Entertainment & Arts

How Carly Rae Jepsen shrugged off Call Me Maybe

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Media captionCarly Rae Jepsen on forging her musical identity

Most people had written off Carly Rae Jepsen as a one hit wonder, but her new album has ended up on dozens of critics' year-end lists. She tells the BBC how she pulled it off.

Do you remember Call Me Maybe? Or rather, how could you forget it?

Carly Rae Jepsen's single was the sound of the summer in 2012 - a sparkly, sugary song more infectious than the common cold.

But the singer, a former Canadian Idol finalist, hadn't got the material to follow it up. Her album, Kiss, was rushed out to capitalize on the single, but it failed to produce any further hits.

When Jepsen signed up to play Cinderella on Broadway, most observers assumed she'd been consigned to pop Valhalla.

Behind the scenes, though, the 30-year-old was plotting a comeback.

"I had something to prove to myself," she says. "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to make - but I knew I wanted to make something that I could go to sleep loving and wake up stoked to play."

That took time... a very long time. Jepsen recorded more than 200 songs in the attempt to finish her new album E•MO•TION.

"I think that's kind of my process - to write and write and write a whole plethora of material. Then, at the end of the day you pick the flowers among the weeds."

Image copyright Polydor / Interscope
Image caption Jepsen hasn't stopped playing Call Me Maybe, but admits she's "pretty burnt on it right now"

The shadow of Call Me Maybe loomed large over the recording sessions. Jepsen, whose roots are in Canada's singer-songwriter scene, initially "rebelled against" her ubiquitous hit by recording an album of "folk indie" songs.

"It was exciting to try something unexpected - live drums and everything - but I found myself doing it more for that reason than the actual passion of making the music."

Two things pointed her back towards pop, she says.

"I remember running a lot to Prince albums when I was doing Cinderella," she says. "And I randomly went to a Cyndi Lauper concert and fell in love with how emotional her pop songs were."

Having settled on an 80s vibe, she sought out credible, alt-pop producers like Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij to shape her sound.

But, importantly, the singer insisted on co-writing every song.

"The writing part, to me, is why I sing," she says. "I always loved singing but the spark and fire never really happened for me until I picked up an acoustic guitar and figured out you could put your emotions into words and your feelings into a melody."

Two years in the making, E•MO•TION has been hailed as a pop triumph - featuring on "best of 2015" lists from the likes of Time Magazine, Vice, Cosmopolitan and The Guardian.

Several reviewers compared it to Taylor Swift's 80s pop homage 1989, observing that Jepsen's effort was "more consistent" and "more fun" than its sister-piece, with a "deeper respect" for the era's signature sounds.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "I can confidently say I've never had so much fun performing," says the star of her new show

The first single, released in March, was I Really Like You - a song as big and dumb and sweet and memorable as Jepsen's breakout hit.

Like Kylie's I Should Be So Lucky, it works its way into your head through sheer, bloody-minded repetition. She sings the word "really" 67 times - as in, "I really, really, really, really, really, really like you" - but, rather than being irritating, the song captures the giddy headrush of falling in love.

"I write very much from that beginning stage of love," she says. "I can't help myself [because] one of the trials of touring the way that I have, is that you're eternally in the beginning stages of a relationship. I find I have a lot of those high school butterfly feelings. Everything feels so passionate because it's a two-day romance rather than a mundane 'you left the towels on the floor' experience!"

The video stars Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, who (somewhat clumsily) lip-syncs his way through the song, before joining Jepsen and her friend-cum-mentor Justin Bieber for an epic street dance on the final chorus.

It's one of the more unusual videos of the year - with a Wes Anderson-style whimsy that undercuts the cheesiness of the song.

"I knew I wanted to have someone very quirky and very unexpected in the video," she says. "An actor who could perform it instead of me... I'm lazy, what can I say?"

Hanks happens to be a friend of Jepsen's manager, Scooter Braun, who mentioned the concept to the Forrest Gump star over dinner.

"And Tom was like, 'Well, why don't you guys ever ask me?'"

Image copyright School Boy/Interscope/Polydor
Image caption The video for I Really Like You has been watched 121 million times

On the day of the video shoot, Jepsen found herself teaching the lyrics to her co-star from the edge of the set. "I bragged for days afterwards that I had, in fact, directed Tom Hanks," she laughs.

"I felt like he had talent and it was only right that I tried to show it off."

I Really Like You is "the most youthful and light-hearted" song on the album, Jepsen admits. And while it broke the curse of Call Me Maybe, it isn't particularly representative of the album's more sophisticated, sensual songs.

That misdirection may explain why the album hasn't sold as well as it should - charting outside the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. But the star has developed a strong fan base that all-but-guarantees her career.

"They're singing along to every song for the first time - not just the singles, like it used to be. It's such a new rush for me."

The fans respond to the album's more personal tracks, especially the current single, Your Type - possibly the saddest pop song of the year.

"I was falling for a friend, but I never actually had the courage to tell them," she says. "It was evident to me it was a one-way street so I never brought it up. I didn't think it would do anything other than harm the relationship. But I had to process it in some way and one of the things that's a gift in in this job is you can process things and privately come to peace with it through a song."

But how private can it be, I wonder, when the song has been watched 3.5 million times on YouTube?

"Well, the boy don't know who he is, and I'm not saying!"

Image copyright Interscope/Polydor
Image caption "The album has a very strong sexual thread but it's hidden, rather than being all 'come hither,'" says the star.

Elsewhere, on the effervescent Boy Problems, Jepsen offers her teenage fans some much-needed perspective. "I think I broke up with my boyfriend today," she sings over a choppy guitar, "But I don't really care - I've got worse problems."

Again the song derived from personal experience.

"I was in the midst of a storm of fights with the guy I was dating, and it was all I could talk about - at breakfast, at dinner, with whoever was around me.

"One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, 'I'm becoming 'that chick who only ever talks about a guy'. And that perspective came out in the song."

To that end, she's outlawed choreography and insisted on playing with a live band.

"Sometimes you show up to a concert and they don't have a bass player and you're like, 'why can I hear a bass?' I want to have a concert where it sounds like you're getting a live version of the album. It sounds like a no-brainer but it's just not happening enough in the pop world."

"A true lover of pop music can look any way they want, and create whatever show feels right for them, and hopefully they'll find like-minded people who want to come and see that.

"We've been very surprised and stoked to find our little family of people who come to the shows. It's a beautiful surprise and it's meant more to me than I ever realised it would."

E•MO•TION is out now on Interscope / Polydor Records.

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