Her greatest chart hit was the earworm “Call Me Maybe” back in 2012, but Carly Rae Jepsen has been quietly making excellent, effervescent music ever since. And while you might expect the target audience of her sugary pop to be teenage girls (and perhaps a handful of gay men), she seems to have captured the hearts of a much more diverse group of people. If anything, a lack of mainstream commercial success has cemented Carly Rae Jepsen as a beloved underdog. And then there are the many, many memes; from “Run Away With Meme” to “queen of wearing hats” to “give Carly Rae Jepsen a sword,” the internet has officially adopted her as one of its own.
I spoke to six self-proclaimed Carly Rae Jepsen superfans about why this unassuming 33-year-old from Canada inspires such Dedication (sorry), and why she doesn’t need another number one to remain their favorite artist.
Like everyone, I was helpless in the face of “Call Me Maybe.” I also really responded to the song “Your Heart is a Muscle,” which summed up a sentiment I hadn’t really encountered in music. And then Emotion was a whole album of songs like that. It hit at exactly the moment when we were searching for that early Madonna synth vibe, and Emotion does it so well. It’s like we spent such a long time forgetting what a great song “Cherish” is, and we just needed Carly to come along and remind us. Emotion also felt special because all my smart friends liked it. I’m used to liking fluffy things alone, and instead this time I got to enjoy it along with all these great funny people on the internet.
There’s this fascinating tension where she came into this space where maybe she was going to be a pop star, and she produced a perfect album of pop jams, and yet success just didn’t come for her. And I think the internet swooped in because she’s such an appealingly blank canvas; she’s quiet, self-effacing, not really a dancer, she doesn’t have these big personal relationship dramas you’re following along with. I’m glad that Carly doesn’t get in the way of me loving the music; she’s just like a conduit for it. With other pop artists like Taylor Swift, because the true stories we’ve all heard are such a big part of the music, it’s harder to map yourself and your own feelings onto the song. Stans might write Taylor fan fiction, whereas I feel like Carly is writing me fan fiction.
And while it’s impossible to pick just one favorite Carly song, I just know that the opening sax in “Run Away With Me” is one of the happiest sounds in the world. When I hear it, I feel immediately close to everyone I know on the internet who has walked down the aisle to that song, of which there are a lot, and I’m like yeah, I understand your relationship and I’m rooting for you.
Carly is a great lyricist and accurately captures the extremes of emotions, whether that be the euphoria of “Cut To The Feeling” or the heartbreak in “Your Type.” I think this, coupled with her status as something of an underdog, has really captured the attention and love of online communities, especially LGBTQ+ people. A lot of LGBTQ+ people identify as underdogs, and having lived in the closet for at least part of our lives, we initially feel emotions to those great extremes because it’s the first time we can truly access and live in them. My most-played Carly song sums this up; it’s actually her feature on Danny L Harle’s “Super Natural,” which is an underrated euphoric sensation.
The journey of my fandom has been circuitous. I first came to know of CRJ from “Call Me Maybe,” which I found extremely cloying. The 90’s-pop-punk-teen within me re-emerged to reject it outright. It wasn’t until I heard “I Really Like You” that I realized her music provoked a feeling of unbridled joy, though I’m not sure that I was ready to admit it at the time. Still, my curiosity, as well as critical praise, led me to give Emotion a listen, at which point it all clicked. I think I always loved CRJ; it was a matter of allowing me to admit that to myself.
CRJ reminds me of feeling things as a younger version of myself, when all the dials were turned up to 10. Every emotion (sorry) felt saturated and intense, and she captures that essence. Her music isn’t a pure distillation of my experience (which would be much angstier and more maudlin) but it was her singing about her feelings so earnestly that warped me back to 2002 when I used to paint my nails black and belt AFI songs in the Ford Taurus. Also they’re all fucking bops and I’ve been known to dance when the mood strikes.
Not sure I have a favorite song. But the opening sax riff of “Run Away With Me” gets me every time. My fave on that album depends on what’s going on in my life at the time. At any given moment it might be “All That,” “Making the Most of the Night,” or “Warm Blood,” though sometimes something like “LA Hallucinations” or “Emotion” hit just right.
I was 18 when “Call Me Maybe” came out and, like a lot of people, thought it was a bop, but thought nothing of it beyond that. I became a dedicated fan three years later, when I saw her at Heaven, the biggest gay nightclub in London. Like all great love stories, it began when I was very drunk, propped up by lots of enthusiastically dancing gay men, and Carly was on stage in a bright yellow suit. She just committed so hard to every song; I love how she unabashedly loves and honors great pop music. I don’t think she gets enough credit for her flamboyance, either. As a particularly camp butch woman, seeing Carly onstage rocking neon pantsuits and Liza Minnelli cropped hair is like a lighthouse guiding me home. She has fun with everything she does and it makes seeing her live or listening to her albums a delight.
I also love that Carly fans seem to exist on the kinder side of the internet. There’s a real tendency in obsessive ‘stan’ culture circles for memes to be cruel or misogynistic, but with Carly, the memes are that she should have a sword, or that she’s the queen of wearing hats. For the most part, it’s all good-spirited and joyous.
As for why she’s not had a solo number one since “Call Me Maybe” — a “Call Me Maybe” comes along once in a lifetime. I think it’s difficult when people assume she’ll replicate that success, or that she’s a failure if she doesn’t. It’s an incredibly high bar! There was a quote from her recently about how she’d rather have a small group of passionate fans than another “Call Me Maybe,” which is good news because she certainly has the former and I don’t see that shifting any time soon. And as for my favorite track, “Run Away With Me” is a near-perfect pop song and if the opening saxophone riff is the last thing I hear before I die, I’d consider that a good end.
I first heard “Call Me Maybe” when I was working at a summer camp in Kansas. I couldn’t stand it at the time, because the kids were screaming it for eight weeks straight. I’ll admit, I turned up my nose at a lot of pop music until then. It kind of took Carly to show me that there can be actual depth to it beyond an earworm… her music has an earnestness to it that is absent from a lot of pop. I think part of why she has such diehard fans is that feeling of loving pop music without being coy or pretentious about it.
Also, I know a lot of the LGBTQ+ community feel that her songs can be interpreted as her singing about anyone, man or woman, and I can totally see that perspective. I think the fact that she’s not had a number one in so long comes down to her signature earnestness. “Call Me Maybe” was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment where she had a marketable pop anthem. I think it’s hard to market the genuine vulnerability that’s omnipresent in the rest of her music.
My favorite song is probably “Your Heart is a Muscle.” I was struck by how the song really captured that love is something you have to work at, and not something that sort of just happens. Of course, it’s also catchy as hell.
I was 16 and going through some teen angst when Kiss came out, and that straight up unabashed pop music was an escape for me — I still think “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” is one of her best. I’d say it’s harder now for a pure pop song to top the charts now than back in 2012. But there’s no pressure for her to chart, because everything she releases, we eat up. It’s like Robyn, or Aly & AJ, in terms of having a vocal online fan base that love the music despite it not being necessarily in the Top 40… I think the memes also got some people into her “ironically,” then they realized that her music is actually great and they ended up sticking around. Ultimately, I really love that she’s so normal. There’s a sense that she’s just this regular woman from Canada who makes amazing music, and I think she’s happy being that. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, she’s self-aware, she got involved in the “queen of” memes which was fab. She knows her fan base is quite niche, and she embraces that.
My favorite Carly song is “Warm Blood,” 100 per cent. So moody, so sexy, oh my god! “I Really Like You” holds sentimental value for me too, though, because it played in the gay club where I worked on the night I first got with my now-girlfriend of four years. It’s very cheesy but very cute.
Feature collage by Emily Zirimis.