of confidence that I carry – that I probably didn’t have last time.”