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A Little Alone Time with Carly Rae Jepsen | Vanity Fair
Ahead of her new album The Loneliest Time, Jepsen celebrates love, loneliness, and making it to Radio City Hall at long last.
Mercifully, it only took half an hour into Carly Rae Jepsen’s sold out New York stop of her So Nice Tour on Wednesday night for that telltale strings intro to activate not a few core memories of every starry-eyed millennial in attendance: “I hope you’ll sing this next song with me, it’s the law!” Jepsen pronounced; and so, almost exactly eleven years after “Call Me Maybe” infected the world, the Canadian pop chanteuse, glitzing in a feathered tube top and bejeweled mesh pants whose hip cut-outs threatened to eat any Euphoria character’s lunch, gave the single the full Radio City Music Hall treatment it’s been due.
“When I first came to New York City, it was with my performing arts college in Canada,” Jepsen tells me when I call over Zoom the morning after to debrief on the concert. “We would do this 11-day trip and see some Broadway shows, talk to other artists. We didn’t actually get to go into Radio City, but we were told about it and the iconic history of this place, and I remember we all took a photograph outside of it while bundled in our Canadian winter clothes. From the inception, that was my first introduction to this place—it had this magical tone to me, very hush hush, like you couldn’t get inside.” The way Jepsen tells it, Radio City (but also, she remembers, the M&M store—“what an indulgent idea!”) was a perfect symbol of that ineffable New York magic. The chance to perform before those hallowed velvet seats has dogged the 36-year-old star ever since, and she’d even come close to ticking it off the dream list for Dedicated tour, until, you know, the world shut down.
In honor of the long-awaited night, Jepsen gave Vanity Fair an exclusive look into her getting ready process backstage, where she donned a celestial dressing gown that matched the oversized stars and clouds of her stage set—not to mention the giant talking moon who initially greeted the audience by introducing herself as the “ambassador of love” and “mirror of truth.” (The moon, I learned, does not have a name, but it’s definitely a she: “This idea of a man on the moon doesn’t make much sense to me,” Jepsen says). For the show itself, Jepsen worked with her long-time stylist Hayley Atkin for what she calls her “red firebird outfit,” later swapped out for a black suit jacket, bra top, and drop-crotch trousers: think conductor party girl, an outward manifestation of the way Jepsen sees her relationship with her notoriously devoted fans, who she credits for making her feel safe onstage:
“I feel like my responsibility is less about how I look and if I sing perfectly, and it’s more about being present and taking in the room and allowing other people to experience the night,” she explains. “So I feel more like a conductor of a fun night than anything else.” It’s definitely a much more chill ethos compared to the earlier eras of her career, Jepsen admits. “It’s funny, Jack [Antonoff] and I were talking about what it is, the difference between touring in your thirties versus touring in your twenties and teens, how you know yourself better and become more comfortable—what is the word?” she stops and ponders for a minute. “My boyfriend has a really good phrase for this, it’s basically total self acceptance for all the flaws and everything about yourself. Radical acceptance? I don’t know if that’s exactly it.”
And while Jepsen stuck mostly with playing homage to her existing hits—for the encore, she brought out Isabella Boylston, the principle dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, to pirouette across the stage to “Cut to the Feeling”—in just a few weeks, her next studio album, The Loneliest Time, will hit the airwaves on October 21 (yes, that October 21), and we both have to acknowledge that it’s a pretty leading question to be asking, in 2022, about any global or personal inspirations for putting out an album about solitude.
“I think even before COVID hit, we were kind of forced into our own little worlds of isolation to a degree,” she says. “I definitely was battling my relationship with loneliness as a touring artist. My job requires this really extreme sort of lifestyle where I get to be in stages, and I get to kind of be around people, but it’s a really isolating feeling because you always kind of feel a little, you know, unseen.” Jepsen continues: “When COVID happened, I was forced to really look at my life choices. I was sort of like, ‘I have so much of a career going on, and I really love that it fuels me, but I haven’t put a ton of energy into my personal life, and haven’t put a ton of energy into even the home that I have been living in.”
The resulting introspection led Jepsen into a fascination with the concept of sitting with oneself and working, of course, on the most important relationship of all. This is the pop star behind hits like “Party For One,” “Solo,” and “Your Type,” of course, so making loneliness sound kind of romantic has never not been the brand. As Jepsen reminds me: “I think loneliness can spark you to join a club that you’d never go, or join a dating app that you’d never use, or rekindle a friendship, or try a relationship on that might not necessarily be what you thought you needed, but maybe is exactly what you need. It really is like loneliness that leads to deep human connection.”
Which leaves just one question left: if we’re all listening to Carly Rae Jepsen when we’re a little too solitary, to whom does one of our generation’s preeminent queens of heartbreak herself turn to when she’s alone?
“A lot of jazz,” she says. “It’s calming, it’s beautiful. I had somebody asked me the other day, ‘Do you do it on purpose when you try to make sad things beautiful?’ I think that’s what I’m attracted to, what Billie Holiday does so well. She can sing about the craziest, most heartbreaking thing—whatever it is, she finds a poetry to it. If that is not the plight of every artist, to find the poetry to the painful things in life, then I don’t know what the point of our job is, really.”