Let's just call it like it is: Carly Rae Jepsen's new album, "Emotion," is the best pop album of the year. In fact, it might be the best pop album of the 21st century. Yup. It's that good.
The singer, who first made waves with her almost agonizingly catchy single "Call Me Maybe," worked with a who's who of musicians -- from Sia to Dev Hynes to Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend -- to create the '80s-inspired album filled with nothing but hits.
Just a few days before Jepsen was set to hit the road on an upcoming leg of her Gimme Love Tour, she called The Huffington Post from her home in Los Angeles while waiting for the repair man to fix her air conditioning. We chatted about about why gay guys always seem to end up in her songs and videos, her thoughts about the paparazzi in the wake of her friend Justin Bieber having his dick pics leaked and more.
The now classic twist ending of your "Call Me Maybe" video involves the guy you're crushing on giving his number to another guy, and at a recent Los Angeles show, you said that the song "Your Type" is about falling for a guy who likes other guys. Do I sense a theme here?
I have been so blessed to be surrounded by some of the most incredible gay men in my life. In [the “Call Me Maybe” video] I think it was a last-minute decision to get Holden [Nowell] come in and play and have him give the number to [bandmate Tavish Crowe] instead of me. We loved the spin of it and it felt shocking and it felt fun and it felt real. I think there are many women who have experienced that — you’re so into somebody and you’re so attracted to everything about them and you just realize that you’re never going to get your way [laughs].
What about “Your Type”?
That song is about a few things. My imagination takes over and sometimes I combine my friends' experiences with my own. In fact, I got in trouble once with a boy who asked me, “Is this song about me?” and I was like, “The verse is about you but the chorus is kind of about my ex-boyfriend.” He was like, “What? You should never, ever say that!” and I was like, “Sorry! Sorry!” This particular song was a bit about both. There was a guy I was in the friend zone with and for reasons that shall go unmentioned I knew that I was never ever going to be his type and it became a little bit painful for a while. Part of me getting through it was one late night in Sweden, I woke up and I had a way to put in melody all those things I was feeling and that I never said out loud. And now it’s out there … now, it’s just out there [laughs].
And now it’s your new single.
It is! I’ve known Gia [Coppola, who directed the clip,] for a while now and it was one of those things where we were talking about for “Run Away With Me” and [“Your Type”] came up and she had this mini-movie idea for it, and I just shot it in LA. It’s probably one of the videos [I’ve done] that I’m most excited about.
Every single song on "Emotion" could be a single. How do you pick which ones you're going to promote?
There are some songs that just raise their hands. I think “I Really Like You” was one of those songs where we were all like, “If it’s on the album, it has to be a single.” It was the song that kept us up at night. It was the one that I got late-night phone calls from everyone -- whether it was friends or labelmates or just different people -- being like, “Whoa!” But I did want to do something a little bit less predictable for the second single and that Celtic sax solo at the beginning of “Run Away With Me” just felt like it was my choice -- there was heart to it -- and there was just something a little bold about it, and I just knew that was what I wanted. With “Your Type,” it’s been interesting because I’ve been able to go around and tour and meet fans and meet people outside of my circle -- face to face -- and it’s just been the song that at meet-and-greets or signings people have said, “Please, let this be a single.” It’s been alarming how many people have said that and it just feels right.
The album is pop, but pop in a lot of different flavors. It made me wonder what you were listening to while you wrote it. Is there anything that would surprise us?
I was listening to a lot of Prince. I was also doing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "Cinderella" every night, so there was a huge romantic side to my reality at the time that I was making this album. I was listening to Cyndi Lauper and then I was kind of unable to listen to anything other than the songs that I was making when I’d be having dinner. But I guess the shocking factor would be that whenever I was home I was also cleansing my palate with ‘40s music. And, in a weird way, there’s something in common between an old-fashioned ‘40s ballad and a pop song, because you have to pack a punch with the words that you’re saying. They’re simple but they’re profound at the same time. There was lots of Billie Holiday going on during the making of this album. I know you won’t see the link, and I don’t see the link myself [laughs], but that’s what I was listening to. It was probably so that when I got back into the studio I was able to absorb into that world and give it everything I’ve got and then leave and have something totally different to listen to.
You’re about to head out on tour. What was the first show you ever saw?
Either Melissa Etheridge or James Taylor.
Oh -- that’s totally respectable. For a lot of my friends, it was, like, New Kids On The Block. Nothing against NKOTB …
My parents took me. I have to give them kudos -- they were very passionate about music and their genre of choice is a bit more folky-influenced artists and I grew up with that being the music I loved. I still love that kind of music. Sinead O’Connor -- when she did the cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” that was my idea of the perfect pop ballad. I can remember trying to learn every nuance of her voice. It was just stunning. And of course, the Spice Girls entered my life and I was a changed human being. I was like, “What is this happiness!?” [laughs]
I think so many of us will admit to having had our lives changed by the Spice Girls. Is there a concert that has had the most impact on you as a live performer?
So many concerts. I don’t think there’s ever been a concert I’ve gone to where there hasn’t been some token I’ve left with, like, “Wow. Her stage presence,” or “Oh, my God, the lighting crate at the back; I took pics of it the whole night so I could get that.” A concert that I saw recently in Los Angeles at a more private venue was this artist that I’ve been following a while named Christine and the Queens.
No way! I just got the album. It’s so good.
It’s so good. And her live performance -- I think what I love about her vocals is that she really punctuates everything but so delicately. It’s almost sung in a way that reminded me of Prince or Michael Jackson -- everything is almost a drum beat -- but with this beautiful, feminine, strong voice. I think when I went to see her, I was hoping that the way she moved and the way she controlled the mic and the room would be the same way and I was not disappointed.
In your song “LA Hallucinations,” you call out BuzzFeed and TMZ for being “buzzards” and “crows” and when I was first listening to it I thought, Please don’t say anything about The Huffington Post!
[laughs] You guys are safe.
For now. [laughs] But it also makes me think about the photos of your friend Justin Bieber’s dick that recently leaked, and how when they surfaced, it was the latest in a long line of incidents that show just how little privacy celebrities have today. Some people argue that if you’re famous, that just comes with the territory. What’s your take on it?
Call me out of the loop, but this is the first time I’ve even heard about [the photos of Bieber]. I think part of my survival is staying blissfully unaware of all of that. I’ve been really lucky to not to have had to deal with that too much or, if I have, I haven’t really paid any attention to it, so I wouldn't really know. If you’re asking me if I think that having every detail of your life and being stalked while you grocery shop and do all those things is normal and it’s just something that you just have to accept, well, personally, I think everyone is entitled to some privacy. The careers that we choose and the passions that we have for going into music are not always necessarily about celebrity. A lot of the time -- and I think in most cases -- it’s for the love of making music. I think people, hopefully, will learn to see the difference and respect that.
Did you read the piece from The Awl called “Notes on 21st-Century Mystic Carly Rae Jepsen”?
I’m not sure …
It was an incredible essay by Jia Tolentino and, in it, she really digs deep into what she thinks you’re doing with pop music, including how you function as a pop star and how you’re different from other pop stars. She says that you’ve, “displaced [yourself] from the center of the pop album” and designated “love -- or 'E • MO • TION,' the album’s title -- as [your] god.”
And then there’s another quote I want to read you: “Carly Rae seems paired with this basic confusion: Why isn’t she clearer about how we’re supposed to read her, why isn’t she bigger, why don’t we have more to work with here, people will say. Even people who love the music could wonder: How are the songs so direct and the artist so absent, the licks so obvious and the image so dissipated in smoke?”
I think that’s interesting because you as a pop star -- compared to other pop stars or celebrities -- are more of an enigma. Unlike Bieber or Taylor Swift or Britney Spears, where we feel like we know everything about their lives, with you, the focus is on the music, not your personal life. Is that an intentional move?
I think so, yes. When you talk about those two decisions [of focusing on the personal details or focusing on the music], if we were going to look at them as A and B columns, and like I mentioned before — having your picture snapped when you come out of every restaurant — if that happens to me, I decide not to go to that restaurant anymore. I don’t have an attraction to or a desire for that and I definitely don’t seek it out. I have a very strong idea of who I am and I think the part that I want to share and the part that I want people to enjoy and take home with them is all wrapped up in the music.
It seems like in this age of social media where there is this demand for “authenticity” -- people are looking for ways to really know and feel like they’re best friends with their idols. Our culture has decided the way you prove you’re authentic is that you have to be tweeting and Instagramming personal details about your life.
I feel very authentic. I feel the relationships that I value and that are important to me are my family and my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love the support and I love my fans -- I truly love them -- and I made these songs not just as personal journal entries but to tap into emotions that I think we all feel, and I think that does bring you closer together with people you don’t even get to meet -- or, hopefully, do get to meet. I found a freedom in realizing that this career can be different and you can script it into your own world in a way that is comfortable for you. The thing that motivates and drives me is not necessarily to have everybody know every single detail of my life — but to know me and know that I’m honest and hear hopefully all of that heart in the songs that I’m sharing.
And on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like you’re going out of your way to hide. I’ve heard you talk about the person you’re dating directing the “Run Away With Me” video. There are details about you out there.
Yeah. I’m not hiding in a closet, either. I don’t have a desire to keep a potato sack over my head or anything like that. I think the balance for me has been part of my happiness and my sanity.
Finally, for people who have tickets to your upcoming shows, what should they expect? Is it heavy on the spectacle a la “Left Shark” or more about the music?
Our show is very much about the music, but I want everyone to come and be ready to dance. If you feel like embracing the ‘80s -- and even dressing that way -- it is so very much encouraged. K. Flay, who is going to be opening for us, is incredible and is so much fun. Getting to make decisions at this point where you get to work with people you love, I can’t think of a better reality.
And it’ll just be such a celebration. It’s such fun album to perform live -- I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun on stage in my life. We’ve got some amazing backup singers who bring so much lush support, and we’ve got our moments when there’s a little bit of movement but nothing crazy. I realized long ago that I’m not Britney Spears and I don’t know how to dance properly, but when the song is right, I’ll move despite myself and I really hope that’s contagious and spreads through the night.