Carly Rae Jepsen ready for first Grammy bow
Carly Rae Jepsen performs at the 40th Annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2012. She's up for she was up for two Grammy awards - song of the year and pop solo performance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Shearer/Invision
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Cooking a meal alone, at home, has become something of a luxury for Carly Rae Jepsen.
That's what she was doing the night the Grammy nominations were announced. She was making dinner, which she notes "sounds like something normal," but it was the first time she'd done it in probably a year — in her cheeky words, it was her "one big domesticated moment."
She was cooking (a chicken dish and salsa, she thinks) and waiting, to be perfectly honest. She says she hadn't really been thinking about the Grammys until people kept asking her about the Grammys, over and over, until eventually the thought did creep into her mind: wouldn't it be nice?
So she had one eye on her chicken, and one eye on the Grammys site. Until she refreshed and her heart sank. No nominations.
"I went through the motions of being like: 'Oh well, it was a good year. I can't really complain. No big deal.' But (I was) kind of a little bummed out secretly, I guess."
Then she got a call from her father and stepmom, both screaming their enthusiastic congratulations about her Grammy nominations. She convinced them they were wrong at first, before the trio put their heads together and discovered the problem.
As it turns out, Jepsen had been looking at the wrong website, proving that the 27-year-old has figured out only how to dominate the Internet, not necessarily operate it.
"It was a really funny way to discover," Jepsen laughed. "And then I proceeded to do like the ultimate kitchen dance, with the spoon in hand."
One imagines the Mission, B.C., singer has had plenty of occasions for such jubilant jigs over the past blessed year.
The nominations, by the way, were for song of the year and best pop solo performance, both for "Call Me Maybe," a devilishly simple spiral of demure, disco-pop cotton-candy with a chorus that has been permanently tattooed on our collective cultural memory. It was a juicy wad of bubblegum that still hasn't lost its taste.
The song topped charts in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Austria, France, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It occupied the top spot in the U.S. for nine straight weeks, achieving a summer ubiquity typically reserved for the pinging bells of an ice cream truck. It elicited goofy covers from Justin Bieber, and the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders, and the Harvard University baseball team, and Cookie Monster, and — thanks to some clever editing tricks — U.S. President Barack Obama, kind of.
And it transformed Jepsen, from a "Canadian Idol" also-ran who was seemingly treading water in her home country's indifferent music industry into an international star whose signature catchy, carefree musical bonbon was as difficult to dislike as it was to avoid.
Jepsen followed with the well-received full-length "Kiss" — which both proved her songwriting chops beyond her first single, and established Jepsen's neon-splashed sound, rooted in blithe '80s new wave — and loaned her pipes to another Top 10 smash in her Owl City collaboration "Good Time."
But Jepsen certainly never presumed Grammy recognition.
"The Grammys, to me, has always been one of those things that you don't really allow yourself to dream about — at least I hadn't," said Jepsen, who wrote "Call Me Maybe" with Marianas Trench frontman Josh Ramsay and guitarist Tavish Crowe.
"I never really pictured myself there. It's kind of just been an eye-opening year."
The perky Jepsen then segues into a familiar inspirational refrain, about the realization that dreams can be attainable with work and luck and the good sense to recognize an opportunity and run with it.
But, crucially, she understood the flip side just as well — the demoralizing frustration of an artist struggling to break through, and the accompanying fear that the window to that broader world was inching shut, year by year.
"It was really nice," she says, "to feel the hunger and fight of it not working for so many years. And really, really getting hungry, and trying different ways and putting up your own posters and hoping people would show up at your concerts."
Certainly, the whiplash immediacy of Jepsen's fame isn't lost on her — particularly since the memories of what life was like before are still so recent.
Indeed, Jepsen seems refreshingly normal, suitably gobsmacked by the position in which she finds herself.
She still marvels at the power of her "huge machine of a team," which includes Bieber's powerful manager, Scooter Braun. She cheerfully shrugs off the suggestion — floated by Braun and others — that she was "snubbed" out of a nomination in the best new artist category, convincingly insisting she's "honoured with whatever I've gotten."
And when discussing the Grammys generally, she still seems to feel closer to the young woman who spent so many years gazing at the sparkling stars parading along the red carpet — rather than the budding starlet about to strut along the same. (In fact, she confides that she's been agonizing over which of two dresses she wants to wear, and her bandmates — "I tour with boys," she snorts — have been no help).
"I've been the ultimate popcorn and PJs (viewer), really judgmental over which girl was wearing the coolest dress — that kind of watcher," she recalled, laughing.
"My favourite part was always the beginning. Maybe it's the girlish little fashionista in me, who was just sitting there and having fun deciding — like out of 10 — which dress is the best one. And seeing it later on if it made the list.
"Now, all of a sudden, to get to go through those old pictures and think: 'Oh my gosh, what am I going to wear?' This is a whole new thing."
It's of course not unexpected when Jepsen doesn't make any claims about her chances to win an award — even the chaste come-on delivered in her chart-topper is tempered with a shrugging "maybe." But it's a topic of discussion for many Grammy watchers.
Although Grammy voters sometimes seem reluctant to support youth-skewing pure pop, some prognosticators are curious whether Jepsen's tune could prove an exception in the stacked song of the year category, where it will compete against singles including the booming fun. anthem "We Are Young" and Miguel's soulful earthquake "Adorn."
"(It was) the biggest, most popular, most recognizable song of the year and I think it deserves to win when you look at the rest of the people in the category," MuchMusic VJ Lauren Toyota said in a recent telephone interview.
"It was the most purchased song of the year. Everyone loves this song. Everyone. Across the board. Knows it, knows who she is because of it. I just can't see it going to anyone else."
Jepsen, however, is dialled in on a different prize at the moment: a little bit of time with her family. She's bringing the whole gang — her parents, her brother and sister, all the consequent plus-ones.
"It's been such a chaotic year that I'm so excited to be at the awards, but I'm actually equally excited to get some time with my family, who I don't get to see as often as I usually did before this year."
Her schedule really is something to behold. On this day, she's calling from Japan. It's her seventh visit to a country she's "really quite in love with," but she's only managed her first day off.
"I get 24 hours to do as I please and I will see the sights, explore and eat my weight in sushi," she says.
A week after the Grammys, she's off to Ireland, then the U.K., Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland and so on until she wraps her tour April 18 in Norway.
It's not as exhausting as the period she spent putting "Kiss" together, when "Call Me Maybe" was rapidly infiltrating all of our minds. Often, she'd stay up all night writing then, promotional duties beckoning, trot off to the airport for a 4 a.m. flight.
She had to "barter" for that precious day off in Japan, and she's learned how to strategize to get time off. If she asks for three, she knows she's usually going to get one. So, after the tour is over, she's politely requested a full seven-day break.
"I'm pretty sure I'll get four," she laughs.
Other things are harder to get used to. She says her mother has been seeking Jepsen's counsel on a dress to wear — vintage or a plain black one? Laughing, Jepsen admits she doesn't know. She also says it's hard to pass on advice for navigating one's first red carpet.
"It's a really strange reality," she said. "I mean, the red carpet is so unlike anything ever. You stand there and have a bunch of photographers yell at you and you have to pretend to still be smiling even though it's horrifying.
"But it's really kind of cool to be there and get to see everybody dressed up, and feel like, I don't know, like how could this be real life?"
She'll likely feel something similar when she mounts the stage during the Grammys telecast to present an award.
Well, she might climb the stage more than once, depending on the outcome of her two nominated categories. Certainly, few people know better than Jepsen that stranger things have happened.
Award shows are another new phenomenon for Jepsen, and another challenge she's learning to tackle in stride.
"There's a moment right before every award show so far where I actually ultimately wish and pray that I don't get called up because I'm afraid that I'll have to talk afterwards," she said.
"But I think, for the Grammys, I'll make an exception. And it'll be worth the humiliation if I do."
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