Two years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen took a break from her pop star life and boarded a plane to Italy.
The goal was to take a holiday by herself, away from the hustle of LA, free from managers and entourages and the constant ping of emails.
It didn’t go quite to plan.
“I’m so used to travelling with a whole army of helpers and people around me that I forgot my credit cards,” the Canadian singer says, giggling self-consciously.
“And then I couldn’t find the dude from the Airbnb I was staying at. His name was supposed to be Giorgio, and I went around looking for him. Some old man came up to me, who I thought was Giorgio, and he pinched my cheeks and said, ‘Ciao, bella’ and took off!
“I was like, ‘This is not a good start.’ But it turned itself around pretty quickly.”
Jepsen, who shot to fame in 2012 with the smash Call Me Maybe, had just broken off a relationship with photographer David Kalani Larkins. She embraced the freedom and self-reliance of travelling alone.
“You have to get comfortable with bringing your book to dinner and that being your date,” she says. “You ruin the night if you start thinking everyone’s looking at you because you’re by yourself.”
The trip went so well, in fact, that the star briefly contemplated staying put.
One of her Instagrammed holiday snaps even came with the caption: “She writes something like 50 tunes for her next album, takes a break in Italy and – plot twist – never comes back.”
Jepsen’s fans went bananas.
“Please don’t threaten me like this,” wrote one. “Don’t you dare,” fumed another.
Two hundred songs
To her fans’ relief, Jepsen came to her senses and resumed work on her fourth album, Dedicated – but they had a long wait ahead of them.
Those 50 songs became 200 as the star abandoned her plan to write a record of “strictly understated disco” and started trying out new guises.
Two hundred songs is only 13 fewer than The Beatles released in their entire career. And Jepsen claims to have recorded a similar amount for her previous album, E•MO•TION.
“I was complaining about this to a journalist in LA,” admits the star, “Like, ‘God I went insane. I can’t believe I did this again.’
“But this woman said, ‘I think you should see it as a gift that you’re so prolific and you don’t get writer’s block.’ And she’s right.
“It doesn’t mean the songs are always good – it just means that I always have ideas. And when you’ve got 100 songs, it’s easier to hear criticism because you’re almost grateful for it… Like, ‘Good, we need to get rid of 99 of these.'”
Jepsen’s original concept of understated disco wasn’t totally jettisoned, though.
You can hear it on Dedicated’s opening track, Julien, a simmering reflection on fleeting romance that Jepsen calls the “heart” of her album.
“It felt different to what I’d done before, and also different to anything I’d heard, which you’re always hoping to find,” she says.
Like a lot of the songs on Dedicated, Julien creeps up on you slowly until, one day, you find yourself singing it out loud in a crowded elevator.
It’s a new avenue for the star, who’s still best known for Call Me Maybe – once named by Billboard as having the “greatest chorus of the 21st Century“.
That song rightfully spent four weeks at number one in the UK – but the album it appeared on, Kiss, was rushed and underwhelming, and Jepsen seemed destined to become a one-hit wonder.
She defied that label – I Really Like You reached the top 10 three years later. The album E•MO•TION, made with indie producers like Dev Hynes and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, won Jepsen a dedicated fanbase and was critically acclaimed, but its other singles missed the charts.
In a more cut-throat era, a singer who didn’t churn out top 10 singles more consistently might find themselves on their record label’s garbage pile.
Now, streaming has created an environment where stars like Jepsen, Charli XCX, Marina and Christine and the Queens can thrive without diluting their sound for the mass market.
“I love to be aligned with those ladies!” beams Jepsen. “It doesn’t have to be this extreme, sell-your-soul-and-try-to-recover career. I think people are craving something less strictly defined than what pop used to be.”
That said, Jepsen hasn’t lost her knack for a gargantuan chorus.
Now That I Found You is the album’s most exuberant moment, inspired by her new boyfriend James Flannigan, a British songwriter who’d worked with Dua Lipa and Black Eyed Peas before meeting Jepsen at a writing camp in Nicaragua.