Carly Rae Jepsen has had an interesting career arc, from Canadian Idol to Call Me Maybe and its stratospheric ascent in the charts, to being modern pop’s most venerated and vindicated ‘80s revivalist. Not to say her stardom has waned; the Dedicated tour has raged on all year, with Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand being the latest stop in a 70+ date international odyssey. And what a stop it was, with Jepsen cracking out every ounce of charisma she had, in service of putting on the best show possible.
Openers have a hard gig, setting the tone to a less than desirable turnout, but Australian pop artist Starley managed to get the crowd jumping as much as she was. Granted, I felt the house-inspired beats were too much of a standard fare, and the guitar initially did not have much presence - as the first minute of Starley’s Fast Car cover became an accidental acapella. However, her original material was propped up with LGBT-friendly positivity, exuberant bouncing between every corner of the stage, and some healthy platonic grinding on the accompanying guitarist's solo.
It's a testament to her showmanship that Starley overcame these technical difficulties and successfully preached the universal truth that Love is Love. Hopefully next time around, she can hit the ground running.
And then Jepsen, the main star, starry-eyed and starry-dressed, struts straight into an emotional performance of No Drug Like Me to kick off proceedings. Her theatrical tendencies are immediately apparent, flashing a cheeky grin during the raunchy chorus of Want You In My Room, or a calculated cracking vocal inflection in the rising emotions of Cry.
Every hook is imbued with a quick-expression or movement, a subtle self-awareness that feels more fulfilling as an audience member, despite an overall lack of direct crowd interaction. Bathing in a purple haze, with light-up prop stairs pulsing like rainbows throughout the set, certainly provided the right mood lighting for the experience.
When a crowd can recite every word to every song, including the more obscure B-sides, that’s more than enough proof of (for lack of a better pun) dedication - and the pit of screaming Jepsenites below my balcony made the experience infinitely more enjoyable. They deserved it, given how impeccable the live band was in translating every drum flourish and guitar lick from reel to real. For all their musical tightness, they weren’t too uptight to ignore a bit of fun too, cracking out Sia-esque blonde wigs and synchronised break-up marching to the Store. Even the simple act of having a live saxophonist for Run Away With Me's iconic intro shows the level of care put into preserving the hits, and their confidence in playing them.
And Carly Rae Jepsen is all hits. Not many artists can make a 90-minute set feel like 45, especially with a brand of pop that runs the risk of tasting sickeningly sweet, but pulling from Emotion and Dedicated alike meant a shockingly consistent musical identity.
From the bubbly synths of Julien to the triumphant fist-pumping beat of I Really Like You, every track in the setlist bristled with that go-for-broke, "every song is a single" mentality, without being dragged into the vague platitudes that come with the territory of a hit. Combined with instant transitions, the breakneck pace of the show made for a non-stop, tour de force barrage of pure pop bliss.
I can't count the number of times I caught myself with a gigantic grin on my face, dancing in my seat to the smooth piano of Everything She Needs or the cathartic explosion of Real Love. Modern pop transcends guilty pleasures precisely because there isn't - and there shouldn't be - any guilt involved. Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t feel any guilt about it - even in the “confession times” about taking an ex’s bike in a break-up - and it’s that commitment to a wholesome sincerity that places her in the highest tiers of the pop pantheon.
Carly Rae Jepsen's Auckland setlist:
- No Drug Like Me
- Run Away With Me
- Happy Not Knowing
- Call Me Maybe
- Now That I’ve Found You
- Gimme Love
- Feels Right
- Want You In My Room
- Too Much
- When I Needed You
- I Really Like You
- Everything He Needs
- Boy Problems
- Party For One
- Real Love
- Let’s Get Lost
- Cut To The Feeling