Saturday night was all about fringe at the first of two sold out nights at the Wiltern for pop star Carly Rae Jepsen. The shows were actually the last two American stops on her Dedicated tour before she returns to play some shows in her home country of Canada. Jepsen’s first of two outfits featured a leather jacket with long, red fringe that went from her arm all the way to the floor. And once she took the jacket off, the sleeves of her shiny red shirt also had fringe. While she may have just been making a fashion statement, to me this bold fringe represented something far more deep: Jepsen’s unfair place in the pop music landscape as a fringe artist.
Most of the public associates Jepsen with her 2011 mega-hit “Call Me Maybe,” but it’s really the music she’s created since then that’s connected to her small but fervant fanbase which, judging by the crowd at the concert, consists of mostly gay men. “Call Me Maybe” is a fun, catchy song but, more importantly, it served as a launching pad for Jepsen’s following two albums, 2015’s Emotion and this year’s Dedicated, which gave us pop perfection like “Runaway With Me,” “Party for One” and, of course, “Cut to the Feeling,” which has since achieved iconic status in the LGBTQ community thanks in large part to dancer Mark Kanemura’s Pride-inspired viral videos to the song.
These songs, which presented just as much (if not more) energy live, are pop smashes that could have been number one hits on the Billboard chart. Yet, for some reason, American audiences haven’t embraced Jepsen like they have pop stars like Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande. Jepsen is just as talented of a songwriter as Swift–she’s co-written all of her songs just like Taylor. She may not be able to do runs like Grande, but her live voice was crisp and strong. She sounded just like she does on the album, which can be a feat in itself in today’s manufactured pop world, and was able to flawlessly hit all the high notes.
Perhaps Jepsen may have been better suited had she broke onto the scene a decade ago, when pop music from the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Kesha were ruling the airwaves. Music today may be too hip-hop driven to play Jepsen’s brand of happy-go-lucky, catchy, dancey pop music. Therefore, she’s relegated to fringes of the pop world, selling out two nights at the Wiltern rather than arenas like her pop counterparts. It would be interesting to see what she could do with a fully-funded Live Nation type of a show in an arena, because what she was able to accomplish at the Wiltern definitely kept the crowd engaged the entire time.
For Jepsen’s latest single “Too Much,” which features a bunch of women in the music video wearing blonde wigs that look like her hair, her entire band as well as those in the soundboard put on blonde wigs when she performed this song at the show as well. She also told the crowd some funny stories about some of her breakups, like when she broke up with a guy during the hike on the top of a mountain then had to walk back down with him, or how she stole another guy’s bike (which explains the lyrics, “So I stole your bike/And I rode all night” from her song “Fever”).
But the most magical moment of the show came when she sang what would appear to be a deep album cut from Emotion called “When I Needed You.” The audience got so into the song that even after it ended, they kept the song going even longer by loudly singing the chorus. To hear the entire theater singing one of her songs that wasn’t even a single just showed how passionate her fans are for her and her music. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” Jepsen responded to the audience before segwaying into the first single from the same album, “I Really Like You.”
Perhaps Carly Rae Jepsen will always be a fringe pop artist in the US, in the vein of Kylie Minogue or Robyn. While she no doubt deserves an even bigger stage, as long as she continues making the quality pop music she’s been making the last four years and putting on concerts as fun as the one at the Wiltern, then all I can say is that Carly, we really, really, really, really, really, really, like you too.