Carly Rae Jepsen: An Introduction
Although she’s been an established artist in her native Canada for several years — with a third-place finish on Canadian Idol, two gold singles, two albums, and two Juno Award nominations to her name —
Singer and songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen was a virtual unknown in the U.S. until February when fellow Canadian Justin Bieber began tweeting about a song he had heard on the radio while home for Christmas vacation — an irresistible track Jepsen had co-written called “Call Me Maybe.”
As we all know, the kid has ears. Following the announcement that he and his manager Scooter Braun had signed Jepsen to Braun’s Schoolboy Records and Interscope Records, “Call Me Maybe” began racing up the iTunes Singles chart where it is now comfortably lodged in the Top 10. Its rapid rise has also been fueled by a lighthearted video that Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale, and others shot of themselves lip-synching and dancing to the song and subsequently posted on YouTube where it has racked up 19 million views and inspired hundreds of fans to post their own homemade videos in response.
“I first saw the video along with everyone else when it was posted on Carlos Pena’s YouTube channel,” Jepsen says. “I had to watch it three more times before it actually registered for me that this was done by my new team. It was the warmest welcome I could have imagined. It’s still hard to believe all of this is actually happening. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be in this position, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would not have written this experience into my story.”
Jepsen’s story begins in Mission, British Columbia, where she grew up the daughter of educators and music lovers. “Ever since I was a kid, my parents and step-parents could see that I was really passionate about music,” Jepsen says. “I sang all the time to anything I could mimic.” Jepsen’s father also played guitar and would sing her James Taylor songs at night before bed while her mother taught her lyrics to Leonard Cohen songs. “Music was the way I connected with everyone and my family nourished that in me,” she says.
Jepsen caught the musical theater bug in high school, starring in Annie, The Wiz, and Grease, and attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria after graduating. At age 17, Jepsen got her first guitar and, because her parents were in the school system, thought she might become a music teacher, although singing her own songs eventually won out. It was while working as a pastry chef’s assistant at a café in Vancouver that Jepsen and a friend hit on the idea to launch a songwriter’s acoustic open-mic night. “We would take over the place,” she recalls. “One time a swing band I was singing with performed and we had everyone dancing around the coffee roasters in the alley.” Jepsen also performed in pubs, challenging herself to win over indifferent audiences. “I knew I had done well if they got quiet and were watching me by the end,” she says. “It felt like, ‘I had to fight for that one, but it was so worth it.’”
But by 2007, playing in pubs had gotten old and somehow becoming a music teacher didn’t seem too appealing either. Jepsen’s high-school drama instructor, whom she describes as “a Mr. Holland’s Opus-type,” encouraged her to try out for Canadian Idol, which was going into its fifth season. “I wasn’t convinced, but my teacher said, ‘The only way that any of these doors are going to open is if you knock on every single one of them. Don’t decide your path. Let it decide you.’ The day of the audition, I remember thinking, ‘I could have a long bath, or I could just go audition.”
Jepsen placed third on Canadian Idol, winning audiences over with her rich, distinctive voice, down-to-earth charm, and sincere passion for performing. Her popularity led to a recording contract with Canada’s 604 Records, which released her debut album Tug of War in August 2008. The album spawned two gold singles, “Tug of War” and “Bucket” and earned her a Canadian Radio Music Award for Song of the Year. Jepsen was also nominated for Juno Awards for New Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year (with her producer Ryan Stewart) and a Much Music Video Award for UR FAVE New Artist.
In February 2012, Jepsen released Curiosity, a six-song EP that showcased a poppier sound than she had delivered on the folk-flavored Tug of War. The collection includes “Call Me Maybe,” which Jepsen wrote with her guitarist Tavish Crowe and Marianas Trench singer Josh Ramsay. “I knew that I had changed as an artist after being on the road with bands like Marianas Trench and The New Cities,” Jepsen says. “I saw the effect they had on the crowd, how they inspired the audience to get up and dance and that appealed to me. I wanted to create that kind of energy with my music. I was also listening to different things, like Robyn, La Roux, and Dragonette, and I just felt a change in myself. I didn’t know how it was going to be accepted, because I had a reputation as a more folk-oriented artist, but I couldn’t deny that it was happening.”
The song also gave Jepsen the thrill of knowing that her songs can connect with a wide audience.
“I have a goal, which is to write that one song that leaves a lasting impression and makes people feel good long after I’m gone,” she says. “‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison does that for me. I don’t know when it will come or if I’ll ever get there, but it would be such an achievement. That’s what I get up and do this for every day — writing that song.”