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Dreaming of Canada with Carly Rae Jepsen ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs

The most beautiful sound in the world to me is that of an orchestra
tuning itself to the oboe’s taut A. The second most beautiful is Carly
Rae Jepsen. For these two reasons, I flew to Canada for exactly
twenty-eight hours over the weekend, to see Jepsen perform with the
sixty-person Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in a sold-out performance for
twenty-six hundred of the purest souls in pop fandom and, possibly, the
world. “I’m so happy that it’s almost like I’m uncomfortable!” Jepsen
gasped, with one song left before intermission. She looked like a
statuette: blond pixie cut, floor-length gold sequinned gown, her small
figure catching every blink of light in Roy Thomson Hall. I was short of
breath, too, and ecstatic: there were so many violinists drawing so many
bows in unison, as if hypnotized—and if you put pizzicato strings on a
Carly Rae Jepsen song it sounds like love is newly forming in your
heart. The crowd, gooey-eyed, screamed back at its unassuming diva.
“It’s the best and the worst all at once!” Jepsen said, before launching
into the title track from her first album, “Tug of War,” released nine
years ago. Nearly everyone recognized it. “You seem too good, too good
to be true,” we sang along to the first line.

The idea for the one-night-only Carly Rae Jepsen orchestra
spectacular—arranged by Christopher Mayo, conducted by Lucas Waldin—came
out of the 2016 Polaris Music Prize Gala, where she performed her song
“Your Type” with a string quartet from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra,
accompanied by her frequent collaborator and “Call Me Maybe” co-writer
Tavish Crowe. “Your Type,” off her last full album, “Emotion,” is, like
most of Jepsen’s songs, about unbearable one-sided longing. Its chorus
begins, “I’m not the type of girl for you / I’m not going to pretend /
That I’m the type of girl you call more / Than a friend.” On the album,
it sounds like an eighties movie, sparkling and propulsive and
synthetic. With the string
quartet
, it is easier to
hear how the song oscillates between hope and sadness, as the chords
shift from major to minor and back. Jepsen’s greatest gift as an artist
is her way of making the space between love and desperation seem
infinite; there is an obvious pathos embedded in the way she expresses
desire and affection that is singularly well-suited to a string section.

Jepsen was born in British Columbia and entered the northern spotlight
when she finished third on “Canadian Idol,” in 2007. She put on
Saturday’s show as part of Canada 150, the yearlong celebration of the
country’s sesquicentennial—a century and a half has passed since the
provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were united under
the British North America Act of 1867. Traditionally, Canada’s national
identity has been less known to Americans than ours—aggressive, heavily
mythologized, all bald eagles and jingoism—has been known to them.
Today, though, in this time of psychological and actual fragility
induced by President Donald Trump, Americans have begun framing Canada
as a sort of parallel paradise. His Keystone XL
policies
notwithstanding, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—handsome,
discreet, young, liberal, perpetually camera-ready—is easily positioned
as Trump’s perfect foil. While the U.S. news is dominated by hate
crimes, police killings, and the inexorable upward drain of resources
from the needy to the rich, the Canadian news cycle seems increasingly
dreamy: Trudeau has gotten in a kayak again and taken photographs; a beaver has bitten into a power pole in
Saskatchewan, disrupting a local wedding; a
ninety-eight-year-old woman who published a bad recipe for butter tarts
has issued a public apology “for desecrating one of Canada’s most
beloved baked
goods.

The “Meanwhile, in
Canada

Twitter meme is deployed every day.

And so it was within the context of full-throttle escapism that I
arrived in Toronto, the city where I was born. (For better and worse, my
family moved to Texas when I was four.) I had flown on an airline called
Porter, whose mascot is a raccoon in a tuxedo and which provided free
wine, coffee, snacks, and Wi-Fi. I got in a cab, and Toronto’s version
of Taxi TV featured a large dog pushing a small dog in a grocery cart
under the chyron “Why Two Dogs Are Better Than One.” I passed the mall
where my dad had scooped ice cream in college and the high-rise building
where my parents lived until I was two. Not a single person on the
street looked angry. An elderly couple burbled past on a motorbike; two
Canadian flags and a goggles-wearing teddy bear waved hello to me from
the back. There were maple leaves everywhere for the sesquicentennial,
and rainbow flags, too—it was either a terrific coincidence or else
ordained by the gods in antiquity that Jepsen would be performing with
the orchestra during Canada’s second-ever Pride Month. “Carly Rae Jepsen
invented gay people,” one concert attendee said, very earnestly, after
the show.

At Roy Thomson Hall, before the show, the crowd quivered. Strangers
babbled at each other, smiling like maniacs. The orchestra began,
suddenly, in a way that resembled star formation—dense clouds of melody
floating in suspension and then, under piccolo flurries and timpani
rolls, fusing into one. A sax line emerged, neon with yearning, and
Jepsen came out to sing “Run Away with Me,” unprotected by reverb and
curling her voice tight around the notes. She glittered in her peculiar,
brilliant, half vacant way. Jepsen is, for a pop star, a remarkably
unassuming presence—she always seems like a conduit for something,
rather than the thing itself—and though she managed the evening’s
performance appropriately, like a diva, with a gown change and Streisand
gestures, it seemed to me as if she could’ve been singing in front of
her bedroom mirror, or in a dream. It just so happened that she was in
front of a full symphony orchestra, facing a crowd of people who would
eventually jump to their feet and sing along and dance like they, too,
were alone in their rooms. The orchestra was heartbreaking, restrained
by the simplicity of the songwriting and yet inherently hyperbolic. The
violins took up the moments where, normally, on her albums, you’d hear
Jepsen ad-libbing with interjections. Instead of a “Hey!” their bows
would strike, like an epiphany, a burst of sweetness outside the realm
of words.


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