Why is Carly Rae Jepsen opening for Hedley?

2015's E-MO-TION was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of last year. Is this yet another misstep in the roll-out and promotion of the near-perfect album?

HEDLEY, CARLY RAE JEPSEN and FRANCESCO YATES at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Friday (April 29), 7 pm. $39.50-$79.50. ticketmaster.ca. See listing.

Canadian fans of Carly Rae Jepsen are finally getting the chance to hear one of 2015’s most critically acclaimed pop albums, E-MO-TION, live this spring. But some aren’t so happy with the format: rather than headlining the tour, as she did all over the U.S. and Japan, she’s opening – yes, that’s right, opening – for Hedley.

The partnership isn’t that bizarre – both share British Columbian roots and Canadian Idol success early on – but from a critical standpoint, the lineup should be reversed. Alt-pop band Hedley, led by Jacob Hoggard and his soaring vocals, have recorded their share of catchy, MuchMusic-friendly hits. But they have just 583,000 Twitter followers in comparison to Jepsen’s 11 million they’ve earned 41,700 fans on Instagram, while 1.6 million have been salivating over Jepsen’s photos from the sold-out Gimme Love tour all over America and Japan since September. The woman literally cannot share anything on social media without at least 30 people responding with one word: “Queen!”

So what gives?

“I got a call from Darren Gilmore, the manager of a lot of artists I love and who manages Hedley, and he’s been a friend of mine for a while,” Jepsen says cheerfully and diplomatically on the phone from Halifax, the third of nearly 30 Canadian cities they’re playing, also with Francesco Yates. 

“He just sort of said, ‘We’re doing six-and-a-half weeks in Canada. We’re doing stadiums. We’d love for you to jump on board and be a part of it.’ I knew the Hedley boys from way back, just from different like, I don’t know, the Junos or certain events in Canada. We’d see each other and check in on one another. So it felt like an instant yes to me.”

Fair enough. But agreeing to the opening slot feels similar to some of the other compromises Jepsen has made in the roll-out and promotion of the 80s-inspired pop record, which combines three years of relentless songwriting and producing with masterful talent like Sia, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij.

A recent Stereogum feature outlines these missteps: for one, E-MO-TION was released in Japan two months before it was in North America, giving pirates plenty of time to download it without spending a dime, resulting in disappointing sales (just 2,600 units were sold in Canada, compared to Hedley’s last album, which sold 14,500 copies in its first week). And Jepsen wanted Run Away With Me, the alluring, freedom-celebrating anthem, to be the lead single. Instead, the almost-too-cute I Really Like You – which tried a little too hard to mimic the successful, cross-promotional strategy of Call Me Maybe and whose video starred Tom Hanks, with a Justin Bieber cameo – was selected over the more mature-sounding dance tracks that rival Taylor Swift in catchiness.

But I dare you to try to find a bad song on E-MO-TION. Instead, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose just one favourite track.

“I do have the freedom artistically,” Jepsen says. “That’s one of the places I don’t worry about struggling for compromise. I do feel like I have free rein and power over the songs and the videos and all that kind of stuff, which is probably the most important part to me. The roll-out plans are different,” she giggles.

And there’s a lot of evidence that Jepsen should keep trusting – and fighting – for her gut instinct. The three singles and videos that followed – Run Away With Me, Your Type and Boy Problems – demonstrate the attitude, grit and creativity that’s closer to her new sound.

Toronto’s own Petra Collins, an internationally renowned photographer, recent runway model for Gucci and occasional actor in the TV show Transparent, contacted Jepsen to see if she would let her make a video for Boy Problems. The result: a glittering, feminist celebration of friendship, with a girlie “bros before hos” sentiment minus the crudeness. It’s “more Heathers than Clueless,” Jepsen says. It’s pop music that adults fall deeply in love with, and hopefully teenagers are listening to.

“I’ve had people from my team come back and say, ‘We’re going to listen to you next time when you say what single you wanna do next,’” Jepsen says. “At the same time, it doesn’t mean I sit back kind of angry or regretful. I really don’t know if anything would have played out as awesomely had we done it differently. And I’m not saying that just to cover asses because I’m worried about them reading this – I’m saying that truly from the heart.”

When it comes to this tour, Jepsen says her opening set is a condensed version of the Gimmie Love tour, with a focus on her favourite songs.

Fans wishing they were seeing her headline the Danforth Music Hall can get more of the artist by buying a VIP pre-show pass (if you already have a ticket for the concert) for $75, which gets you a photo with the artist and an autographed lanyard and poster. Others are taking a more DIY approach: on the 28th, Handlebar’s hosting E-MO-TION: a Carly Rae Jepsen Celebration. And last time I checked, 265 people on Facebook had already RSVPed to Boy Problems: A Carly Rae Jepsen Dance Party at the Steady in May. On the event page, organizers say it’s “for everyone who has had it (officially) with Canadian national treasure and literal angel of pop music Carly Rae Jepsen not getting the recognition she deserves (or even a headlining tour).”

“I mean, this is Hedley’s tour for sure, but we’re going to bring our piece to it as well,” Jepsen says. “We’ve been working for years to make this album come together, and it does feel like a bit of a celebration for us to finally get to share the songs not just in the U.S. but back in my home country. There are good vibes all around. The Hedley show is fantastic, too, and Francesco is really fun to watch, so all in all there’s something for everybody.”

Okay, then. See you at the ACC.

Update 4/20/2016: There is now a Groupon for the Toronto show. Damn.

kater@nowtoronto.com | @katernow


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