05.08.22
Words by:
Photography: Tracy Nguyen
Styling: Hayley Atkin
Makeup: Gregory Arlt
Hair: Jon Lieckfelt
Set Design: Cody Rogers
Photography Assistant: Nori Rasmussen-Martinez
Styling Assistant: Jenna Remy

This cover story is taken from Issue 134. Get your copy via the online store.

When Carly Rae Jepsen finally completed her fifth studio album in early July, she wanted to smash her face into a cake.

This urge was metaphorical, but also literal – her team had surprised her with the dessert during a stop in Madrid, ahead of her performance at Mad Cool Festival. “It was in that moment that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m done!’” she exclaims over Zoom with her signature sweet lilt. Excitement is radiating from the Canadian pop singer, and it makes sense: Jepsen is gearing up for a highly-anticipated gig, opened by electronic pop experimentalist Bullion, at London’s Somerset House. Her shaggy blonde hair and gold bar earrings glint like a disco ball, illuminated by the light in the blindingly white room at her record label’s office nearby.

It’s been nearly two and a half years since she started the process of making her new record – she thinks. Jepsen flicks her bangs as she struggles to remember exactly when she began the project titled The Loneliest Time. She’s fairly certain the date she’s searching for is February, 2020 – one month before lockdown began. “I’d been collecting a couple of ideas in the hotel, wrapping up the end of a tour in Germany, and some of those little ideas inserted themselves into this thing,” she explains nonchalantly.

Romper: Serpenti, Bodysuit Set: NYLaurent, Heels: Valentino, Necklace: Miu Miu, Socks: Wolford

It’s not surprising that pinpointing how the LP took form is difficult for Jepsen. The pandemic was a haze of creativity and homesickness for the singer, and she clung to the former as much as she could. Jepsen’s main project during the last two years was turning an old office space connected to her Los Angeles home into a charming studio. “It looks a bit like a teenager’s bedroom,” she smiles. The cosy, soundproofed oasis is adorned with twinkling Christmas lights and “weird art”, and there are pillows everywhere. It also overlooks a barren vegetable garden that she eventually hopes to fill. “One day, when I become the woman that I’m meant to be, there will be tomatoes back there, I’m sure,” she chuckles. It became a welcome distraction during that time, as she dealt not only with the separation from her family across the Canadian border, but grief, too.

During that time, her maternal grandmother, whom she was very close to, passed away – and because of Covid-19 restrictions, she didn’t get to say goodbye. “That was my first ever real experience of grief, and I had to do it without my family around,” she recalls with a lump in her throat. If she hadn’t already been her grandchild, Jepsen says, they would’ve been best friends. Growing up, her grandmother would take her to Dixieland jazz festivals, where they’d dress up in feather boas and pearls, and she’d urge Jepsen to jump on stage and sing with her friends. It was Jepsen’s grandma who helped her find the joy that comes from performing. “She always told me, ‘You have the best job ‘cause you get to make people happy,’” she bashfully remembers.

Outfit: Rusty Reconstructed, Socks: Mohawk General Store, Earrings: Nicola Bathie

“I didn’t want to be defined as one thing when I’m feeling all the things – sometimes very playful, sometimes more serious”

Entering the unfamiliar territory of grief undoubtedly had an impact on Jepsen’s creativity. Her yearning for both her family and home helped fuel what would become Western Wind, The Loneliest Time’s bewitching, lightly percussive lead single that evokes Stevie Nicks and recalls her love of James Taylor. Paired with black-and-white single art depicting Jepsen in a cottagecore-esque dress, surrounded by lush greenery, Western Wind feels like a statement piece that could elicit a record full of Silver Springs-inspired songs, or even that rumoured third sister album to Taylor Swift’s Folkmore project. Not exactly. “I didn’t want to be defined as one thing when I’m feeling all the things – sometimes very playful, sometimes more serious,” she says of the song. “I wanted to lead with Western Wind because it was so opposite to what I normally do, which is start with the jingle-esque type song, and leave the rest for later.”

Introducing a record with a candy-coated banger has become a hallmark of Jepsen’s career. Take the flirtatious pop gem I Really Like You or her slick ode to self-love, Party for One. It’s also impossible to talk about Carly Rae Jepsen without addressing the explosive Call Me Maybe, which provided her breakout moment in 2012 (though it was initially released in 2011). The catchy, lovesick anthem – which, interestingly, was originally written as a folk song – went viral, earning support from the era’s pop royalty (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry) and infiltrated every aspect of culture from politics to children’s TV. It was – and still is – inescapable. The single inducted Jepsen into the upper echelons of mainstream pop, and gave her a reputation for churning out magnetic, confetti-laced anthems brimming with infatuation and heartache.

Romper: Serpenti, Bodysuit Set: NYLaurent, Heels: Valentino, Necklace: Miu Miu, Socks: Wolford

Despite the more maudlin theme, The Loneliest Time is wide-ranging. While her 2015 hit album Emotion was embedded in 80s synth-pop and its polished follow-up Dedicated mainly took its influence from sultry 70s disco, lately Jepsen has been less conscious of the decades she’s been moving between. “I had the playground of all the eras to jump from, and this was more just writing from the heart, in whatever direction the songs wanted to go,” she explains of the new album. She was also more intentional about the lyrical content not just being about a boy or nursing a crush. Instead, she became more self-reflective and analytical of her own behaviours. “It excited me to have those moments of flirtation on the [new] album, but also broaden the spectrum of what the subject of a pop song was allowed to be,” she declares.

The Loneliest Time sees the pop star breaking the mould again. Jepsen’s insatiable curiosity is what’s helped her remain a creative force, and on this record, that meant mixing the wistful 80s pop of Belinda Carlisle with horn-flanked funk numbers and victorious disco jaunts. But it was also important for her to not be seen as one-dimensional. For instance, recent single Beach House is the antithesis of the soothing ambience of Western Wind. One of the singer’s most playful tracks, it’s a campy pop anthem that finds Jepsen and her bandmates larping as boys going on bad dates. “This is a song for the girls!” she asserts with a wide grin. It also features some of her most absurd lyrics. “It was the shortest straw-pull for who had to sing, ‘I’ve got a lake house in Canada, I’m going to come harvest your organs,’” she snickers about the song’s lyrics. But while the track veers toward being lighthearted, there are harsh realities within it. “I wanted to highlight that feeling when you’re disenchanted after [being on] a dating app for a hot minute to be like, ‘That guy’s just going to… he’s going to wreck me.’”

Themes of retribution and organ harvesting might feel jarring in the context of Jepsen’s effervescent discography, but she has always displayed an intriguing range within her work. Born in British Columbia, Jepsen’s first moment in the spotlight came when she appeared as a contestant on Canadian Idol in 2007 (she placed third). By 2008, she had released her debut album Tug of War – a tender folk-pop project that preceded the bubblegum aesthetic fans have come to associate her with. Her second studio album, Kiss – flush with high-energy choruses and irreverent lyrics like “I know you have a girlfriend (So don’t give me those eyes)” – received middling reviews. It was only with Emotion that everything shifted.

Though it was unforgivably snubbed by the Grammys, Emotion was a watershed moment for Jepsen. Critics finally acknowledged her as the serious, self-aware songwriter that she is, and she was dubbed an LGBTQ+ icon for her underdog status as well as singing about canonically queer themes like longing, hidden romance and escapism. “I definitely was nervous immediately after Call Me Maybe. Like, ‘Oh god, I’m going to have to make this type of music for the rest of my life?’” she recalls in a panic. “And I think that’s why Emotion was really fun. To be like, ‘How do I break out of this mould?’”

Corset: Rusty Recontructed, Bodysuit: NYLaurent, Gloves: Serpenti, Pants: Commando, Heels: Versace, Necklace: Vivienne Westwood, Socks: Wolford

Now 36, Jepsen has been able to let the pressure of trying to differentiate herself from Call Me Maybe dissipate. “I don’t see myself as just making ‘teeny-bop’ music,” she says. “I have a flavour that’s really playful and young, to my actual personality that comes out, and then there are other flavours that have been embraced.” On The Loneliest Time those “flavours” range from 70s Laurel Canyon folk to vulnerable duets with fellow powerhouse singer-songwriters (something she rarely does, bar features from Electric Guest on Dedicated, and Justin Bieber and Owl City on Kiss). Though the album is marked by a more pronounced melancholia, The Loneliest Time still sees Jepsen doing what she does best: filtering even her darkest moments through huge, life-affirming choruses.

It might come as a shock that she doesn’t consider herself a “pop fan”. She admits that it’s not what she listened to during the making of this record, or in general. “I listen to a lot of strange shizzles,” she laughs, perplexed as to why that word came out – perhaps a nostalgic moment inspired by her teen bedroom-themed studio. Before making The Loneliest Time, she used jazz to “palate cleanse”. The raspy vibrato of Billie Holiday, her favourite singer, echoed through the walls of her Los Angeles home. She also had “a hot little love affair” with Les Fleurs by Minnie Riperton. “A song sung from the perspective of a flower? Just brilliant!” she enthuses. On the surface, the differences between Holiday, Riperton and Jepsen’s music might appear stark, but they all know their way around complex rhythms and irresistible hooks. “I actually don’t think that a classic jazz song and pop song, when you really pick them apart, are that far away from each other,” she explains. “They both have to pack a punch in a concise way.”

“I actually don’t think that a classic jazz song and pop song are that far away from each other. They both have to pack a punch in a concise way”

Outfit: Rusty Reconstructed, Socks: Mohawk General Store, Earrings: Nicola Bathie

All three artists are also all undeniable romantics – a quality that, on Jepsen’s part, connects with people through gut-punch melodies and soaring synth-pop backdrops. The high of a new relationship is one of life’s greatest pleasures, she maintains, before gushing about her favourite movie Pride & Prejudice (“the [BBC version]”). As a child, watching her parents divorce and successfully remarry also made her keenly observant of how relationships are different for everyone, but also a fundamental aspect of life. That universal experience of love echoes throughout her songwriting.

Dedicated centred on the specific kind of solitude that romance can bring. “At that time, I had been in a relationship, and felt quite lonely,” she admits, growing slightly despondent. It’s an overarching theme that has carried over into The Loneliest Time, but her lens has shifted. “With The Loneliest Time, I was reflecting more on what that extreme emotion causes in you,” she says. Gesturing furiously, she begins rattling off a list of what that could mean: an ill-advised late-night visit to your ex; signing up for a dating app; or just being mindful of a feeling without letting it frighten you. “It’s a subject that I find really inspiring because there’s a lot of different things to take away from it, and that was what I was broaching with this album.”

Romper: Serpenti, Bodysuit Set: NYLaurent, Heels: Valentino, Necklace: Miu Miu, Socks: Wolford

Loneliness is something that’s become more challenging for her as a touring artist. “Being on the road, you’ve got an audience, but I definitely feel like that has been a hard thing for me to battle,” she confesses. The Loneliest Time encompasses not only the isolating and draining experience of the pandemic, but also the cosmic pleasure that stems from self-discovery. While Jepsen has always prided herself on being candid in her work, this album feels more confessional than ever. “It wasn’t just trying to be overly happy or romantic,” she says of the project. “I wasn’t glossing over that it was the loneliest time of my life.”

As Jepsen heads out on the road for the first time since 2020 – hitting everywhere from Tokyo to New York City – she’s feeling more at peace with where she’s at, both artistically and personally. “I feel less pressure to be perfect… getting to live this experience and share songs in this way has made me realise that there’s no such thing as too much with the right people,” she says with unflinching clarity. She flicks her bangs again and flashes me a mischievous wink. “And right now, I just want to dance my little ass off on stage.”

The Loneliest Time is due autumn 2022