Carly Rae Jepsen is not the Grateful Dead and the 30-year-old Canadian pop singer is far from an ambient DJ set at Burning Man for one to get lost in hours of deep thought to. Although her performances are playful and engaging, her visuals are pretty standard when compared to the over-the-top costumes and display from bands like The Flaming Lips. But nonetheless, this past weekend I was reached out to by a friend asking if I would be attending her performance during San Francisco's legendary Noise Pop Festival, where I jokingly replied: "Maybe if I was tripping." So I ended up going and living up to that promise.
So what the hell am I doing at a Carly Rae Jepsen show you may ask? To be honest, I'm not 100% familiar with her full catalog of music, not that I'm against it, it's just not my personal beat. But Jepsen's latest album had, in fact, received an onslaught of positive praises from a long list of many respectable music critics, top producers and fellow musicians throughout the industry. Clearly, this album was special and I was curious. For some quick background, the viral "Call Me Maybe" star didn't go quietly into the 'One Hit Wonder' night but took full advantage of her quick success by hitting the studio with a vengeance to create, what's arguably, one of the best pop albums of the year. The masterfully produced 12 track album, Emotion, features collaboration credits from top artists like the guitarist from the Cardigans, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, rapper Jacob Kasher, Beyoncé and Usher producer Ariel Rechtshaid and even Sia. Yes, it's catchy pop music, some of it may even be borderline bubblegum pop, but it's also incredibly well produced and performed with meticulous artistry.
And so the adventure begins…
I jumped in an Uber and arrived at the Warfield Theatre in downtown San Francisco on what seemed to be a lively Saturday night. The car pulled in front of the venue and as I made my way to the front door, pedestrians walking by began leaving trails of their mirrored selves behind them. "It" was kicking in and the psychedelic night was well on its way. Luckily my friend had already picked up my ticket for me at the Will Call window thus preventing any unnecessary third party human interaction.
We walked into the venue and the 1922 built vaudeville theater had never looked more magnificent. The intricate details in the woodwork came alive and sent my eyes scaling each line up the walls and up to the grandiose ballroom ceiling. My attention eventually came back down and averted straight to the stage. We arrived a little late and a sea of energized fans had already begun jumping in unison up and down as multicolored spotlights shined through the crowd likes prison searchlights seeking out escaped convicts. Jepsen was already on stage and like an ADHD kid in gym class, she was jumping from side to side, unable to stay in one place on stage for longer than two seconds. So much energy, it was infectious and I would have too joined the jumping crowd of fans if my body weren't motionless in awe of what was going on.
I managed to wedge myself in the crowd and found a safe place behind the sound booth. As my physical self was mesmerized by the prancing pixie on stage, my own conscious begins to start leaving my body and soaring through the audience trying to gain a better perspective on who actually attends a Carly Rae Jepsen show. The singers demographic is incredibly difficult to pinpoint as I survey the crowd. Instead of the expected herds of shouting pre-teens, I caught glimpses of big gay bears shouting along to every lyric, pockets of quintessential "Basic" girls twirling around and pools of adult barista mustache hipsters sporting Joywave t-shirts shying away from anyone noticing their clear familiarity to the music.
I jump back into myself and take a long, laborious blink with my eyes before looking back at the stage. I find myself honing in on the drummer now. Jepsen owns her performer side and does not hold back from performing with a full band to each of her live performances. At that moment, I can't help but start wondering what the drummer's backstory is. Musicians play in different kinds of bands all the time and this guy didn't seem young. I couldn't stop thinking if he was a part of a heavy metal band back in high school and then left home to tour the country out of his van until he wound up in LA. But LA is a tough town and musicians get swallowed up there easily. So to help make ends meets, he took an open casting call looking for a part-time supporting drummer and ended up on tour with Carly Rae Jepsen. (None of this is true and I'm sure it's far from it but again I was in a very unique headspace).
Luckily, I got out of that black hole of unnecessary thought and snap back to the present moment. There's not too much intricacy involved with Jepson's actual lyrics and tracks like "I Really Like You," lack the need to dig too deep for existential meaning but are filled with intense complexities of sound, catchy guitar melodies and compelling choruses. I found the easy accessibility of some these choruses surprisingly perfect given my current struggle to not get lost in deep thought again.
As I stood motionless in the crowd, similar to street performers who stand like statues in the park, I was tormented with the question, "What is she doing that's keeping such a mixed fan base moving along like this?" It was easy to notice that it was found in the clear delivery of her vocals (she was most likely singing over her own vocals at some points, but most pop performers do that anyway) and it was the harmonies of her tracks that were strategically structured in a way that it fills you with this warm joyous feeling. I even caught myself singing along when the inevitable "Call me Maybe" track came on, before of course the moment I realized the severity of what I was doing, I immediately stopped.
Blue lights were flashing, red lights were flashing, everybody from wall-to-wall was dancing along. The final song ends, Jepsen thanks the audience and the house lights blare the crowd.
As I drifted away with the undercurrent of escaping fans, I entered the moonlit streets of San Francisco filled with a radiating sense of genuine happiness. Unless you have a difficult time getting over your cynical self, it would be nearly impossible to leave a Carly Rae Jepsen show unhappy.
Pop music derived from the early rock 'n' roll era of the 50's and 60's and the name itself is defined as popular music that appeals to the general public. Between the experimental, indie rock, alternative, ambient, underground hip-hop, house, techno and every other made up sub-genre that I listen to, I found myself welcoming this infectious feeling of innocence that came from watching a sold-out audience truly letting their inhibitions go to world-class pop music performed through a flawless high-energy performance.
Would I do it again? I don't know but I heard the Spice Girls are going on tour soon…..
*This was not about the need to take substances to enjoy music but rather an experiment to see how a substance not typically associated with a certain brand of music would complement or hinder the experience, also while highlighting the music itself.