Calling Carly

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2012 - 6:21 AM

A boost from Justin Bieber has helped make Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" the year's top pop song. Coming to Minneapolis Saturday, the newbie pop star chatted by phone about the boost she got from tourmate Justin Bieber.

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Carly Rae Jepsen

Photo: Chris Young, Associated Press

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Justin Bieber, Nickelback and James Taylor are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. But when you come out of nowhere -- OK, Canada -- and score the biggest pop song of the year ("Call Me Maybe"), people want to know everything about you, Carly Rae Jepsen. And those three stars have been huge in her life.

Here's her back story in a tweet:

James Taylor was the soundtrack of her childhood; Nickelback signed her to its label; Biebs' tweet made her famous + he's taking her on tour

No matter what fans of Gotye ("Somebody That I Used to Know") or fun. ("We Are Young") might contend, Jepsen has the song of the year. No maybes about it.

"Thank you for saying that," said Jepsen, who will open for Bieber Saturday at Target Center. "I don't know that I look at it that way. I think there are many amazing songs that came out this year. I feel honestly blessed to be part of any people's soundtracks at all."

Why is her super-catchy pop ditty -- the tale of a flirtatious encounter, with her giving him her phone number -- so big?

"It's something moms and daughters can relate to together," said KDWB program director Rich Davis. "It's a really good song, though it's really simple. It's got a great hook. And she's a cute new artist with ties to Justin Bieber."

"Call Me Maybe," released last fall in Canada, got a boost when fellow Canadian Bieber tweeted his love for the tune on Dec. 30. The song shot up the Canadian charts, leading to a U.S. release in March.

Then the Biebs piled it on. He and some of his pals, including Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale, made a homemade video of the tune that has received more than 50 million views. More videos followed, fashioned by the Harvard baseball team, the U.S. Olympic swim team, U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan and even former Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Just check YouTube.)

"The parody videos helped spread it," said Jepsen, whose official "Call Me Maybe" video has tallied more than 280 million views on YouTube. "It was neat to see how people in countries I'd never visited were putting together their own version of the song."

How old is she?

Of course, her phenomenal success has brought the inevitable detractors. Thinking: What a perfect song for teens by a teen, some people wondered if Jepsen was the next Taylor Swift.

Um, no. Jepsen is 26, not 16. She's older than Lady Gaga.

That's not a bad thing, said KDWB's Davis: "Sometimes younger artists get knocked for being kiddie. Once people found out she was 26 and not a tween bubble-gum throwaway artist, it probably helped her."

Jepsen is puzzled by the brouhaha over her age.

"What woman doesn't love to hear that she looks younger? I have to say it's flattering and a little bit shocking for me 'cause I never think of myself as that young. Last night, someone said '15' and I'm looking at them like 'Really? I don't see it.' I write what I write. No real thought about how my age fits in."

Tomboy at heart

Jepsen describes herself as creative, sensitive and kind, a tomboy at heart who loves chess and holds a yellow belt in karate.

Since she was 7, she wanted to be a singer. That's when pop balladeer Taylor became "the soundtrack of my childhood," she said of her days in Mission, British Columbia, just east of Vancouver. "My father used to play me James Taylor songs at night when I couldn't sleep. My storytelling and wanting that warm fuzziness in your tummy comes from listening to him."

After attending the Canadian College of Performing Arts and finishing third on TV's "Canadian Idol," she released her debut album in 2008, the singer/songwriter-styled "Tug of War." In 2011, she offered the single "Call Me Maybe" on 604 Records, co-founded by Nickelback's singer, Chad Kroeger. "Kiss," her debut U.S. album, was issued last month.

The new disc is more electro-pop, reflecting Jepsen's love of Madonna and the influence of Katy Perry. Her new single, "This Kiss," was written in collaboration with LMFAO's Redfoo and the guy Jepsen definitely calls her beau, singer/songwriter Matthew Koma.

The Redfoo connection came by happenstance. Unaccustomed to paparazzi, Jepsen was being pursued at the Los Angeles airport when Redfoo and his security guard came to the rescue, inviting the newly minted star into a private airport lounge.

"We became really fast friends and bonded over our musical taste," she recalled. "We decided we should write something together but he was traveling one way and I was traveling the opposite way. So we ended up connecting that night late, writing a chorus over the phone. He brought Matthew Koma into the loop. And the three of us did the rest via e-mail, text and phone calls. The song was all done virally."

Her second Top 10 hit, "Good Time," came through another e-mail collaboration, with Minnesota's own Owl City, aka Adam Young. Their schedules weren't cooperating so Young told her to record her part and he'd piece the recording together.

"I was in Canada," said Jepsen, who saw Owl City in concert in Vancouver a few years ago. "It was a late-night session after the Junos [Canada's Grammys] at 3 in the morning. I sang my piece and sent it to him and by the time I got back to L.A., it was playing on the radio."

"Good Time" made it to No. 8 on Billboard. (Coincidentally, Koma, her guy, is on tour opening for Owl City. Small world, huh?)

Recording with Bieber

Jepsen's album features a duet with Bieber that came about in impromptu fashion, as well. After signing a U.S. recording contract with Schoolboy Records (run by Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun), she was invited to Los Angeles to meet key staffers and Bieber, who was in the studio recording his latest album, "Believe."

"We really hit it off," she said. "He showed me a song called 'Beautiful' and asked if I liked it. Of course, I really dug it. He suggested I sing on it. I was beyond floored. But he meant 'right now.' It ended up being one of those nerve-racking but totally awesome experiences that I'll never forget."

Jepsen is fond of collaborating. She's even penned material with Nickelback frontman Kroeger.

Wait! The innocent popster writing with the raunchy rocker?

"I don't think of him as raunchy or me as innocent, necessarily. I just think of us as two writers," Jepsen said. "I'd say from my history of collaborating, it's never good to write with people who bring to the table exactly what you already offer. It's good to go with someone who is completely out of your genre and style and then you create something new together.

"It was really neat to pick away at his mind and see how he works as a writer. We wrote a few songs together but nothing that made the album. He's all about lyrics, just like me. So we had some fun tug of wars."

Of course, Kroeger and all these collaborators have Jepsen's phone number. How many times has she given it out since "Call Me Maybe" took off?

"Radio announcers do think it's very witty and original of them to give me my line back to me: 'Hey Carly, I just met you,'" she said. "I've given out a lot of fake phone numbers."

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream

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