Carly Rae Jepsen hasn’t scored a conventional hit single since 2015’s ‘I Really Like You’, but pop fans – and music critics – remain kind of obsessed with her. Abundant thinkpieces pondered why her practically perfect third album ‘Emotion’ didn’t sell better. A fan campaign to give her a sword resulted in someone handing her one on stage at Lollapalooza last summer. And during her intimate gig in London this week, amazing album tracks like ‘Boy Problems’ and ‘When I Needed You’ were greeted rapturously like global smashes with a gazillion streams. If you like Carly Rae Jepsen, you really, really, really… like her.
When I meet her in a fancy London hotel room a few weeks before her excellent new album ‘Dedicated’ is due to drop, the Canadian singer-songwriter is friendly and relaxed with impeccable manners. She even spends time figuring out how the room’s Nespresso machine works so I can have a coffee. For that, her famously effusive fans will probably call her the “queen of hospitality”. During a super-pleasant 40-minute interview, we chat about her songwriting process, her evolving relationship with Call Me Maybe’ – the 2012 mega-hit that could have become an albatross – and her determination not to become “a dick” just because she’s unusually good at pop music.
One of my favourite songs from the album is ‘Too Much’ – I feel like a lot of people will relate to the idea of worrying that you’re being “too much”, or “a bit extra”. Where did the idea come from?
“Yeah, I definitely have been called that in the press. The concept actually started from a girlfriend of mine who was explaining a memory that was so vivid to me, like a movie. She was dancing at this party, her boyfriend was there and she was feeling gorgeous, she was really getting into the music and letting loose and feeling like eyes were on her in this really positive way. And then this guy kind of came over and said, ‘Can you, like, keep it together?’ And it was such a subtle but hurtful thing. And I felt like that explained how we all feel.
A couple weeks back Lena Dunham posted about what it is to feel like ‘too much’. I sent her a direct message just being like: ‘It’s such a wrong way of thinking.’ And I think this song was me processing my own insecurities of that and getting to the other side. Like, realising that too much is a great thing. And if somebody can’t handle you for all of your colours and wildness and intensity or the way you feel things, then that’s kind of their problem.”
If it had been a guy dancing like that at a party, he might have been called “the life and soul”.
“Yes, but I think it’s not just a female felt thing. I think men can also sometimes worry about letting loose because there’s this idea that you have to be a certain sort of, I don’t know, ‘together person’. But we are all messy individuals behind closed doors. And I think the more you share that, the less lonely life will be, right?”
Journalists have called you everything from “cult queen” to “queen of hearts”. Do you like those kind of titles?
“I mean, who doesn’t want to be called some kind of royalty? I don’t know how to answer that seriously! I think I would be lying to say that I was attracted to the career of music for the celebrity of it, or for titles like that. I got into it for art, hopefully, and to this day I think if anything I shy away from that side of it. But I do feel very grateful when anyone says a kind thing or if there’s a funny meme going round about me.”
I think your fans maybe started the whole ‘queen of’ thing. If you posted a photo of you having coffee, they’d flood the post with comments like ”queen of coffee’, queen of caffeination’, ‘queen of holding a cup’.
“Oh, I don’t know about that! Surely Beyoncé was the first to be called queen of everything? The worst part is, like, my friends have started doing it. I’ll send them a picture of me having Thanksgiving dinner and they reply ‘queen of Thanksgiving’. And I’m like, ‘Guys, come on!’ But no, really, it’s all good fun.”
Because you write and record so many songs, is it difficult whittling them down to a cohesive album? It’s interesting that one of the most popular songs from your last era, “Cut To The Feeling’, wasn’t even on the album.
“Yeah, I would say that I’m bad at picking my album songs. I feel like that’s when you’re almost too close to a project. You can’t really tell. It’s like people with their babies. Their baby might be, like, ugly, but they just think it’s gorgeous. But um, that’s why I kind of turn to friends and bandmates and label people to help me with narrowing it down. I think there were maybe six to eight songs in this process that people kept coming back to. And then I sort of slipped in the rest depending on what felt like a complete album to me and what were my favourites. But I do think there will be a world [around this album]. I’m determined to share more of the quirkier, weirder songs that I have lying around as well. I don’t look at it as, like, needing to all happen right now. This is just step one of the sharing process.”
In 2019, to what extent do you view ‘Call Me Maybe’ as a good thing?
“At this point? It’s good… it’s neither good or bad, but I see what you’re saying. It’s just not really an issue anymore. For me personally, I think there was a time when it felt like this big weight to carry. I think the rollercoaster of my ‘Call Me Maybe’ relationship was like: ‘Wow, this is so fantastic!’ And then like: ‘No, this is terrifying!’ And then it got to a place where I was like, how am I going to move past this? But I feel like I shed all that fear with moving past ‘Kiss’ into ‘Emotion’ and then ‘Side B’. So by the time I was taking on this album, my relationship with the song was more about it being a fun moment in the [live] set versus something that I needed to feel challenged by.”
This sounds like a really basic question, but why are you so good at writing excellent pop songs that people really connect with?
“I mean, I’m so happy that my music connects in a positive way, and that’s even something that gets thought of. I think I have a couple different theories. One is: I don’t think I always write great songs. But I over-write – I write until I get to something that I’m proud of. Like, I hustle at it. I wrote 200 songs [for this album], and I’m not even talking about the fact that with one of those songs, I might have rewritten it seven different ways until it feels right. But I’m really passionate about it. I think I’m so passive in other parts of my life, but the one thing I’m really opinionated about is music. And so I’ve really held on to it. I have an idea and opinion when I walk into a room of how I want the music to sound. I don’t know where that comes from, but I think of it as my favourite part of myself. So, I just put in the time, I guess. Does that make sense?”
Are you good at taking time off? Can you totally switch off from music?
“You know, I’m not great at it. I did a three-week solo vacation after I broke up with my [previous] boyfriend, which was really scary for me. I remember the night before leaving, like, almost having a panic attack about it. I had this fantasy that it was going to be like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. And it was way more like… drink and survive. But the first week, after I got some kinks out, I realised that I could really enjoy being alone, actually. Especially in countries where I didn’t feel, like, seen or where no one cared who I was. I actually made some weird friends along the way. Most of them are in their fifties – I don’t know what that says about me!”
Is there much difference between Carly Rae Jepsen the pop star, and Carly Rae Jepsen behind closed doors?
“It’s subtle, but there’s a difference. Like, I don’t walk around singing and dancing! But I always have been, like, give me a stage and a costume and I’ll enjoy putting on a show. I think I’m starting to get to know that the transition from being on the road to coming home again is a little bit tricky for me because of the extremes of it all. It takes a second to adjust to the comedown. But when I do get into my home life, I’m rather like… home-vibe boring. I just want to cook dinner and read books and it takes a lot for me to be social. My boyfriend and me both have that problem. We’ll like high-five each other on the way home and say, ‘We actually went out with friends! Like a normal couple! Let’s do it again!'”
What do you want people to think when they hear the name Carly Rae Jepsen?
“I think songwriter, that would be awesome. But I guess I should reach for a higher aim? Goddess! No, I don’t know. Hopefully that I’m a nice person. I know that sounds simple. But I don’t want to be thought of as a dick. Who does?”
As an artist, though, are there times where it’s kind of hard not to be a dick?
“Um, I follow with that. I think I’m always aware… Like, for example, I did a photoshoot the other day and with the first shot, I think they were trying to make me look like Marilyn Monroe. But [for that] you need to have a face like Marilyn Monroe. I just looked like a pimped-out Annie. It wasn’t a good thing. No one was excited about it, but no one knew what to say. And I struggled with, like, ‘Well, if I’m a nice person, I just roll this.’ And in the past I’ve done that, because I want everyone to feel good and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But really, all you do by doing that is make yourself small. I’ve realised that you can be a nice, kind person and still say ‘I ain’t gonna do a shoot like this, it’s just not my vibe’. You just don’t have to throw a tantrum or be a diva about it. There are moments on the road where things get stressful. But it doesn’t matter how many fans think you’re amazing if all the people around you think you’re the worst. For me, it’s always the first goal that the people around you respect you. If you’re doing that right, then maybe you can deserve a bit of the other stuff, too.”
The album ‘Dedicated’ by Carly Rae Jepsen is out now.