You know your song has become a bonafide cultural phenomenon when both Colin Powell and the Cookie Monster have covered it. The irresistible earworm “Call Me Maybe” was inescapable this summer, its ubiquity turning its co-author, Canadian singer and songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen, into a breakout star. The 5x-platinum “Call Me Maybe” has sold more than 7.5 million singles worldwide and climbed to No. 1 in more than 37 countries, including the U.S. where it spent a record-breaking nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. “I remember playing the song for my family for the first time,” Jepsen says. “My aunt started dancing and she never dances so I thought that was a good sign. But I never expected it to take off quite like this.”
Although she’s been an established artist in 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 — Jepsen was a virtual unknown in the U.S. when “Call Me Maybe” hit it big. Now she’s looking forward to showing the rest of the world what else she has in her bag of tricks with the release of her U.S. debut album Kiss, which showcases her rich, distinctive voice, heartfelt lyrics, and down-to-earth charm.
“I definitely wanted to make a pop album,” Jepsen says. “My love affair with pop music has been growing stronger and stronger each year. I’m a bit of a hippy at heart so it’s kind of like flower-child pop. My intention was to make an album that really felt like me and shows what I have to offer the music world. It’s inspired by Robyn and The Cars and it’s all about matters of the heart.”
Jepsen wrote or co-wrote nearly every song on the album, collaborating with songwriters and producers Max Martin, Dallas Austin, LMFAO’s Redfoo, Toby Gad, Marianas Trench singer Josh Ramsay, and Matthew Koma. “I flew to Sweden to work with Max Martin and I’ve always wanted to witness his process so that was huge for me,” Jepsen says. “But I really owe a lot of people thanks for investing their time and talent to my project. The RedFoo and Matthew Koma collaboration on [first single] ‘This Kiss’ is a bit of a funny story. We wrote the entire song via e-mails, telephone calls, and text messages. It’s probably my favorite track on the album. It’s all about temptation and lust. Another track I really enjoyed working on was ‘Your Heart is a Muscle’ with Toby Gad. The concept was something I had been thinking about for a while. It’s kind of gruesome, but true: You can make your heart stronger if you try. ‘Turn Me Up’ is fun because it’s not your typical break-up song. It’s about the ending of a relationship, but in a positive light.”
“I have a life-long fascination with the subject of love,” Jepsen continues. “When I meet people for the first time and we get past the surface-y conversations, I am always dying to know what their ‘love story’ is. Everyone has one. It’s not always happy, but it’s a story, and I like putting it to music.”
Other highlights on Kiss include “Good Time” — a duet with Owl City that hit No. 3 on the Billboard Pop chart and has sold a million copies since its release in June. “I’ve been a big fan of Owl City since ‘Fireflies,’” Jepsen says. “I remember seeing Adam perform live in Vancouver and thinking he was brilliant, so when he asked me to feature on the track I was beyond flattered.” Then there’s the acoustic guitar-tinged “Beautiful,” which Justin Bieber wrote with Toby Gad and presented to Jepsen the day he and Jepsen first met. “I thought the song was lovely,” she recalls. “Not only did he ask me to sing on it, but he encouraged me to try it right then and there. So literally 30 minutes after meeting Justin for the first time, I was thrown into the studio to start tracking.”
Bieber, with whom Jepsen will tour North America this fall, is of course the catalyst for Jepsen’s new life in the spotlight, having jumpstarted her career in the U.S. in February when he began Tweeting about a song he had heard on the radio while home for Christmas vacation: “Call Me Maybe.” He and his manager Scooter Braun signed Jepsen to Braun’s Schoolboy Records and Interscope Records and watched “Call Me Maybe” race up the charts. Its rapid rise was initially fueled by a 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 inspired fans and such celebrities as Katy Perry and James Franco to post their own homemade videos in response.
“I first saw Justin and Selena’s video along with everyone else when it was posted on Carlos Pena’s YouTube channel,” Jepsen says. “I had to watch it three times before it actually registered. It’s still hard to believe all of this is actually happening to me. 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. “Since I was a kid, my parents and step-parents could see that I was really passionate about music,” Jepsen says. “I sang to anything I could mimic.” Jepsen’s father 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 encouraged 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 17, she 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. Jepsen 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.’”
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. “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 and signed 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. “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, but I couldn’t deny that it was happening.”
Following her instincts has paid off for Jepsen. Kiss is a killer dance-pop set that is poised to launch her even further into the stratosphere. “I just want people to enjoy it,” she says. “I hope it’s music that makes you feel happy and want to sing or dance along. And maybe it will inspire people to be brave in love.”