How the Internet Killed Carly Rae Jepsen

Photo courtesy of carlyraemusic.com

Imagine a pop song. A perfect pop song, if you will: simultaneously guileless and sly, hooky yet understated, with strings like heart flutters and vocals like a sugar cube dissolving into a smiley-face mug. It’s a love song, or at least a crush song, and it charmed its listeners much like its subject charmed its singer. The song was small, compared to the bloated anthems elsewhere on the charts and their audiences; its own was, at first, mostly regional. Tastemakers heard it, then moguls who were de facto tastemakers, and it spread to listeners who knew nothing about the singer except this beautiful thing she’d written. They fell in love at first listen. They gushed. They sang along. They recorded karaoke videos and public swoon mobs and re-enactments of its summer-love video. They sent it to No. 1 for seemingly the entire summer and sent its singer to what looked an awful lot like dazed stardom. They funded a whole new album, which billed itself as inspired by early Madonna, Robyn and the Cars, a trio made to send poptimists into arpeggiated glee. They loved her enough to accept a prefab duet with a whey-voiced Ben Gibbard wannabe. She made it work; she was triumphant. And then the album came out, bought only by a dwindling fraction, and then the follow-up single tumbled out of the charts, and then she was not.

“Her debut, Kiss, has been out for more than a month — and is fantastic, living up to all its inspirations and more — but as of Oct. 10, not even 100,000 people bought it.”

Such is the fate of Carly Rae Jepsen, who’s coming worryingly close to being synonymous with “Call Me Maybe.” Her debut, Kiss, has been out for more than a month — and is fantastic, living up to all its inspirations and more — but as of Oct. 10, not even 100,000 people bought it. Her follow-up single “Good Time,” charted well, but the credit belongs largely to Owl City; Jepsen’s mostly the hook singer. The follow-up to that, “This Kiss,” dropped out of the Hot 100 almost as soon as it entered. It’s too early to call either single or album a failure — and judging by album sales is an iffy proposition in a singles-driven pop market — but Jepsen’s been here before. “Curiosity,” the first follow-up to “Call Me Maybe,” did almost nothing outside Jepsen’s native Canada. In other words, the artist behind the undisputed song of the summer — really, the most popular song of 2012 — could, as some have feared end up a one-hit wonder: first overplayed, now overlooked. What’s going on?

It’s important to note first just how much of a fluke “Call Me Maybe” was. It was written entirely by Canadians — Jepsen, her bandmate Tavish Crowe, and Josh Ramsay of pop-punk band Marianas Trench — who were all but unknown in the U.S. and, it should be noted, who wrote no new material for Kiss. The song was a Canadian hit, but thanks to Canadian airplay regulations, so are lots of singles that never leave the country. To wit: “Call Me Maybe” spent four weeks at No. 1 — as many as Olympic theme “Believe by Nikki Yanofsky, a name likely unfamiliar to most non-Canadian readers. There was no immediate reason Jepsen would escape the same fate — at least until country mate Justin Bieber tweeted about it after hearing it on Canadian radio. (Everyone involved swears it truly happened this way.) That led to the celebrity lip dubs, then to the civilian ones, then to a deal with Bieber mogul Scooter Braun and worldwide exposure and so on. As hometown-heroine stories go, it’s all so improbable and fortuitous.

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