Local Music

How Carly Rae Jepsen Went From Billboard One-Hit Wonder to Indie-Pop Savior

Carly Rae Jepsen
Natalie O'Moore
Carly Rae Jepsen
When Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen stepped into the limelight with her 2012 smash single, “Call Me Maybe,” it was easy to assume her fame would last only for the summer.

After all, the track, while harmlessly pleasant, was never monumental. It gained traction after Justin Bieber tweeted about it in 2012 and later posted a video in which he, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Tisdale jammed out to it. The endorsement from Bieber, then at the height of his heartthrob fame, boosted the single's audience.

As a result, "Call Me Maybe" spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and was declared its “Song of the Summer.”

Following the song's success, Jepsen could have sought to replicate the chart-topping bubblegum-pop single. Instead, she took a step back to create an intricate record inspired by nostalgic, campy '80s pop and delivered one of the most surprising and well-received pop records of the decade: 2015’s Emotion.

Featuring production credits from indie giants such as Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Vampire Weekend veteran Rostam Batmanglij, Emotion captured heartache, longing, and first love like any good Belinda Carlisle, Madonna, or Cyndi Lauper track. The album was adored by critics and sparked a cult following, turning Jepsen skeptics into fanatics.

Filled with tales of torturous, unrequited, and failed love, the record is a bible for any pop enthusiasts’ longing heart. “Run Away With Me” is an infectious and immediate dose of everything that is great about pop. It's simple but not reductive; charming but not self-aggrandizing; shamelessly poppy but never cheap or sickly sweet.

Jepsen is a true new romantic on Emotion, much more so than Taylor Swift is on her statement album, the ambitious 1989. That's not to say Swift is undeserving of the praise her album received — rather, Jepsen has been widely overlooked, which somehow only adds to her charm.

In its review, the AV Club called the album a sophisticated homage to the '80s and “one of 2015’s most interesting, effervescent records,” establishing Jepsen as a pop underdog.

Emotion also transformed Jepsen into an indie-pop internet sensation. To her fans, she is a hidden treasure, and one who should stay that way. Offering its take, Uproxx said part of Emotion’s appeal was its lack of commercial success despite being “an entirely perfect album of diverse, brilliant songs.” The album was many fans’ guilty pop pleasure of 2015, a refreshing hidden gem cherished by those who don’t subscribe to Top 40 pop ideals.

Four years after the critical success of the album that transformed her career for the better, Jepsen has returned with Dedicated, a shimmering disco love affair that plays like a wiser older sister to Emotion’s more naive and rose-colored lyrical themes. Still enamored with the '80s, Dedicated reveals Jepsen's pop as funkier, sleeker, and more sensual, offering ample room for her songs to breathe compared to its predecessor's tight production.

Album opener “Julien” is a swaying disco track full of longing that sets the mood for the record, which follows a steady pace and is much more minimal and subdued than Emotion.

The Jack Antonoff-produced "Want You in My Room" is a captivating ’80s getaway that’s spellbinding with its spiraling synths and guitars, dancing around textured layers of breathy vocals. It is one of the most impressive compositions in her entire catalog and proof of her craft as a pop songwriter.

It's one of what Jepsen says was an album’s worth of tracks she worked on with Antonoff. Much like she did for Emotion, Jepsen says she wrote 200 songs for Dedicated and thoughtfully whittled the track list to 13.

Since its May release, Dedicated has been praised for continuing to flesh out Jepsen’s new brand of polished, earnest pop. The bonus track “Party for One” is perhaps one of the most earnest songs about “self-love” — as Jepsen euphemizes it — and steers away from the ’80s sound she’s now become associated with, alluding instead to Robyn’s pristine electropop.

With a commitment to delivering immediate pop songs with strong hooks, Jepsen has kept her pop integrity and made a name for herself as a unique act to follow.

“I am really lucky that I got to experience what ‘Call Me Maybe’ was for my life, but it didn’t save a ton of room for the lifestyle I wanted,” Jepsen told the Boston Herald while reflecting on the success of the single that launched her career. “It was an adrenaline rush all day, every day. And I much prefer feeling more connected to myself and making music that the right people get. It won’t be for everybody, but I’m loving my shows and the career path I am on now.”

In GQ’s profile of Jepsen, the 33-year-old is lauded as “the people’s pop star,” a dorky meme magnet who makes “dance songs for introverts” like herself and “genuinely believes love is the most important thing in the whole world.”

Through her optimism and commitment to her music, Carly Rae Jepsen has become a modern reminder of all we once loved about pop in its purest form: that familiar confessional vulnerability, that hit of a perfect melody, and that instant rush of pure, romantic, sweet emotion.

Carly Rae Jepsen. 8 p.m. Friday, July 26, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $37 to $128 via livenation.com.