Carly Rae Jepsen is not what she seems.
No matter your conception of the Canadian pop star, there is a high likelihood you have both undersold and underestimated her. While Jepsen scored an untouchable win with 2012’s “Call Me Maybe,” her journey forward leaves the diamond-certified hit in the rear view. 2015’s E•MO•TION showed off Jepsen’s aptitude, not just for writing a catchy hook, but curating an unforgettable pop landscape. Fast-forward to the present, and one can’t begin to grasp how much of an understatement Dedicated is as a descriptor until you start to peel the layers back yourself.
“It’s a little bit of a wrestling match with the word,” Jepsen tells Phoenix New Times. “I am very much a romantic. If I’m dedicated to anything, it’s to pursue a great love. I wanted to know what it means to me to be dedicated, to myself, to the songs, and to this project.”
Dedication is Carly Rae Jepsen in a word. For her latest opus, she amassed somewhere in the realm of 200 songs before trimming it down to the clean 15 we are presented with. She is a master songwriter, gifted with a heart three sizes too big, yet cursed by earthly notions of time and space. Her work on Dedicated is the result of an arduous four years of building and rebuilding again.
“My process ... I wish it wasn’t so complicated,” Jepsen laughs. “I don’t know it until I hear it, and that takes a lot of experimentation and travel. It’s nice to have the luxury of time, and be able to overwrite and not settle, to try and find that intangible thing I’m looking for.”
The path to Dedicated started on a vacation to Italy. With a moment of clarity in the heat of building E•MO•TION’s disco-tinged successor, Jepsen got the feeling that things weren’t quite right. After months of writing, one-offs, and dabbling with experimental producers like Danny L. Harle, Jepsen decided a new direction was needed.
“I was getting to a place where I was starting to write the same song every session, and it wasn’t the right song,” Jepsen remembers. “When I came home, I said yes to some things I wouldn’t have said yes to before – like, for starters, a writing camp in Nicaragua.”
Jepsen returned and hit the ground running, ready to push forward with new eyes and ears on her next chapter. Her vision would put feet to the ground on three continents, and only the sky was the limit.
“We had this magical couple weeks where we were in the countryside in Sweden,” Jepsen says of the first weeks back to writing. "But there was a feeling that it was going to take a bit of travel to get the things I wanted for the record. It wasn’t until late in the game that I got in touch with John Hill.”
Few have had the immense run of success that Hill has seen in the past few years. While the Grammy-nominated producer worked on indie classics like Santigold’s solo debut, more recently he saw a huge win with Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.” After working through half of the record with the likes of Grouplove and Jack Antonoff, Hill helped Jepsen complete her opus how she wanted.
“I had all these high, airy vocal parts and [Hill] had this dark production that complemented it so well," Jepsen says. "We were kindred spirits and ended up writing a ton of stuff that even replaced some of the early tracks.”
To no surprise to Jepsen’s longtime fans, the end product is something that supersedes run-of-the-mill pop fodder. There is a narrative arc to the album that communicates an artist in progress – one willing to question the emotion she once so euphorically embraced. On Dedicated, instinct is juxtaposed with the knowledge of self, and Jepsen shows off a poetic maturity on par with heroes like Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday.
“From personal experience, I had gone through my first real adult singlehood,” Jepsen says. “I had always been in relationships and then I found myself out of it. I wanted to be in love with being alone. ‘Party For One’ was big for that. It was a huge lesson that I learned and I’m still learning. I love that the album about being dedicated closes on that, because the first person you have to be really dedicated to is yourself.”
In today’s landscape of assured self-righteousness, there is perhaps nothing more vulnerable than an evolving perspective. On Dedicated, Jepsen watches herself grow in real time. From love-struck daydream to triumphant solidarity, her record is an odyssey across a battlefield of love.
“I’m a little bit more capable of being vulnerable, which is so scary to be,” Jepsen says. “But there’s a point in a relationship where you have to be like, ‘It’s okay if you hurt me and I hurt you.’ We have to do it all the way. You can’t just do it half-assed – no one wins in that.”
While no one in their right mind could accuse Jepsen of half-assing anything, her conviction speaks to the dedication that guides her record. With each subsequent effort, Jepsen inches a little closer to the top. No time for maybes, Jepsen has her eyes fixed on real love, for herself, for others, and for the world.
Carly Rae Jepsen. With Phoebe Ryan. 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 6, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street; thevanburenphx.com. Tickets are $36 to 41 via Ticketweb.
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