To many, Carly Rae Jepsen, the purveyor of this year's delectable smash-hit confection "Call Me Maybe," may still resemble a fresh-faced high-schooler. And she was, in fact, back when she was first snapped up by Scooter Braun, the pop svengali who guided the career of ultimate teenage phenomenon Justin Bieber.
But Jepsen, who's opening for Bieber on his current arena tour, didn't just appear overnight. She's actually 27, a multiple Juno nominee in her native Canada, and a veteran of TV talent competition Canadian Idol, on which she came in third.
"Idol was awesome for me, because it really was the first show that gave me a bit of Canadian exposure," recalls Jepsen, who released her stateside dance-pop debut Kiss via Braun's Schoolboy Records in September. "But I remember getting off the show and feeling so desperate to put out a CD of original songs after doing a season of covers. It was like, 'OK, that was fun. But I have a voice, and I have some things that I want to say.'
"So it was really satisfying to be able to put out my first CD [2008's Tug of War] and have full sway over how it was going to go. It was all kind of journal-entry-type songs."
It was Bieber himself who brought the still-struggling Jepsen to Braun's attention a year ago, when he began tweeting about a song called "Call Me Maybe" that he'd heard while back home in Canada for Christmas. Now, it's been covered and/or parodied so many times that Jepsen can barely keep track of them all.
There's even an orchestral version, says Jepsen, though she has yet to see it. "My family is usually really good about updating me on the latest and greatest. But the last one that I really fell in love with was the Cookie Monster one — it was soooo cute! He does this spoof on cookies, and how you should share them, maybe."
So what's the secret to Jepsen's success? One of them is pretty much the last thing you'd expect: She's a huge Leonard Cohen fan and, even though she's venturing into the sugary pop world, she still applies a classic folk schematic to all her songwriting.
"I was really lucky — I had the best parents when it came to musical taste," says the British Columbia native. "They knew everybody to show me, the Van Morrisons and James Taylors and Bruce Springsteens of the world. I was always diving into my parents' record collection and playing, like, I dunno, Joni Mitchell on serious repeat."
It was once Jepsen moved to big-city Vancouver that her current affair with Top 40 hits began. "Then I really started to know what I wanted to do, and the type of music I wanted to write," she says. "But what I love about folk music is the love stories inside all of them, and how you can get lost in someone's feeling, one way or the other. They really take you to that moment. So I'm definitely hoping to take people to that moment myself."
As for that perpetually adolescent look, Jepsen attributes it to good genes. "But I just hope that when I'm 50, I do have some 50-looking aspects," she says. "Because, hey, who knows? Growing old could actually be fun!"