Think you needed a break a few years ago from Carly Rae Jepsen's unavoidable hit "Call Me Maybe"? Imagine how she felt.
"With 'Call Me Maybe,' we had been very oversaturated on radio," Jepsen said recently on the phone from her tour bus in Arizona. "I felt like we needed to take a break just for strategy reasons."
Although the respite was longer than expected, the wait paid off, the Canadian singer said, because "Emotion" — last June’s follow-up to her 2012 sophomore album “Kiss“ — is her most complete body of work to date. Jepsen’s confidence in the music has translated to the stage, too.
“There’s something about singing songs that feel the most authentic than anything I’ve ever done before,” said Jepsen, who headlines Baltimore Soundstage on Sunday. “I really did some soul-searching in the making of this album. Every song that we’re doing just feels like I can’t wait to do it, and I don’t want it to end.”
This is what artists often say during a tour and promotion cycle, but there’s a palpable relief in Jepsen’s voice that she, at least in her mind, has finally moved on from “Call Me Maybe.” The shadow cast by the single — and its 17 million sales worldwide, nearly 800 million YouTube views and Song of the Year Grammy nomination — pushed Jepsen to take her time on her third album. (Her debut, 2008’s “Tug of War,” gained her fans in Canada and Japan, but failed to launch the singer/songwriter’s pop career here.)
“It was important for me to feel like this was an album and not just a few singles tucked in there with a bunch of a B-sides,” Jepsen, 30, said.
Jepsen, whose career began in earnest in 2007 after she placed third on “Canadian Idol,” said part of the delay between “Kiss” — which included a multi-platinum hit but has yet to even flirt with 500,000 copies sold — and “Emotion” was trying to decide on a musical direction.
“For about a year and a half, I had just been experimenting, trying folky alternative songs and really pure pop songs, and wherever my heart would lead me,” Jepsen said. “‘Emotion’ was the first song [written] where I was like, ‘Ahh! This is what I want to do: ’80s pop with a little bit of alternative production,’ or something like that.”
The title track, with its sleek synthesizers and head-bopping vocal melody, set the post-“Maybe” course for Jepsen. To achieve the throwback-pop-meets-modern-alternative symbiosis, Jepsen worked with both mainstream songwriters (Peter Svensson, Sia) and less-known critical darlings (Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, and Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend).
With Jepsen’s vision for the album sharpened into focus, songs began to flow easily, she said.
“To be like, ‘Here’s the direction. This is what I want to do,’ you come in with a purpose rather than a question mark,” Jepsen said.
Like “Kiss,” “Emotion” has failed to torch the charts. (It debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 album chart with just more than 16,000 units sold.) But unlike her previous album, “Emotion,” so far, lacks a transcendent single.
The lack of sales, however, has been softened by what Jepsen never expected: glowing critical praise from traditional outlets and tastemaking websites. Rolling Stone’s review called it a "pop master class" while New York Magazine wrote Jepsen "does '80s throwbacks even better than Taylor Swift." Even Pitchfork, a website once known for championing the obscure, named “Emotion” one of the Top 50 albums of the 2015.
Jepsen still finds the flattery surprising.
“Everything that came after this album in terms of the response and the reaction was shocking to me,” she said. “It felt so wonderful to be acknowledged by some of these people in circles that weren’t just into pop music or could appreciate pop music but it wasn’t necessarily their go-to [genre].”
The critical support has led to audiences with ages closer to Jepsen’s, which has energized the singer.
“It was a goal of mine to make a pop album of maturity that could be pop for adults versus just kids,” Jepsen said. “What used to be [Justin] Bieber fans has now turned into people our own age and it feels really cool. … I think the connection feels a little bit easier.”
She’ll spend the next couple months on the road, first finishing her current “Gimmie Love” tour and then opening for singer/songwriter Halsey on a Canadian arena run.
The time on the road will fuel the songwriting for her next album, Jepsen said.
“Last week, we did three songs,” she said. “I do find a really prolific phase always happens when I’m on the road, because it’s a beautiful time to get to stop real life in a way. … You just have the show and a ton of time to yourself to be creative.”
Regardless of her next direction, Jepsen knows constant writing and tinkering are her best means of getting there, which is why she hesitates to discuss new material in concrete terms. She learned that lesson already.
“In terms of what direction I’ll be going, I’m tentative to say,” she said. “I don’t actually think where I’m experimenting right now is where I’m going to land on my next album. God knows I took a couple left turns before I landed on ‘Emotion.’”