At Terminal 5 last Friday night, I was so anxious waiting for Carly Rae Jepsen to appear, I began clawing the rhinestones off my phone case. It was the second-to-last show on her “Gimmie Love” tour, and after six months of dancing alone in my room to her newest album, I was ready to freak out in person.
When Jepsen’s breakthrough hit, “Call Me Maybe,” first came out, I was 18 years old and spent the majority of my time driving my mom’s station wagon around listening to it on loop. Now, as a very wise 22-year-old, my love of Carly Rae Jepsen has only deepened. But when I scanned the crowd, the first thought I had was, WHERE ARE ALL THE TEENS? I spotted one errant tween accompanied by her parents, as well as a teen boy wearing black lipstick who’d brought his own brocade fan to cool himself when the venue heated up. There were also two girls decked out in matching T-shirts that read “Carly Bae Jepsen.” But mostly, the crowd was adult men. Where were my people, I wondered. Where were all the hands covered in Sharpie’d X’s?
Jepsen’s latest album, E•MO•TION, was released to near-universal critical acclaim and near-disastrous commercial sales. At last count, the album had sold only 16,000 copies, disappointing by any measure — but the crowd, adults and teens alike, felt like it was made up of every single one of those album-buyers. When the sound of a saxophone signaled the beginning of “Run Away With Me,” the album’s opening track, we all lost it (Jepsen is the best thing to happen to saxophones since Lisa Simpson) — and the energy level stayed at a nearly uninterrupted pitch of attuned devotion. It wasn’t the kind of hyperfan urgency you might find at, say, a Justin Bieber stadium show. There was no screaming, no fainting. Just pure joy and reverence as Jepsen appeared before us like a beautiful sprite in her blunt Joan Jett–style haircut, white blazer, distressed muscle T, and leather leggings. Her look could be described as pulled from the rack labeled “glamour grunge” at the JCPenney Juniors department, and I mean this in the best way possible.
As she switched tempos — from the upbeat “Making the Most of the Night” to the languid “Warm Blood” and then back for the peppy crowd favorite “Boy Problems” — the crowd sang and swayed along to every word. During “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance,” the 1990s-esque house-pop tune that appears at the end of the album, the music synced up to a lowered disco ball, and for a second I felt like I was an extra in A Night at the Roxbury.
Jepsen’s banter was a little strained between songs, maybe because this was the tail end of the tour. She relied on shtick-y intros — “You know those times when you get all dressed up to go out with your friends, but you go to the bar and you’re like, ‘I didn’t just come here to dance’?” she intoned, smirking, as “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” began to play — a tactic I found a little cheesy but nonetheless convenient. For “Your Type,” Jepsen switched into a white cape that made her look like Prince, but promptly took it off at song’s end. Was this subliminal wardrobe message supposed to signify “changing yourself to be someone’s type,” and is that type…a cape-wearer?
Please note that even as I critique all this pleasant corniness, I’m still expressing my adoration for Jepsen. Watching her perform live makes it clear she’s doing some of the best, weirdest pop music around — at once sentimental and futuristic. When Jepsen brought out friend and collaborator Dev Hynes to help her perform the Eighties slow jam–inspired “All That,” the audience fell into a collective full-body swoon. After playing just about the entirety of E•MO•TION, she finished with fan favorites “Call Me Maybe” and her most recent radio hit, “I Really Like You.” Maybe Jepsen didn’t expect the crowd to be so thirsty for an encore, but she probably should have saved one of those hits for that instead of playing the forgettable “Love Again” as the very last song. Regardless, we all left feeling magnificent and glistening with sweat.
Jepsen is a singer with a rare, ageless quality: youthful but not infantile, adolescent but not immature. Her music is here for people who experience emotions we normally associate with being a teenager — having fun, dancing, freaking out about your crushes — but her age, and the age of her fans, might be irrelevant. She’s a powerful performer, a huge dork, and she brings out the teen in all of us. As I watched, I thought about labeling her “John Hughes–wave,” music in the style of a John Hughes film: She has that special blend of stylish, anticipatory nostalgia. I could already see the movie in which we would co-star: It’s the culminating prom sequence, and Carly Rae’s music has been guiding our heroine (me) all along. When her tour bus breaks down in front of the high school, she decides to play her show at the prom, and our heroine (still me) is like, “No way!” Carly Rae replies, “I’ve been right here all along,” winks, and begins to sing.