Rachel Vorona Cote | Longreads | February 2020 | 12 minutes (3,333 words)
Every now and then, in one of her music videos or during a heady, live performance, singer Carly Rae Jepsen will close her eyes, raise her hands above her head, and sway her hips. It’s not choreographed, or at least it doesn’t appear to be. Instead of crisp synchronicity, Jepsen opts for fluid, extemporaneous groove. She is singing to us and moving with us — until those fleeting moments between verses or at song’s end, when she seems to have retreated, not out of reach, but rather into a full-bodied state of emotive receptivity. In this brimful pause, she is both steward and beneficiary, theorist and pupil, basking in the superabundant, prismatic feelings her music elicits.
It might not seem especially illuminating to say that Jepsen’s pop repertoire lays bare the complexity of human emotions. All music does this, although with varying degrees of nuance and success, and one could say the same about every other art form, too. But over the course of Jepsen’s 12-year career, her evocation of big tricky feelings has shifted into something of an intentional artistic inquiry. She is fascinated by the vast, labyrinthine topic of human sentiment, so much so that she organized her 2015 album — the aptly titled Emotion — around it, although her exploration is by no means circumscribed to that particular release. From the time she released her first album, the oft-forgotten Tug of War, in 2008, Jepsen’s music has thrummed with idiosyncrasies. She expresses the extraordinary and the tragic within the day-to-day, whether her premise is unrequited love for someone she knew would never be interested in her (“Your Type”), toying with an illicit sexual fling (“This Kiss”), or solicitude about her emotional intensity and its impact on her relationship (“Too Much”). Any event, especially a romantic one, holds the possibility for maximalist sentiment: Jepsen roams these vistas of the heart, shepherding those of us whose thick, cumbersome emotions render us lonely and overwhelmed.