Carly Rae Jepsen “cuts to the feeling” at her MTELUS show

Once assumed a one-hit wonder and now a cult-status pop queen, Carly Rae Jepsen delivered an unforgettable performance at MTELUS Sept. 12 as part of the Dedicated tour. In recent years, Canadian-born Jepsen has appealed to mainstream and indie listeners alike, first with the release of 2015’s E•MO•TION and now with Dedicated, which dropped in May 2019. Simple, yet melodically rich, retro, but not overly nostalgic, Jepsen’s performance was a vibrant celebration of love in all its forms. 

The concert opened with the pulsing electronic bassline of a recent single off of Dedicated, “No Drug Like Me.” The sultry track marked a significant departure from the staple bubblegum-peppiness of her previous albums. The opening line, “Take me to the limit / hold me down there,” sung in sotto voce, set the tone for the rest of the night, which would crescendo to an explosion of emotion and energy, both onstage and in the crowd.

Fittingly, the next song was the title track of E•MO•TION, followed by “Run Away with Me,” E•MO•TION’s opener. These two songs epitomize Jepsen’s lyrical creativity: Rather than narrating the specifics of a relationship, she calls out to an unnamed love interest, exclaiming “Baby, take me to the feeling.” This direct address expresses her longing for connection, a sentiment that is intimate yet universal. It’s the lyrical equivalent of reading a horoscope: You determine the song’s significance, which makes it even more poignant in application.

Jepsen’s performance reflected the frankness of her music as well. There were no backup dancers, no costume changes—Jepsen herself wore a colourful jumpsuit with glow-in-the-dark plastic barrettes. Accompanying her onstage were three band members providing live accompaniment, a surprising addition considering the predominantly synthy, studio-produced sound of her music. Jepsen kept the commentary in between tracks to a minimum, but she did reveal that “Julien,” the eponymous subject of Dedicated’s opener, is from Montreal, adding, “Julien, if you’re here tonight, please don’t call me.” Considering both the ambiguity and sincerity of her lyrics, this no-frills performance seemed characteristically Carly Rae.

Songs on the setlist ranged from radio-hits like “Call Me Maybe” to lesser-known B-sides like “Store” and “Cry.” Regardless of each song’s popularity, audience members passionately shouted along to the performance. 

Not all of Jepsen’s songs focus on crushes and new love. Towards the end of the concert, she played “Boy Problems” and “Party for One” back to back. Neither song deals with budding romance; rather, the tracks explore the process of overcoming heartbreak with the help of friends and self-love. These songs deliver a beacon of positivity in the midst of loneliness or rejection. As opposed to the longing for romantic affection expressed in many of her tracks, the love Jepsen receives from friends and herself becomes the source of the songs’ optimism. There is certainly some irony to a crowded venue shouting along to “Party for One,” but above all, the song was a highlight of the concert. 

Jepsen finished the concert with “Cut to the Feeling,” one of her most popular songs, released as a single and featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was the perfect ending. A straightforward pop tune in both music and message, the song delivers what it describes: Unadulterated feelings of love, positivity, and joy for everyone in the room. Jepsen’s music is everything right with pop today: No matter the subject of our emotions, Carly Rae Jepsen provides the soundtrack for any moment of love in our lives.

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