People throw around the term “guilty pleasure” too often these days. It’s OK to admit enjoying any type of music, whether it’s cool or not in your group of friends. My girlfriend and I have a soft spot in our hearts for pop music from our childhood upbringings in the ‘90s and the realization that Taylor Swift songs are actually great. We’ve seen Katy Perry play an arena, but when we saw the announcement that Carly Rae Jepsen was coming to Detroit and at St. Andrew’s Hall (where I went to most of my favorite punk shows growing up) we had to go.

If you’re not familiar with Jepsen’s music, you may at least know her massive hit song, “Call Me Maybe.” She was all over the radio and even the reality show wasteland that is MTV played her music videos. I imagined she would play arenas or amphitheaters with some other pop artists, but when I saw this smaller venue tour I figured it was just a promotional venture to show the artist’s alternative and relatable side, then blindside everyone with a massive tour a few months later. Well, I was wrong. Although she has had several hit songs, the momentum didn’t stick with her like her Disney-bred teen sensation peers and that’s actually not a bad thing. She was touring on her new album Emotion and I was about to get a taste of my first intimate pop experience.

My girlfriend, my tough-guy hardcore friend and I decided to brave the swarms of children and just have a good, goofy time and embrace the music we enjoy for a night. Well, when we got there the swarms of kids we imagined were replaced with hundreds of twenty-somethings, most of them gay couples. I think all of us looked at each other with the realization of her new demographic. It wasn’t just for the kids anymore and that was pretty cool.

Before CRJ started, we made sure to snag a spot right behind the soundboard to get the best view, optimum sound and, most importantly, not have the crowd bump into us for the whole performance. We glanced at the setlist and the two songs I was most familiar with were at the very end, leaving at least forty minutes of music I could potentially hate. I shrugged my shoulders, mentally prepared myself, braced my bad knees and the show started.

What blew me away right off the bat was her unreal backing band. How often do you see a pop performer with a band within arms reach? Or most importantly, how often do you see a pop performance without the majority of it being a backing track? I’d safely say about 95% of the music coming from the stage was from the performers, including the drummer, who had an acoustic/electronic hybrid setup so he could play samples while doing beats and sing into his headset microphone. The bass was roaring, the guitars added some soul and the synths/keyboard filled in all of the spaces, fulfilling the ’80s new wave pop vibe that is huge right now. The light show was amazing and perfectly fit the mood for each song, which may be the one thing that made it feel like the familiar pop experience.

For being a supposed one hit wonder, all of the songs captivated me. My new favorite is her song, “E•MO•TION.” Most of the jams were Michael Jackson, dancey tracks with funky basslines or the synth driven mega pop that even made me move my hips, and if you’ve seen me at a show you’d think I hate everyone with my stoic facial expression. When she finally started the final two songs, “Call Me Maybe” and closer, “I Really Really Like You” the whole place was jumping around and singing along. It just screamed good times and for once there seemed to be no negativity in the room. My other band friends attending the show walked up to me after and we all had the same reaction: “Holy shit!”

After the set I caught up with my buddy Adam Siska, Carly Rae Jepsen’s bassist formerly of the band The Academy Is… He explained how crazy of a process it’s been going from his rock band to a hired gun musician in the pop world and going from a massive record to one that is smaller, but more of a rebirth than anything. It may not be filling arenas, but the new demographic screams longevity. People are taking it seriously and they’re having a blast. We got to meet Carly and she was very sweet, so rest assured they rule as people too. The band and team behind CRJ are welcoming the changes with a new mentality and I’m hoping it only leads to more great albums that make me move my awkward hips.

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