Just a few months ago, Carly Rae Jepsen was a budding singer-songwriter best known for her third-place finish on the 2007 season of Canadian Idol. Few people in America had even heard of her. That changed last December, when Justin Bieber heard her song "Call Me Maybe" on the radio while visiting family in Canada. "'Call Me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepsen is probably the catchiest song I've ever heard," Bieber tweeted to his 22 million followers. "Lol."
In that moment, Jepsen's life changed forever. "All of a sudden people were direct-messaging me from Germany and all over the world," she tells Rolling Stone. "It was crazy." Things got even crazier in February when Bieber, Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale uploaded a YouTube video where they lip-synced to the song – kicking off a slew of similar clips by Katy Perry, James Franco and many others. The song is now Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 and approaching Song-of-the-Summer status. We spoke with Jepsen about the origin of the song and her humble beginnings.
I think a lot of people assume that "Call Me Maybe" was written by a bunch of pros off in Sweden or somewhere, but that's not really the case.
No, it was written be me and two of my good friends, Josh Ramsay and my guitarist Tavish Crowe. It started like any song starts, just sort of a folky tune that I was playing while I was on the road with Tav. The lyrics came very easily. We weren't really over-thinking it. We brought in Josh, and he helped us kind of pop-ify it. He's really good. He's got a little bit of pop genius in his blood. It was written, recorded and produced within four or five days, tops. It was a pretty easy song to write.
How long ago did you write it?
I think it was a little before Christmas.
What first sparked the idea? Was there an actual guy you were thinking about?
Oh, there's always a guy – and this case is no different. The first line was, "Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad," which was written for the guy I'm still seeing today, actually. It was just the idea that I felt that something was really missing, and when he came into my life he was the person I was missing.
I guess a lot of people can relate to the butterfly feelings you have when you meet someone you connect with immediately.
Yeah. I think there's also that time when you do have chemistry with a complete stranger and you kind of wish you had the nerve to go and approach them or say something, and so often you kind of leave it instead. I know that I've experienced that, where I've been like, "Wow there's something there and I don't know what to do about it." So it's kind of fun to write a song about, what if you actually turned around and went and introduced yourself? I mean what harm could come from that?
After coming in third place on Canadian Idol, did you think it was all over for you?
So many people seem to have that take on it, that third was not quite good enough. But to be honest, I was really stoked to be third. I didn't expect to get very far in the competition. I didn't look at it as my ticket. I looked at it like one of those fluke-y things that if it worked, great, and if it didn't, no big deal. But the fact that I wasn't eliminated every week was a very pleasant surprise to me. And when I got third, I kind of used that as, "OK. I've had my 15 minutes of Canadian exposure and this is the best opportunity I've ever had to put out a CD now with my own songs" – and that's exactly what I did.
Tell me about some of the crappiest gigs you ever did before you got your break.
Before Canadian Idol was on, I did everything, you name it. At one time I fronted a swing band. I remember they were advertising for a saxophone player in a local newspaper, and I called them. I was like, "Hey, so I see that you need a saxophone player." And they were like, "Yeah! Do you play?" And I was like, "No! But I sing!" They were like, "OK...". They ended up auditioning me anyway, so I ended up playing these weekly swing dances. Also, I worked at a coffee shop where I basically ran this weekly singer-songwriter night. It was called Choose Organic Coffee. And every Friday night, I would have different people come to sing and I would open the shop late.
And I waitressed for a while. I remember waitressing at Browns, this restaurant in Kitsilano, and at the time my music was being played on the radio, so I'd be asking people if they wanted fries or Coke or what not, and in the background my song was playing. It was a very weird reality.
A lot of people assume that you're about 16 years old, but you're 26. Are you bothered by that?
No. [Laughs.] I mean, I don't think I've ever heard 16 before. The youngest I've heard so far is 18, and it's always extremely shocking to me. I don't feel like I look 16, and I hope I don't carry myself like I'm 16. It's always nice for a woman to hear she looks younger than she is. I try to take it as a compliment.
Are you looking forward to opening up for Justin Bieber on his arena tour?
It is exciting. It's also a really big responsibility. I want to do Justin proud. I'm kind of diving into late-night debates, like "What are we going to have for lighting?" and, "What's the set list going to look like?" And styling … It's just a fun sort of brainstorming time to get creative, now that we certainly have the resources to put together the show of my dreams.
Do you have a favorite one of those YouTube videos where people lip-sync to "Call Me Maybe?"
I have a ton that I really like. There's one called "Call Me Maybe Obsessed" and it's some local guys in Canada that are, like, macho football players and they do this sort of guilty pleasure spoof about how they don't really like the song, and then behind closed doors you see them dancing to it. It's really adorable and well done. But, of course, I think that Justin and Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale and the guys from Big Time Rush was sort of the video that sparked them all, so it will always kind of hold a special spot in my heart.
What's the status of your new album?
It's not all the way finished right now, so it's hard to kind of completely talk about it because I'm just discovering what it might be. But it's definitely a fun process to be in the middle of working on it. Probably my favorite part of all of this is just writing and creating and dreaming up the story I want to tell through music.
I definitely plan on collaborating with other people on songs, including my good friends Josh and Tavish. I've also got a couple songs of my own. I'm actually in Atlanta right now because I'm doing some writing with Dallas Austin.
Have you picked out your next single yet?
I have some contenders for sure. About a week ago, I had a little living room dance party over one that I'm feeling might be the one. But until I commit to it and until I'm done with the writing process and everything, you never know if something else pops up. So I just want to wait and see before I announce the title of it. But yeah, I have some ideas floating around for sure.