These days, if you’re trying to get ahold of Carly Rae Jepsen, she’s probably busy working. When she gives EW a progress report on the follow-up to 2015’s critically beloved E·MO·TION, she’s calling from a quiet corner of a studio in Stockholm, Sweden, taking a quick break from writing and recording. She was also en route to the studio when she got a call asking if she wanted to remake Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s 1988 hit “It Takes Two” with rapper Lil Yachty and hip-hop producer Mike Will Made-It for a Target-sponsored video directed by Roman Coppola and choreographed by La La Land’s Mandy Moore.
If you think that sounds like a strange combination of talent, you’re not alone. “I was like, ‘This is too weird to say no to!’” Jepsen says of the video, which will air as a three-minute commercial spot during the Grammys telecast. (Not unlike Gwen Stefani’s live music video with Target last year.) “I love when life surprises you like that. This is definitely one of those moments.” Below, Jepsen talks about the origins of the Target collaboration—a clip of which is premiering exclusively on EW below—her “rap” debut, and why she’s channeling Donna Summer on her upcoming LP. Check out Jepsen and Lil Yachty’s full version of “It Takes Two” when it comes out Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You, Lil Yachty, and Mike Will Made-It — that’s an unlikely combination.
Carly Rae Jepsen: I think that’s what we loved about it! It was reaching from different worlds and coming together to make something that hopefully nobody would expect. It was a total blast. Yachty is a lot of fun, and Mike is incredibly talented, so the combo was unlike anything I’d done before.
Yachty seems like such a character from his music videos. What’s he like in real life?
I hadn’t met him until this project, and I was really excited to. I’d seen a couple of his videos and thought, “This is so wild and really fun and playful.” It was a really attractive quality for me. He was really shy at first, but as soon as we started cooking it was just all giggles the entire shoot. During a lot of the takes, I was just trying not to burst into laughter because of his some impromptu dance moves. He came to life when the whole production started. The director, Roman Coppola, would say “Yes! That’s the magic spot!” whenever he’d light up.
One of my favorite moments was filming the teasers with Yachty. We were just in a shopping cart going back and forth, and Roman was there shouting out directions to us. For some reason, we did about 20 takes of it. We were just in fits of giggles because Yachty was in his element. He could honestly be a comedian on top of everything.
How was it flexing your hip-hop muscles?
[Laughs] You get some strange pitches in your lifetime, and this was definitely one of them. I got a late-night phone call from my A&R person, who was like, “We’re missing one verse, and they’re wondering if you wouldn’t mind writing a rap and coming in and recording it tonight?” I was like, “Uh, you guys realize I don’t rap, right? That sounds crazy.” It was one of the most intimidating moments of my career being in the room with Mike Will and Yachty and sixteen other friends of theirs just partying. They’re like, “Alright, go perform your first-ever rap in front of actual professional rappers!” There’s nothing more terrifying than that. But they were really helpful.
Can we call this your official rap debut?
I’m not calling it a rap! In no way am I claiming this is a rap. I was going for more of a rhythmic girlie moment in the number. It was just a funny little verse that fit the song.
Were you a big fan of the original “It Takes Two” when you were younger?
I think we’ve all heard it at a house party or two growing up. I don’t think anyone’s ever listened to the entirety of that song though? It’s really famous for its intro and then it goes on forever. For five minutes! That’s a long tune. I think the DJ always turned it over at some point. But we chopped it down. And kudos to Roman—he’s worked on of one of my favorite shows, Mozart in the Jungle, so I was really stoked. And then we got the choreographer from La La Land, Mandy Moore, and she’s fantastic. So we filled up those minutes and made it really entertaining. All the dancers and everyone involved were hustling. It was a four-day shoot, a big, big production.
Did it feel like a throwback to your Grease: Live days?
That’s a really good comparison. It wasn’t live, but it felt really live because there were so many moving parts and the shots were so long. You really felt the pressure of, “Okay, I don’t want to be the one to mess this up.” We’d do a shot, and then it’d be like, “Oh, that person moved their elbow at the wrong spot!” And we’d want to go back and get it just right. But we were all perfectionists and really cared about the project, so even if it meant staying late, we were all excited. That energy is really contagious, and I definitely felt that on Grease too.
What was it like working with Mandy? How are your dance moves?
Oh, Mandy takes you under her wing right away. I don’t dance. I was telling her, “My live shows are more about the music. Sometimes I’ll jump, or, if I really get into it, I’ll forget myself and move a little bit.” But dancing isn’t my thing, and that was one of the challenges with Grease: Live. That’s one of the first things I told her. Most of the dancing happens around Yachty and me, but as soon as you get on set you find yourself moving despite yourself because it is a really joyful experience. You’re not going to see me doing anything too, too crazy.
On top of this, you’ve been working on your new album. How is it coming along? How far along are you?
It’s always hard to pinpoint that. When you think you’re lost in the dark with it, you could actually be making the most movement with it. I’m actually in Sweden in Stockholm in the studio. I’m just really enjoying being in the thick of it. I’d say there’s a lot of work left to do, but I’m definitely finding some new sounds for me, which is always the goal: to challenge what you did last time, to break some rules, and to discover new places where you want to go musically.
I categorize myself as a bit of an over-writer. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely has become part of my process. I can’t quite seem to just write eight or nine songs and call it a record. I think on this record alone I’m up to at least 42 songs. I’m like, “Okay, narrowing it down!” but I’m still continuing [to write and record]. I know that by the time I’m finished I’ll have a whole little catalog—the secret ones that nobody hears, and the ones that I feel are really special and put out there.
You’ve said before that you were channeling the ’70s with this record, citing ABBA and the Bee Gees as influences. Are you still exploring those sounds?
I would say more Donna Summer than the Bee Gees. That would be the disco inspiration that’s leading the pack at the moment. That said, some of the songs that have surprised me have not been in the disco realm as much. I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but that’s exciting too. There’s so much music out there right now and so much quality stuff, so I’m trying to find out what I have to offer that’s different.
A new song of yours, “Cut to the Feeling,” was featured in the movie Ballerina, which came out in Europe in 2016 and is getting a U.S. release later this year with a new title, Leap!. Is that song indicative of your new sound, or is that leftover from E·MO·TION?
That was definitely from the era of E·MO·TION. That was actually a contender for the b-sides [E·MO·TION: Side B] and, originally, the first album. It was almost too cinematic and theatrical. I was like, “If I had my way with it, this would be great for a musical or movie!” So when Ballerina came along, I met with people as I was doing the voiceover for [the character Odette] and they were showing me a couple scenes. There was one in particular where they were like, “We’re looking for the right song for this, do you have anything?” and I was like, “Actually, this has been in my back pocket. I’ve been saving it for the b-sides, but if this works for you guys, I’d be stoked to share it.”
While you’re in Sweden, are you working with the same Swedish hitmakers you worked with on E·MO·TION, like Mattman & Robin and Rami Yacoub? Or all new people?
A bit of both. The people that you just mentioned, Mattman & Robin and Rami, we actually have already done some sessions together on the new album. But it’s also been fun to explore some new directions. I was really into the Robyn material, and that’s what led me to [“Dancing on My Own” producer] Patrik Berger, who is one of the main writers I’m working with here along with Pontus Winnberg [of Bloodshy & Avant and Miike Snow]. We’ve gotten on this really good flow right now. We’re all reaching for the same thing, and when that happens you’ve got to stay in that pool until you figure out where you’re going. I’m here for 13 days, wrapping up. This is my fourth trip to Sweden so far for this album alone. I’m really excited to show you what we’ve been working on.