Carly Rae Jepsen // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon
By Hollister Dixon
“I started a support group for people who have played a song way too many times.”
That was Carly Rae Jepsen, one song into her encore at her Wonder Ballroom performance. She was, of course, referring to her 2012 zeitgeist-grabbing megahit “Call Me Maybe”, which she said she’d only play if everyone helped her sing it. In the hands of a lesser pop star, this move might feel like a lame attempt to appear self-deprecating in an attempt to endear herself to the audience, but luckily for us, Carly Rae Jepsen is simply better than that. If there were any doubts about this, the entire show leading up to “Call Me Maybe” was fuel for the fire of the believers, the ones who saw a lot of talent in Jepsen when she was jettisoned into pop ubiquity four years ago.
And, as I will tell absolutely anybody who will listen, Carly Rae Jepsen is just too talented for her own good. Her most recent album, E·MO·TION, is one of the finest pop records I’ve listened to in years, and better than any that came out in all of 2015. She could have taken the easy way out and just turned in 13 more cute-and-fluffy belters like “Call Me Maybe”, but the album’s success is based on the fact that E·MO·TION instead chooses to be a dynamic thrill ride, with songs about love and relationships and personal growth and heartache, all paired perfectly with her tremendous singing voice, a lovely backing band, and production by a wheelhouse of people like Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, aka Lightspeed Champion) and Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid, all of whom help to give the record an undeniable pop sheen, but one that still allows for the humanity of the music to shine just as brightly. The good news is, and I am so happy about this, all of these qualities translate in an outstanding way in a live setting.
Before we go any further, I just wanted to send an apology to the All Ages section of the Wonder Ballroom, while simultaneously shaking my head in disappointment at the Wonder Ballroom itself. Like many shows, there was a dividing barrier between the All Ages and the 21+ sections, and despite being firmly a pop show, the entirety of the stage was given to the 21+ crowd, with the All Ages section no less than 10 feet from the edge of the stage – imagine the division between sections at the Crystal Ballroom, only reversed, and in a much smaller room. It’s disappointing knowing that the crowd this show should have spoken to the most was condemned to watching it from behind a crowd of exuberant drunks. I’m sure there were reasons for the division being the way it was (I generally trust the Wonder Ballroom’s judgment), but this particular evening, it felt misguided.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the show. I’ll be completely up-front here: there was never a down moment during the entire set. Considering her one-hit-wonder status, it could be easy for Jepsen to rest on the strength of that song, but instead she’s used her time in the spotlight to propel herself forward as an artist and as a performer. Over the course of the 20-song set (comprising the entirety of E·MO·TION and five songs from 2012’s Kiss), she had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hands – which grabbed onto the hands of those in the front rows on more occasions than I could count (including mine during “Tonight I’m Getting Over You”) – and she never once took it for granted. More than just being a lengthy set, it was tightly constructed and flowed marvelously together, cooling things down appropriately and ramping energy up as needed to keep the audience on its toes. Her stage banter was plentiful and constantly overjoyed, and even the moments that are no doubt parts of every night – during E·MO·TION highlight “Let’s Get Lost” her saxophone player came from the back of the stage to serenade her – felt not only organic, but truly special.
Carly Rae Jepsen // Photo Credit: Jordan DeCloedt
The most refreshing thing about watching this performance was the sense that Jepsen is performing for no other reason than because of the joy of performing pop music for live audiences. She’s a showman and a class act, and pop stars at a much higher station than her could stand to learn a lot not just about how to work a crowd, but how to show true, honest gratefulness for the people in the crowd. Seeing others regularly clasping the hands of showgoers might seem cloying, but it felt loving with her. When she made fun of herself singing “Boy Problems” at home in the shower, it felt like we were getting a goofy little piece of her. It never felt like we were watching some cosmic being beaming her consciousness down to deliver pop bangers, but rather an actual human being, wearing goofy looking (but probably extremely comfortable) black sequinned boots and a floral blouse and a cape for just one song (because fuck you, she’s Carly Rae Jepsen, sometimes you want to wear a cape), who has decided to use her power as a pop star to elevate the status of pop music.
Going into writing this review, I found myself consciously trying to find things about the performance I didn’t like. I’m a hyperbolic person by nature, mostly because I love a lot of things. But here’s the truth: there just wasn’t anything to complain about here. Carly Rae Jepsen, as well as the entirety of her backing band, was nothing short of phenomenal. Any attempt at this-could-be-bettering this show verges on needless nitpicking. With that said, I issue everyone reading this a warning: if you’re sleeping on Carly Rae Jepsen because you think she’s just “That girl who did that song,” toss those notions in the garbage, listen to E·MO·TION, and if you have the ability to see this woman perform, do not hesitate.