Story by Brendan Wetmore / Photography by Julian Buchan / Styling by Cody Allen / Fashion Direction by Tan France
28 June 2019
The year is 2015. It's 3 AM during a midsummer month and you've just mopped the sweat off your forehead with a cocktail napkin that you've carried into the crowded bathroom of any small gay bar in America. You've danced the night away with your girls; "Dancing On My Own" has run through twice since you arrived for happy hour, your drunk friend has twerked into a split during Nicki's first verse in "Feeling Myself," and you even debated with a stranger, while sipping tequila sodas, as to whether or not Ariana Grande should be held responsible for Donutgate. Then, you hear it: the cascading, synth-laden opening saxophone of Carly Rae Jepsen's newest hit, "Run Away with Me." You run to the dancefloor to scream the chorus: "Baby, take me to the feeling..."
The "Call Me Maybe" singer struck queer gold with her third studio album, Emotion (released 4 years ago this week), effectively conveying the most beatific moments of lovesickness through her sweetened verses and anthemic choruses. How exactly the love stories explored on the record ended up becoming cornerstones of queer culture is impossible to trace, but the connection is plain. Take Brooklyn's CarlyFest for example: a small group of Jepsen stans, including nightlife starlets Charlene and Sam Banks, threw bangers in Jepsen's honor at their former home and party space, Casa Diva. Evenings there were legendary soirées, queered to the max and doused in pure abandon. Everyone found refuge in Jepsen's music, connecting directly to her carefully crafted harmonies and trancelike awareness of repetition ("I really, really, really, really, really, really like you"). Somewhere along the way, Jepsen became something of a mother to wayward lovers, welcoming all — queer or otherwise — into her lyrical embrace.
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Jepsen, while not queer herself, is most certainly an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. She's performed at tons of Pride festivals over the years, made headlines for opposing the Boy Scouts of America's now-overturned policy banning gay members, and received endless praise for her music's queer sensibility.
Full Look: Laurel Dewitt
Perhaps what dazzles a marginalized community about Jepsen's artistry is how inclusive it is of all love stories. From the most tragically optimistic to the most totally bereft of loves, Jepsen has managed to encounter each type and become immersed in their immediacies, remedying her missteps with familiar synth-pop structures and hearty melodies. Her love stories and her breakups are one in the same when it comes to their ability to move a crowd. A track made about a fresh attempt at embracing independence, like the lead single off her 2019 album, Dedicated, titled "Party For One," gets the gays jumping and bopping in the same way that "Want You in My Room," a dance-laced, pre-coital instruction manual, does.
As the title of her new album implies, she's further expounding upon love and love-adjacent stories. Jepsen's dedication nearly gives way to obsession at points in the record, especially on tracks like "I'll Be Your Girl," the album's midpoint. The chorus reads amusingly, like a teen's diary entry: "I go crazy, see red when she's touching you now/ You're my baby/ Come to bed, I'll be your girl." Jepsen is arguably at her most jovial on this track, invoking the same self-assurance that guided her breakout hit, "Call Me Maybe." And while queerness is not inherently tied to dedication and infatuation, brandishing queer identity can often feel like a lonely task, amplifying a sense of longing. Any new crush or available lover can be boosted to a godlike pedestal, past a point where butterflies feel cinematic. Suddenly, a sense of solitary has given way to rom com-esque levels of passion. This is where the ego found in Jepsen's lyrics comes in handy. "No Drug Like Me," is a hazy solution to loneliness, a crutch of confidence to approaching flirtation for the club age. "You ain't tried no drug like me," she slurs at the conclusion of each chorus, a sonic hit of poppers to the head followed by a sticky-sweet bassline. It just goes to show that when lust becomes scarce, affection scant, and love rare, Jepsen has a track to remedy the ailment.
Notwithstanding the sonic grandiose of tracks like "Automatically in Love," a stadium-ready cut from Dedicated with a melt-in-your-mouth hook and keynote, infatuation seems to be something of an intimate emotion for Jepsen. Thus, her subjects are only loosely assembled as to let the listener's mind wander. There's complete openness to the love she sings about, and it's not some backwards entrypoint to major label queerbaiting. Outside of an invitation to revel, grieve, and rejoice in creating romantic love, Jepsen also encompasses self-love on honest footing. No attempt is made to veil her back-and-forth wariness at practicing confidence, as evidenced by the juxtaposition of "Too Much" and "Party for One" on Dedicated. In one track, she's questioning herself in the same vein of Lorde's 2017 ballad, "Liability" — "Is this too much?" — and in the other, she's fully embraced sovereignty over her destiny in the wake of a separation — "I'll just dance for myself/ Back on my beat."
Perhaps the humanity behind the way Jepsen addresses infatuation and newfound self-acceptance is why the track "Now That I Found You" was chosen by Netflix's Queer Eye to drop alongside the announcement of the show's third season in February 2019. The icons leading the reboot of the mid-2000s series, famously known as The Fab Five, are dedicated, quite literally, to teaching and implementing love into their makeover heroes' lives. "Now That I Found You" is the sonic complement to this mission, with lines like, "I don't wanna hide my love/ I don't wanna waste it," and the building bridge, "It's just like a miracle/ Say nothing's impossible now." When paired with the type of self-actualization that's advocated for on the show, the track's vibrant message receives the gift of an additional dimension: action.
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This attribute is ultimately what draws LGBTQ+ people to her songs in the first place. It's hard to shake the actionable component of the tingling feeling you get during "Run Away with Me," when the old-school synths first sound off and burrow beneath your skin. You can't stop shuffling to the wavering beat of "Julien" before breaking out into a full on dance break; there's no way to stifle the propelling urge to clap along to the finale of the fast-paced deep cut, "For Sure." Action comes in the form of dancing along to her swagger, singing along to her meticulously crafted hooks, and in pure, simple bliss — queer triumphs in and of themselves.
PAPER took the perfect storm of a collaboration from Queer Eye's third season and extended it beyond the show's bounds, recruiting fashion guru Tan France to interview and fashion direct Carly Rae Jepsen in RomCom recreations (Romeo + Juliet, Never Been Kissed, True Romance). Read on as the pair talk all about Dedicated, Jepsen's personal love life, dating apps, and the persistent nirvana of searching for "the one."
Dress: Christian Cowan, Jewelry: Norman Silverman, Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti x Christian Cowan
Tan France: Hi, how are you?
Carly Rae Jepsen: I'm great, how are you?
I'm really well, thanks. I'm a huge fan. This is lovely that we get to chat.
Aw, thank you.
Before I get into these questions, I do want to say thank you for letting us be in some way part of your launch of the song that tied in with Queer Eye. It was the perfect message for the launch of season three.
Oh, are you kidding me? That was like a dream. I was so happy. It's such a great show. When I first saw the advertisement, I think I screamed out loud.
Dress: Christian Cowan, Hair Clip: Opening Ceremony, Boots: Giuseppe Zanotti x Christian Cowan
The funny thing is, we did too. We were in our trailer shooting a season and we heard it for the first time. We were practically giddy, so thank you so much. It was incredible. It tied in perfectly. Actually, that will lead me to my questions. I've never interviewed anyone before so let's do this together. It will be cute.
Our show is about love, all about love. That's why your song tied in perfectly with the launch of our show and with that season. This new album of yours, Dedicated, is very much about love. That seems to be a common thread that you weave through most of your songs. Is it something that you're hyper-aware of?
I think there's a fascination with love. Whenever I meet someone on a more intimate level, the first question I'm curious about is always: "What's going on in your love life?" I do seem to get a lot of inspiration from just how much everyone feels like they're experiencing something so unique, and yet it's such a universal experience. I've been trying to be as authentic as possible with this album. I was going through a bit of breakup for a while and then a very new relationship. I was having a bit of a wrestling match with what it is to be dedicated.
Is it hard putting yourself out there like that? A breakup is hard as it is. If you are writing about it, then you are opening yourself up to the world about it. Is it hard to sit there and write your feelings out, or is it almost cathartic for you?
You know, the writing is always very cathartic, very therapeutic to get to process it, to make a painful thing a little bit more beautiful. It's funny, because we're in rehearsal mode right now, getting ready for this tour. Some of the songs are coming back to me, and I get to confront it. "Oh man, the breakup song."
Sunglasses: Adam Selman x Le Specs, Necklace & Earrings: Marc Jacobs, Bra, Belt & Trench: VEX, Skirt: Ricky King Custom
Honestly, it did make me think, "I wonder if you get any kind of feeling every time you perform it." I love hearing that it actually still does affect you.
It does! The truth is, I think that's a positive because when you're always on tour — I did a Broadway run before and the repetition of it was probably the hardest part for me. I love the spontaneity of the shows that I get to do because of that. When you have a connection with a song, it grounds you in a way. It brings you right back to what you felt. Feeling it every night is just as important as going through the motions of performing it.
I get that. With Dedicated, you have not only songs about love, but you also have songs about sex. Can we talk about it? I am fascinated with "Want You in My Room." I want to know, are you ever nervous playing this song to your family?
Oh my god, I guess I never really thought of it, but you're right. They have total access. I'm actually heading home to Canada today to see a bunch of my family. I will see if I get red in the cheeks. I feel like it's kind of all open in "Want You in My Room." I've always played with sex in a coy-er manner where it's very obvious if you want to read it, but it's not straight in your face. I think "Want You in My Room" is probably the furthest. I was just like, "I'm just going to say it." It was from the really playful production that I think makes it cheeky, too. I guess I don't really think too much about my family when I'm writing about sex.
You're a much braver person than me. Every time I say something sexual I'm like, "Oh no, what would daddy do if he heard?" I love that. I don't think we should shy away from it.
Also, as a woman, I surprised myself early on in my experiences with romantic relationships that I really enjoyed being the person who made the first move. I had it in my power to. There was shock and surprise. There was a spontaneous side of me in how I flirted that really shocked me because I was quite shy in a lot of other ways. I love being able to express that with confidence as an adult. It's not something that I'm weirded out by, but something that I actually find to be a turn-on for me. I kind of take charge of the situation more often than not.
Full Look: Laurel Dewitt
That leads to the song "Everything He Needs." It puts you in a position of power and that is surprising. It's not very often — maybe 10 years ago where we wouldn't see a woman really talk about her power in a situation of dating or relationships or love. I love that you go there. The shift of power is not something we really hear about.
I think that it's not talked about as often as it should be. I feel like even "Call Me Maybe," which I rarely bring up anymore, had a sort of a cheekiness in being the person to run back to the guy and be like, "Hey, did you not notice we had a connection?" I think women should feel that it's their right to know when somebody would be good for them as it would be for a guy to. I mean, lots of guys are useless at knowing what's good for them.
We've got a good eye for it, but my mom actually taught me that. She kind of made some of her first moves in her life, and those have been the ones that have really counted. I think "Everything He Needs" is a funny one because it's also a little bit of that old '40s vibe of, "He needs me, he needs me." The interpolation of the idea was that it was more that "he" needed me emotionally, physically, sexually, intellectually, all the ways. Let's make it more about, "He just needs to rely on another person."
I don't think you're into musical theater much at all, but in Oliver!, there was a song called "As Long As He Needs Me." I think of that, "Oh, he needed her physically and he needed her to do things for him." I love that this is almost the anti-version of that. It's not what I could actually offer him as far as help goes, but everything I can offer him emotionally. When you write your songs, are you comfortable going to this position that you've gone in with this album? You are giving a completely holistic approach to falling in love and then the misery of falling out of love. You've run the full gamut.
My grandmother says that I am an awfully picky person, and take that with pride, actually. I think it's a complicated thing to find a match and learn enough about yourself to be in a grown-up relationship. I definitely feel like it is hard to sometimes to expose all of that, especially because I haven't figured it all out. I'm still in the learning process of exactly what I'm looking for and what that means in my life, to be dedicated. As an artist, at least, if you want to be making something authentic, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable and go to those places. I think that's the main goal. "Hey I'm going to offer this really personal anecdote of my life," with the hope that I'm going to feel less lonely for sharing it because there will be others that have experienced similar things.
Dress: Christian Cowan, Jewelry: Norman Silverman
Come on this journey with me real quick. On "Call Me Maybe," you were much younger, it was quite some time ago. The love that you may have felt at that point is probably very different from how you love now. Do you see a difference in how you present your love from when you were writing that song to Dedicated?
Yes, I think you can't help but change as you move through life and different relationships. I think as much as I do enjoy the butterflies of new love and the excitement of getting to reinvent yourself with a new partner, I much more have a stronger value on the intimacies of love past the point of butterflies — where the butterflies come two or three years into the relationship. I definitely explored real love and maturity, trying to figure out when it's right to do that, to kind of commit to that one person, or at least expose yourself in a relationship for however long that is. Lyrically, I write about that. As a songwriter in general, I definitely always thought that it was going to be beautiful lesson for me to keep learning. That's how to improve. I think that's why I'm really glad I get to travel and meet different collaborators because every single person I've met that's been a part of this project — and Emotion — has sort of changed, a little bit, the way I look at music and how I write.
I think I caught you say you're in a relationship now, and I'm not asking about your current relationship, but my question is: Do you always feel comfortable making the first move?
Yes. Most of my serious — probably my top three most serious relationships that I've ever had — have mostly spun from friendship first, so it's sort of one of those really fun beginnings that happens all the time. It's slow, and it's hard to pinpoint who made the first move. I think I might get a little thrill of being the shocking partner of the two. I remember the first time going clubbing back in Canada. You know how girls do, you go there to be watched while you dance and then you want to go home. I remember locking eyes with a guy and something came over me. We were going to bar hop to the next spot and we'd kind of been playing that eye game all night. I walked right up to him, shocked myself in the process, and I was like, "Alright, well, I'm leaving now. I thought maybe I should kiss you before I go." Then I did it and I left. I was learning that I have this side of myself that likes to do a shocking thing here or there. That's sort of been something that's followed me my whole life, I guess.
Dress: Christian Cowan, Hair Clip: Opening Ceremony
I was curious. I'm married, but some of my cast mates are single. I thought, How does one like Carly Rae Jepsen find a boyfriend if she's single? Would you ever put yourself out there on, say, a dating site — or can you do it? If you weren't in a relationship now, how would you find love if not through a friend?
It's an interesting question. I think in my position, I probably wouldn't, but I completely have encouraged other girls.
You know there are several celebrity ones?
I know and just don't like that idea.
Is it intimidating because you're in a certain position where everybody kind of knows you?
I think maybe I'm a little bit of an old-fashioned girl. I also don't really love this elite thing, this club, because that's not how I meet people. It's just in different places, it's being a human versus any kind of misguided hierarchy. That doesn't pull me. If I'm going to do a dating site, probably I would just do a regular website. I think I'm a little bit more into the old fashioned-ness of it for myself, but I know people who fall head over heels. I think what works for one doesn't work for all. In my own opinion, I probably wouldn't.
Dress: Balmain, Armor: Laurel Dewitt
If you know that you're looking for love, do you have a checklist of a couple of things that you think, Ok, I know I want this. I'm not talking about looks. Looks fall by the wayside. What makes you fall in love with somebody?
Different things now than when I was younger. I think it takes time to learn those lessons of, "I'm attracted to the charming charismatic one in the room." Maybe you're missing something from the quiet, shy guy that's a little bit more special, that takes some time. I think I don't have a type. I've learned that. I think my lifestyle calls for somebody who can be very independent, but at the same time I also really crave affection when I'm with somebody, so it's a bit of a juxtaposition. It's a hard trait to find someone who's wanting both the locked-in relationship and also the freedom to go do your thing, travel, and be gone. I think I look for creative types in general. I love being able, even if they're not an artist, to be able to connect with art and music. To see the value of a really great film and want to talk about it, somebody who's really passionate about food, these are very simple traits. Also, somebody who really honors and wants to put time in with my family. I think that has to be a priority within my friends, too. Even if it's not their favorite person, that they're still being respectful and giving it time, that kind of thing.
Tell me about the thing that you're most proud of with this album.
That I finished it, I guess! There were a couple of moments where I was just paralyzed by the sheer amount of songs I had made in the process of trying to figure out what I wanted to share. I was really lucky to have bandmates and friends who would stay up late in the night, have some wine, and debate which song was the right one and why. I was able to pick all those opinions and got to a quiet place and make a call, but I don't think I could have done it without them. I think I would have stayed in that cycle of writing more, and writing more. With a project like this, it can never be finished if you edit. I know it's a simple answer, but it's the honest one.
Full Look: Laurel Dewitt
Do you have a favorite song from Dedicated? Be honest, come on. You must have a favorite song.
There's something I really love about "For Sure." It's kind of on the extended version of it and it comes right before "Party for One". It's more chanty and repetitive, but on purpose and it explores that heavy place where I sometimes find myself really overthinking the relationship I'm in and then you just get stuck in a loop. I loved getting to document that confusion versus a certain emotion.
I've got one last question for you, please. You've said that "Julien" is the anchor of the project, and I want to know: why?
Yeah, it was. I had been trying to write a song with the name "Julien" in it for years. I have three different versions. When I went to Nicaragua, I had been invited to this writer's camp. I went fully because I was single and I was surprised. I think loneliness makes you do great things. We were in the jungle and this song kind of came to fruition. I had been swimming with mission statements for this album. I wanted them to have this understated, slow disco. This was kind of the closest I got to it, but it wasn't only that. It was a little bit more modern than I had expected. It solidified where I was going with the album. It was the first song that I knew was making it. It's how I wanted to open the album even before I had the rest of it. It really was a turning point for me.