Remember when Carly Rae Jepsen invented pop music?
Don’t fact check us on that, but, for some, there’s a distinct before and after when it comes to Jepsen’s place in the pop goddess history books. Ever since the Canadian singer threw a wish in the well with “Call Me Maybe,” the world dialed back with rapt attention and a thirst for more perfectly crafted pop confections.
Luckily, Jepsen did that and then some with the critically lauded “Emotion” in 2015, which showed the world she had much more to offer than just an irresistibly catchy chorus. The ’80s synth-inspired album landed Jepsen on a number of “Best Of” lists and in the hearts of fans, many of them LGBTQ listeners, who resonated with her stories of heartbreak and, yes, really, really, really liking someone.
Sitting on a surplus of more than 200 unreleased “Emotion” bops, Jepsen wasn’t done just yet. The reception was so overwhelmingly positive that the 31-year-old released a Side B, featuring eight new songs cut from the original album. Then, she dropped the new single “Cut To The Feeling” in May, as part of the soundtrack to the animated film “Leap!,” becoming a de facto song of the summer contender.
But when we spoke to Jepsen, who recently headlined a concert for “M&M’S Spotlight” series, it became clear that accolades and saving pop music from Ed Sheeran isn’t what drives her to create. It’s finding that musical “spark,” as she puts it, and sending the love she receives every night onstage right back to her her fans.
I saw you perform at Terminal 5 in New York City last year and it was low-key the best night of my life.
Mine too. I loved that show and that space. I wanted to take the big disco balls home with me.
You wrote over 250 songs for “Emotion.” How did you even begin to shape the record from such a massive amount of work?
You go crazy. You spend nights listening to your own music on repeat and then you go so nuts that your friends come over and help you. You all have wine and you make little voting charts and try to figure out what feels the best. Then you try to put them in order, but you realize you have too many songs that are energy level five and you need a couple twos, so you go back. I think there’s always a point where you have to be like OK that’s the decision and run with it or you go a little nuts.
How did you come to the decision to release “Emotion: Side B?” Also, thank you.
The B-sides was this far-off dream that maybe some day we’d be able to share more of them. When I went into the label with my plea before “Emotion” was released, I was like, “OK guys get this. How do you feel about a 40-song album?” They were like, “No, that’s crazy. We can’t do that. You’ve got eight songs.” Somehow we negotiated and I got more than that.
Then fans kept asking in these meet-and-greet situations if I’d ever be into doing an “Emotion Side B” and the idea started taking more form. It didn’t take a lot of work to go back in and pick some ones that I wished I’d been able to share previously.
I think I speak for many when I say we’d all happily listen to a Side C.
Me too, but I don’t know if I’m gonna get away with it. Even with this next project, I’m already 50 songs deep and l’m already feeling that familiar longing of, “Oh, I wish there could be a way to share all of these.”
You blessed us all with the new single “Cut To The Feeling” earlier this year. What was the genesis behind the song and why did you choose to release it now?
It was written a while back and part of the attempt for the first album, “Emotion.” I always thought it was a little theatrical in the way that I loved, but would suit something more like this movie. There were two sessions. The first time we all got together, we were pretty close ― we had the chorus in the right place, but verses needed some work. I find that happens a lot when you get together for a session and things are going great, but you come back with some perspective and dig a little deeper. It was such a fun collaboration and I’m really glad that its found its little home.
So can you describe the actual feeling you are are cutting to in the song?
I think it’s cut the bullshit. It’s like I’m in and I want you to be just as in. Let’s stop playing games and just go for that euphoric high together because you can’t do it alone.
What do you make of “Cut To The Feeling” being hailed as the song of the summer?
Obviously, it’s really flattering to hear that, but the song of the summer idea has always seemed a little crazy to me because I think you can have whole soundtracks and many songs. The summer is supposed to be filled with tons of music. Summer in itself is such a feeling to capture in a song and I think I’m always trying to capture that feeling.
Every year there is this rat race to declare one song the song of the summer. Do you get caught up in that at all?
Oh, I always think that’s a dangerous trap to get into. I think it can be a really easy thing to slip into a formula and referencing songs that have worked before, especially in the Los Angeles writing scene. It takes all of the heart out. All of the fun out. There has to be an initial spark or inspiration that’s stemming from something actually authentic inside you, and then you can go into all the rules and think about it. I think its a much more exciting place to just be coming at music always from the need to write it versus the I’m going to sit down and mathematically work out how to make money off this approach. That’s just going to kill you.
In a perfect world, “Cut To The Feeling” would remain on the top of the charts from here to eternity. Do you ever get frustrated with the commercial performance of a single or feel like your music is underrated?
I think that there was a transition from the height of “Call Me Maybe” into new music afterward. It’s just a different reality as a human you experience, but I’ve actually learned to quite love and prefer the reality I’m in now. I’m not playing these massive stadiums with more Justin Bieber fans [than my own] and you kind of don’t know where your place is. We’ve been able to create this home within our touring family and the audiences that come who get it. It’s a little more intimate and less No. 1s, but I really don’t need those to be happy.
What about can you tell me about the new music you’re working on?
I’m writing so many songs, but I’m enjoying the process of it. I’ve worked with some people who I’ve admired for years, Patrick Burger among them. It’s been trudging on new ground for me. I’m not trying to make it exactly like I’ve done before and that’s always an exciting time for growth.
Are there any particular genres or sounds that you’re playing with this time around? Your last album was so heavily inspired by ’80s pop music.
I have this total attraction to almost subtle, I-can-clean-my-house-to-this music sort of disco right now. But wherever my goal and destination is isn’t always where I end up landing. Sometimes I’m like, “We’re going to make a song like this,” but on the way there I make a left turn and it turns into a mamba. I don’t always know where I’m going, but that’s a fun discovery for me.
What is unique about your fans? I’ve appreciated how most of them seem more interested in uplifting you then tearing other artists down.
I find that to be one of the biggest gifts of this thing that in a world where there’s a lot of name-calling and judgement flying around, but for some reason we’ve landed in a place where everyone is kind and loving. I find that so incredible and I don’t know where that came from or why, but I feel so lucky to have that surrounding us.
Why do you think your music has resonated so heavily with the LGBTQ community?
I don’t know for sure, but I feel very, very fortunate for it. There’s nothing like that feeling when I’m onstage, and you can’t really explain it. It just feels like such a lovely thing that I’m one little part of. I hope that in turn everyone feels my love straight back and appreciation for that.
Your fans have bestowed nicknames upon you like Carly Slay Jepsen and Carly Rae Jesuspsen. Do you have any personal favorites?
You are making me laugh with these. My sister is in college just recently and her nickname was Katie Rage Jepsen. I don’t know about my own, but I would say any time someone’s put effort into making a T-shirt or a sign with one of those on it, it makes me feel so overwhelmed with joy.