Is Carly Rae Jepsen pop’s best kept secret? Despite the astronomical success of her 2012 single, Pazz & Jop honoree “Call Me Maybe,” the Canadian singer is more of a cult figure than enormous pop star. Her third album, Emotion, released earlier this year, was greeted with a storm of critical accolades but a comparatively less stellar Billboard chart performance. But what Jepsen lacks in a schtick for fans to rest their hat on, she makes up for with a catalogue of music that rings almost painfully true about love, whether she’s singing about its euphoric beginnings or its dismal finale. Last night’s New York stop on her Gimme Love Tour at Irving Plaza provided the necessary intimacy for her output.
Her setlist was primarily hinged on Emotion, kicking off with its opener “Run Away With Me” and sticking to the tracklist for most of the night. And while she veered away to play songs from her “Call Me Maybe”-boasting album Kiss, like its title track and “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” — which she ironically dedicated to a couple who had gotten engaged at the show — as well as her saccharine Owl City collab “Good Time,” the crowd was most engaged when she was playing the more stirring cuts from Emotion.
But this is what makes Jepsen so beloved by her fans: There is no wall between her and her listeners. An artist like Taylor Swift fabricates a sense of closeness to her audience, pantomiming friendship and relatability when there is, in reality, no way to truly access her. Even relative newcomer Halsey — who celebrates her catapult to success as a group effort and acknowledges her fans as part of the process, not just her admirers — feels sort of untouchable. When Jepsen spoke to last night’s crowd, she wasn’t just spilling canned anecdotes for the sake of segue: She was talking to them like her friends, lamenting how irritating you become when you’re constantly complaining about romantic foibles before performing “Boy Problems” and detailing her and her friends’ decade-ago attempts at “dressing older” to get into clubs to lead into Emotion standout “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance.” Her realness is both her most valuable form of currency and precisely why she can navigate pop music without needing that currency at all. It’s what secured the devotion of an already-enamored audience, but then she played the most perfect hand to further win over a New York audience by slagging off on SoCal.
Before performing another one off Emotion, bright spot “L.A. Hallucination,” she explained that when she first moved to the city, she would end up getting drunk and start insulting it to the natives because she hated to live there that much. Certainly the crowd was already in her palm, but this moment cemented the love. Another NYC-only surprise was a cameo from Dev Hynes, who came out to perform their John Hughesian collab “All That.”
Genuine warmth was the mode of the night, one that didn’t even require a performance of “Call Me Maybe” to feel complete. Jepsen’s music is a pure reflection of the many hues that love comes in, free from bitterness because it’s made by someone who has been through enough to know that after we hurt, we heal, and the cycle is worth repeating. She did, of course, include “Call Me Maybe” in her encore — unsurprisingly, it was not as commanding as cuts like “Your Type” and “Warm Blood” — and what was most remarkable about it was how she didn’t seem to be tired of the song. It did, however, beg the question, Why isn’t she being booked at larger venues which she would just-as-likely sell out? Or, perhaps, even asking this question is like biting the hand that feeds you — Jepsen doesn’t require fireworks-enabled spectacle because she only needs to be herself. And the closer one can be to that, the better.