Carly Rae Jepsen and Rufus Wainwright Stan Judy Garland
Ever since she dropped her smash hit single “Call Me Maybe” in 2011, Carly Rae Jepsen has been consistently putting out some of the most joyfully maximalist pop music of the past decade. With her second studio album Kiss, and its beloved follow-ups E•MO•TION and Dedicated, she’s shown her staying power by cultivating a diverse and hardcore contingent of fans rather than chasing the ultra-mainstream popularity of her first single. It has been said that Jepsen makes “dance music for introverts,” and her new album The Loneliest Time embraces and expands on that distinction. The record celebrates solitude with an unlikely sense of jubilation, from the cheeky “Beach House” to the ethereal “Bends.” The highlight of the album though, is its infectious, disco-infused title track, on which Jepsen collaborated with the genre-bending musical titan Rufus Wainwright to create the song’s dreamy vocals and a campy, psychedelic music video. Fresh off their first ever live performance together at Los Angeles’ iconic Greek Theatre, the fast friends and fellow Canadians took a break from their respective tours to discuss Judy Garland, big-screen ambitions, and the mystery of TikTok virality. —CAITLIN LENT
WAINWRIGHT: How are you?
JEPSEN: I’m a sleepy girl, but I’m good. How are you?
WAINWRIGHT: I’m good, I’m good. You’re up in Santa Barbara?
JEPSEN: Yes, yes. We just got here. I slept in the car all the way.
WAINWRIGHT: Oh, you did?
JEPSEN: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, Rufus, I haven’t gotten to squeeze you yet, but holy—it was so lovely. I’m not lying. That was a top moment of my life. I can’t thank you enough.
WAINWRIGHT: It was so much fun. The whole thing was really a big surprise for me. It’s not that I didn’t know what to expect. I was just very, very new to that type of situation, just being put into this pop show with dancers and the rest. It was such a fun crowd, so light and effervescent. Thank you so much for bringing so much positive energy.
JEPSEN: Oh, my goodness. It was the highlight of the entire tour for me. Without a doubt, the number one highlight.
WAINWRIGHT: Oh, that is so sweet.
JEPSEN: Really, it was amazing.
WAINWRIGHT: Someone filmed it and put it on YouTube or whatever, and it worked really well. I think there was something really nice between us. Even more than nice.
JEPSEN: I had drawn a really sketchy little diagram of the stage, and some of the dancers had been in the video, but they all just acted as if they had rehearsed this like five million times. It was so perfect. I was really blown away.
WAINWRIGHT: I hung out with them briefly before going on, and they were just so over the moon to be seeing each other and to be able to do it once again. Because my assumption is that with most of them, they’re really hard working showbiz hopefuls who really do whatever job comes around, but they really appreciated this.
JEPSEN: It felt like everyone was happy to be there. That’s the energy you want for those things because it’s contagious.
WAINWRIGHT: [Laughs] One question that I do have: do you understand how TikTok works? How do your songs get on there? Could you explain that to me, because I’m really geriatric in terms of that whole concept.
JEPSEN: Join the club. To be honest, I think that I’m only open to it if I can have fun with it. I’m not going to stress myself out too much about it. But hilariously enough, I’m traveling with all of my bandmates. We’re all in our thirties. I asked the same question like, “Does anyone here understand this platform?” It’s just dead silence on the bus, like 15 people. Any TikTok that you’ve seen me perform has taken the help of like, five friends who are all just trying to figure it out together. And it has been weirdly joyful because there’s a lot of laughs and a lot of mishaps. When we finally got our TikTok out, we were just so proud of ourselves. But I feel like a grandma in this business, and I’m definitely not promising that I’ll be doing it on the regular.
WAINWRIGHT: But you have had some success [on TikTok] with this record, right?
JEPSEN: You know what? I think our song is doing the best on TikTok.
WAINWRIGHT: Oh, really? We’re doing well on TikTok? Oh, my god, I can die now.
JEPSEN: Oh, that’s so funny.
WAINWRIGHT: It’s pretty crazy. My experience with TikTok is interesting because my daughter, Viva, who’s 11, totally understands what’s happening and the language. And over the summer, we let her take over my TikTok account—
JEPSEN: Oh, lovely.
WAINWRIGHT: And we don’t put her on screen. So it was videos of other things and other people, but it jumped up, membership or my followers or whatever, tripled or something. Just when I had the 11-year-old in control.
JEPSEN: This is where I’m behind on things. I need to quickly have a kid so they can help me with all this.
WAINWRIGHT: I know.
JEPSEN: So, where are you going next? I know you’ve just finished a tour, right?
WAINWRIGHT: It’s funny because I went off and did a few solo dates. I played the D.C. area. I played Upstate New York. I shoot off and do these little weekend-long tours.
WAINWRIGHT: But they were listed as the Unfollow the Rules Tour. It’s a total misnomer because I finished touring [for that album] months ago. In fact, we did our last show for that at Glastonbury, which was amazing with the band.
JEPSEN: Wow. Wow.
WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, that was great. But when I get on stage now and everybody thinks it’s the Unfollow the Rules tour, I correct them by saying that the tour’s name is I’m Doing My Job Tour.
WAINWRIGHT: But I have to say though, it has been lovely to be able to do that again and to get out. And now we’re getting to the Canadian question, or being a Canadian living in America.
JEPSEN: When did you move, actually? I don’t know this.
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I went to boarding school for about four years in New York State. So for high school, I was in the US. But then I went back. I went to McGill in Montreal. I really left when I was around 24.
WAINWRIGHT: But I’ve gone back occasionally. My sister, Martha Wainwright, lives there and she’s become kind of the queen of Montreal.
JEPSEN: Oh, amazing.
WAINWRIGHT: I have a yearning, actually, to spend more time there. Do you have that at all?
JEPSEN: I do, more so now than ever, actually. I think I moved to L.A. when I was like 26. And I don’t really remember deciding to. “Call Me Maybe” was taking off, and then I just kept being like, “Send more clothes,” to my family. And then all of a sudden, it’s like “I think I live here now. What happened?”
WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, it just sort of happened.
JEPSEN: When we were last in Toronto for this tour, I stepped outside of the bus, and I could smell just something so familiar—home. I’m Vancouver based, but I don’t know what it was. I couldn’t even explain it to you in words, but I had this feeling like I’m in my home country.
WAINWRIGHT: Certainly that part of it is moisture after living in L.A.
JEPSEN: Fair, fair, fair. I’m trying to find the poetic words for it.
JEPSEN: [Laughs] You’re like, “It’s just moisture.”
WAINWRIGHT: There’s water there, which is nice.
JEPSEN: It did something to me.
WAINWRIGHT: When the Queen died, I sang in Ottawa.
JEPSEN: Oh, it was beautiful by the way. I saw that. It was so beautiful.
WAINWRIGHT: Oh, you saw that? Yeah, I did “Hallelujah.” Thank you. And it was with this church and this cathedral in Ottawa with all these ex-prime ministers. It was a very rainy day, and it was quite somber, very formal, these marching bands and bagpipers and stuff. And in the end, I felt it was so dismal and depressing and, I don’t know, kind of awful. But it was this Canadian thing. And I remembered growing up with this dour quality that exists in Canada. When you’re a kid, it’s just like, “I wish I was in Hollywood or Florida or on an amusement park ride, but we’re stuck up here in this wasteland.” And now I find that to be a nice warm feeling in a weird way.
JEPSEN: Yeah. I’ve never really thought of it like that, but you’re right. There’s some truth in what you’re saying, for sure. Oh, okay, I know what Judy Garland means to me, but can you please tell me what she means to you? I would love to hear it in your words.
WAINWRIGHT: First I’ll tell you what she means to me and then you can tell me what she means to you. But I recently celebrated her 100th birthday. I did a few shows in New York and Chicago. At one point, I got to actually sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with Lorna Luft, Judy’s daughter. And we actually lit up the Empire State Building together in a rainbow. It was pretty gay.
JEPSEN: Oh, my gosh. I would’ve paid anything to be there.
WAINWRIGHT: It was very touching, and I felt very honored to be chosen for that. I was back in the Judy orbit. What she means to me is kind of the consummate performer, the person who, once they’re on stage, they are completely captivating. And everything they do, whether it’s the way they sing, the way they walk, the way they speak between songs, there’s just a sort of this well rounded, talented, trained machine that I don’t think exists anymore because we don’t have that kind of training. But nonetheless, it’s something to just strive for. I watched your performance the other night and how much effort you put into it and how much care you really have about being on stage and making it this captivating experience.
JEPSEN: I wish I had been in that New York moment with you too. Gosh. I grew up watching her movies. There’s a fighting quality in her that I really admire. She’s not your predictable star in a lot of ways. And I think that’s what makes her so much more of one. Every opportunity that she got, you feel she really had some kind of gumption to get there.
WAINWRIGHT: She was a really odd, unique kind of spirit. That shines through so powerfully. That’s actually another thing I love about her is how odd she is. You know?
JEPSEN: I agree. Well, when someone kind of carries that much, I don’t know, vulnerability, and turns into confidence all of a sudden, to hide it up, you quickly start to believe that they’re more beautiful. You know what I mean?
WAINWRIGHT: Maybe I should know this, but have you done a lot of acting?
JEPSEN: No, not a lot. I did a little Broadway stint. But that was very brief. It was like eight months tops. I did musical theater when I was in high school and elementary school. After “Call Me Maybe” came out, I took a little hiatus and I went and played Cinderella on Broadway for a little bit.
WAINWRIGHT: Have you thought at all about re-embarking into that world?
JEPSEN: I don’t know. I did Grease Live, too, come to think of it. I don’t mind if it’s something a little over the top. But true blue acting is not a skill that I have in the same way. I’m really amazed by it. I think it’s such a thing to take on another character. I think the only things that I could play would be characters adjacent to my own personality.
WAINWRIGHT: I don’t know. I see something there. You definitely have a more profound kind of spirit. I don’t think you should give up on it quite yet.
JEPSEN: Well, thank you. How about you? Have you considered the big screen?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I’ve done a couple of movies. I was in a movie once with Glenn Close.
JEPSEN: Oh, my gosh. Where do I see it? I will be watching it this evening.
WAINWRIGHT: It’s called Heights. I only had two or three scenes with her, but it was fun.
WAINWRIGHT: And then I was also in that movie, The Aviator, but I was just singing in that. I’ve thought about it. At this point in my life, being almost 50, I am actually, oddly enough, more comfortable and more at ease with who I am than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I’m kind of blaming a lot of it on the beard at the moment. Being able to cover three quarters of your face really helps.
JEPSEN: The beard looks good. I’m shocked to hear that you’re close to 50.
WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, no, I’m almost there. But I’m definitely seeing like, Kris Kristofferson roles. I could be in some sort of western.
JEPSEN: Ooh, ooh. I love it. I recognize that same general feeling that you have with each year, kind of feeling closer to really being comfortable with who I am and knowing myself. I hope that just keeps going. It’s an exciting concept. Maybe we’ll both be in our 80s and 90s and reconnect and be like, “But now I really know who I am.”
WAINWRIGHT: I know. Finally. But we’ll see each other before then.
JEPSEN: Oh, I hope so. We have to do a celebratory dinner party.
WAINWRIGHT: We definitely do. I’ve been to your lovely home and you have to see mine. We’re practically neighbors.
JEPSEN: Oh, I would love that. And I’ll be on my best behavior and try not to be like, “Please perform.”
WAINWRIGHT: I’m very fortunate to have come from a musical family, but I want to know, was your family musical?
JEPSEN: In their way, not like yours. I think yours is famously musical. My father would play guitar for me when I was little, and he actually indulged in writing his own songs. So yeah, before bed at night, I think when other kids sometimes would get a bedtime story, I was very lucky. My dad would say, “Pick three songs,” and he would play them for me before going to bed.
WAINWRIGHT: That’s sweet.
JEPSEN: Yeah, it was very sweet. So I would fall asleep to James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Bruce Springsteen, whatever my dad loved, and I loved it too. I do think some sort of stuff was formed on those nights of listening to music right before bed, because it was my bedtime story. I had never experienced heartbreak, but I could imagine it. And it sounded kind of wonderful. I don’t know. My imagination was really sparked by that. And my mom loves listening to music. I think me and her really bonded over your music growing up.
WAINWRIGHT: I’m having that a lot now in my life, which has been incredible. These younger people, your age and younger, who say, “Yeah, no, my parents brought me up listening to your music.” And then they’ll come together to the show, or they’ll even sometimes bring their kids. It’s almost three generations now, which is pretty horrifying.
JEPSEN: You have to understand, Rufus, you are like a trigger word for every person with good taste in music, in the best possible way, from vocal producers that I’ve worked with to friends. It’s been so lovely having you on this track.
WAINWRIGHT: I have to say, when you got in touch with me and I got to dive into your work, I was so impressed and so excited to be introduced to this whole positive, but also just fun, area of creation where it’s about just watching your fans and how devoted they are and how much they adore you. You mean everything to them. And that’s just so touching, to see that kind of dedication and the joy that you bring to their lives. Look, I think I bring a lot of joy to my fans and they adore me as well. But I’ve also taken them on some pretty harrowing rides.
JEPSEN: But that is beauty in connection right there, to think that they’re not alone in those moments when you are in a more melancholy place. That’s when music saves your life. And I think you’ve saved a lot.
WAINWRIGHT: But don’t forget, Carly, that making people get up there and dance and just celebrate the now and have fun is so important, too, especially these days. So we’re both doing good.
JEPSEN: Thank you. This is why our worlds needed to come together. I will let you go. And this has been wonderful. Thank you.
WAINWRIGHT: Thank you. Bye-bye.