Attending a concert isn’t an isolated experience — it’s an extension of a relationship an individual listener builds with an artist. Watching a live performance is only one of a number of ways in which we engage with musicians these days. Prior to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Noise Pop set at The Warfield on Saturday night, I’ve studied her lyrics as if they were holy text, read endless interviews and think pieces, seen every music video and used individual frames as my phone wallpaper, and, of course, have had her music on constant rotation.
E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen’s masterwork in dance-pop, has lived with me since November, and in the time between then and now I’ve grown in its presence. A show doesn’t exist within a vacuum, and I brought with me to The Warfield fragments of a past relationship and remnants of the multiple selves that existed along the healing process.
For some context on why, if you are still confused at this point, Carly Rae Jepsen matters to so many people in her current critical resurgence, let me offer you my personal take. I consider E•MO•TION a breakup album — it’s about confronting why things didn’t work out in the past and finding hope that they still can in the future with someone new. Residual shards from a previous relationship can pin down even the strongest to immobility — but E•MO•TION isn’t about running away from mistakes, it’s about coming to peace with new scars.
Carly Rae Jepsen wrestles with learning to love again throughout E•MO•TION. She learns that she shouldn’t have to change herself to make a relationship work (“When I Needed You”), she struggles with the realization that no amount of time set aside for the one you love can make them right for you (“Your Type”), and she comes to terms with taking action rather than maintaining frustration in the stagnancy of what just isn’t working (“Boy Problems”).
But Jepsen also discovers that her own desires are of value and should be treated as such — that diving into something serious isn’t the same as disappearing within it. She tackles with self-confidence being single and holding onto a one-sided infatuated (“I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”), she overcomes hesitation and relearns to trust her instincts (“Favorite Colour”), and she anticipates everything she and her loved one could do and become with their shared romance (“Emotion”). There is a complex evolution taking place beneath the unparalleled sonics of E•MO•TION, which come courtesy of some of the best co-songwriters and producers in the industry (including Ariel Rechsteid, Devonté Hynes, Sia) — the record is lyrically therapeutic, but also musically flawless.
All of this goes some of the way in explaining why at the age of 20 I was one of the youngest audience members at the show. “Call Me Maybe” had Carly Rae Jepsen pegged by casual observers as a tween starlet, but the reality is far from that perception. Jepsen is 30 years old, and anyone in the age range from 21-35 is currently playing out the various forms of heartbreak and attraction she chronicles on E•MO•TION. Jepsen has become the ambassador for millennial love — forging forward on a battle for reciprocal affection.
I don’t have quite as sure of an explanation for the massive gender disparity in the crowd, as by my estimates there were nearly twice as many men as women at the show. I’ve never until this past weekend seen a longer line for the men’s room than the women’s, but Carly Rae Jepsen, per usual, defies all expectations. In fact, the crowd was virtually indistinguishable from those at most of the indie-rock shows I attend — except everyone actually seemed genuinely excited to be where they were.
Earlier in the day I attended a live recording of the Song Exploder podcast, where over the course of 45 minutes, Jepsen and one of her songwriting partners/guitarist discussed turning E•MO•TION closer “When I Needed You” from an Enya-esque ballad to the empowering romp of its current incarnation. I came away from the event with an even bigger celebrity crush than I thought possible (even if you don’t like her music, Carly Rae Jepsen is unstoppably charming), as well as with new insight on something that had been tugging at me for a while.
During the taping she touched on having to fight against her public perception in order to work with some of her desired collaborators, in particular Ariel Rechtshaid (famed producer of HAIM and Sky Ferreira records). As the sole Carly Rae Jepsen fan amongst a sea of non-listening-but-still-commenting music aficionados, I share the burden of her struggle as I face the constant weight of judgment from others in explaining myself in regards to the music I like, and why I like it.
It’s so easy to ignore music under the guise of having a “more refined” taste — you don’t have to exert the effort of trying something new and can claim a heightened sense of self-accomplishment in what you position as beneath you. As music fans we craft our own voice in part by letting people know the external voices we admire — but the perception we hope to present becomes skewed when people tune out what you offer. I’ve used so many words to describe to others how the girl behind “Call Me Maybe” could put out one of my favorite records of the past year alongside “serious musicians” such as Kendrick Lamar and Sufjan Stevens, but I generally end up unheard and exhausted.
Upon walking away from the Carly Rae Jepsen’s 16-song performance on Saturday night, I’ve realized that to those who dismiss her because of a preconceived bias or a self-identifying insecurity, you don’t belong anyway.
People can be downright nasty in their defiance for the sake of good taste. I’ve had friends point out their problems with Carly Rae Jepsen’s hair, clothing, personality, her “calculated” move to indie, live performances, and even her laugh. But when you watch her on stage, you get the sense that she couldn’t care less about any such negativity. She just released one of the best pop albums of the last decade in collaboration with a number of her idols. She’s totally fine playing venues smaller than those on her previous tour, because her current fans carry 10 times as much enthusiasm and genuine support.
And to those fans, she delivered a nearly perfect set. Battling a cold, yet remaining resolute on stage — and without hardly a noticeable reduction in her quality of voice (which is extremely high, mind you) — Jepsen played nearly the entirety of E•MO•TION, including three bonus tracks, as well as the two hits from the album prior. Her smile was infectious, and the absolutely palpable excitement from the crowd overwhelmed her on a number of occasions. The performance was cut short, apparently due to her illness, but it was made up of all essentials, and you’d have to look at previous set lists to realize anything was missing.
The show was an affirmation of everything I’ve been fighting for as a fan. Her vocal affectations are still the best of any major-league pop star in the game, and her accompanying music was tonally rich and sonically inviting. She’s not a great dancer, but she’s a charismatic one — and her disarming personality makes it hard to be cynical. She wore a cape during a commanding rendition of “Your Type,” and to the many who have found a sense of resolve through her music, she truly was their hero for the night.
And this is the key point — half of the value of art comes from the audience. They provide the interpretation and give music its cultural power. What makes E•MO•TION so significant is how much the listeners give back, and last night the crowd was as much a part of the music as the band. For my part, the show was a reminder of the power of giving in to your emotions without reservation, and it was a satisfying next step in my growing relationship with this record.