There I was, speeding around a roller rink to a Canadian pop star's latest hit like something out of a Sweet Valley High book. The neon lights pulsed in and out to the beat, casting shadows on the swerving crowd as they sang in unison: "Run away with me / Run away with me..."
And then there I was, winded on the floor of the roller rink, skates up and spinning like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
Wiping out wasn't quite the delightful image I had in mind when I went to Carly Rae Jepsen's "listening party" on August 26, held at Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, California. Gliding blissfully around a Technicolor rink was supposed to be the perfect way to listen to Jepsen's new electro-pop album Emotion, officially released on August 21.
At the very least, though, it gave me something to talk to Carly Rae herself about in the 30 seconds allotted to the meet-and-greet. The rink wasn't packed to the brim, but the people there — ranging from babbling preteen girls to men enthusiastically dancing in their skates — chattered excitedly amongst themselves about being in Jepsen's presence.
Jepsen smiled warmly as I tottered over. She was wearing vertigo-inducing heels, but I still towered over her in my skates. "I'm going as fast as I can," I assured her, "I just wiped out super hard during my favorite song of yours." She laughed and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder as one of her assistants took a picture. "I'm totally going to do the same thing," she said. "I'm wearing shorts under this dress."
In the picture, we're laughing so hard the image is blurred. We look more like best friends than a pop star and a fan — which is exactly how Carly Rae Jepsen wants it.
Here's what you should know about pop music's friendliest Canadian export.
Carly Rae Jepsen is not a one-hit wonder (but yes, "Call Me Maybe" is a perfect pop song)
The 29-year-old Jepsen is best known for her 2011 bubblegum plea "Call Me Maybe." The song gained worldwide attention when Justin Bieber tweeted about it, calling it "the catchiest song I've ever heard lol." He and then-girlfriend Selena Gomez were so obsessed with the song that producer Scooter Braun swooped in to represent Jepsen, who had previously been limited to Canadian radio.
Then came one of the greatest social media pushes for a song ever, in the form of a charmingly low-resolution YouTube video in which Bieber, Gomez, and their friends lip-synced along to "Call Me Maybe." While it was undoubtedly a calculated publicity move, the result still feels loose, like the teen idols hit that late hour at a sleepover when sanity becomes optional.
After that, Jepsen was off. Her official video for "Call Me Maybe" currently has more than 715 million views on YouTube.
Jepsen's subsequent album, Kiss, struggled, however, without another single to match the platinum-selling "Call Me Maybe." It sold a relatively disappointing 292,000 copies, and the buzz surrounding Jepsen started to fade.
There are plenty of artists who would happily live off the massive success of a song like "Call Me Maybe," and there's no shame in that game. Still, Jepsen was eager to use the single's momentum to build a more lasting pop career.
Carly Rae Jepsen's new album Emotion is that rare pop record that doesn't depend on singles
While Kiss depended on the success of "Call Me Maybe" as a single, Emotion's priority is creating a more perfect pop album. Braun told the New York Times that while they counted on singles for Kiss, with Emotion they scrapped that mentality entirely in favor of creating a more cohesive, "critically acclaimed album." Still, they released the song that hews closest to "Call Me Maybe" as a single to prime people for Jepsen's return. "I Really Like You" didn't reach the zenith that "Call Me Maybe" did — and Jepsen acknowledges that no song of hers likely ever will again — but it at least got an accompanying video starring none other than an ecstatic Tom Hanks.
Jepsen has a writing credit on every single one of the new album's songs, and is reportedly meticulous about her choices. After scrapping an entire album of folk songs, she brought in musicians she admired to produce and co-write the tracks. Emotion's guest talent includes Sia, Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, Tegan & Sara, and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. Together, Jepsen and her collaborators reportedly took more than 200 possible songs, whittled them down, and streamlined them into bite-size pop fantasies.
The songs are lacquered with glossy '80s synth, alternately lush and a little wicked. They sometimes even give way to throwback '90s saxophone solos. While some songs are grander than others, like the sweeping opener "Run Away With Me," every one has merits. "Let's Get Lost" is pure joy, bopping to and fro without overselling the saccharine message. The Hynes-produced title track "Emotion" pops and sizzles, delivering bite with a grin as Jepsen sings, "Be tormented for me, babe." She's not the wide-eyed girl she was in "Call Me Maybe," but she's still relentlessly hopeful.
Most pop albums are lucky if they have three standout songs. Emotion has 12.
Carly Rae Jepsen was once a literal Disney princess
This isn't strictly necessary knowledge per se, but the fact that Jepsen took a few months off in 2014 to play Cinderella on Broadway is one of those facts that can actually call itself "fun."
Carly Rae Jepsen is a very good roller skater (who really knows her fans)
After the meet-and-greet was over, Jepsen strapped on her own roller skates and took to the rink. A couple of men in striped referee shirts trailed her, but she steadily pushed along, grinning wide, completely unconcerned. She sang along with her fans to her breezy ballad "When I Needed You." She started a skating conga line and wriggled to the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha." Occasionally, someone would whip out a phone and skate alongside her for a selfie, some even grabbing at her in their enthusiasm. Jepsen never missed a beat.
Despite the early critical acclaim, Emotion isn't selling nearly as well as expected. It only sold 16,000 copies its first week. Kiss, meanwhile, had sold 46,000. This could be thanks to some combination of music services like Spotify streaming the album, or the fact that Emotion leaked after Jepsen released it two months early in Japan, where she is particularly beloved.
But Jepsen presses on. The week of Emotion's release, she held several events in Los Angeles that highlight just how well she knows her fan base. In addition to the downright adorable roller-skating listening party, she took to the Sunset Strip for a sold-out concert, jumped around in a tutu with glow sticks at a fun run, and hosted a sweaty night of dancing at one of LA's only 18-and-over dance clubs.
These events might be small compared with those of other pop stars of the moment like, say, Taylor Swift's goliath stadium parties. But these microtargeted events are right in line with the kind of music Jepsen has made her own with Emotion. The fans who are there for Carly Rae are fervently head over heels for the tiny pop powerhouse with the blunt-cut bangs. When you go to a Carly Rae Jepsen event, you expect to have an uncomplicated good time, while smiling your most mischievous smile.
After about 10 minutes of skating with Jepsen, the crowd almost seemed to forget she was there. It wasn't that people were less excited. It was that they got so distracted by the songs that they just forgot to gawk. Jepsen didn't mind, happily blending into the crowd in her loose headband and sparkly black dress. Pop stardom is one thing, but Jepsen would rather let people get lost in her music.