How Carly Rae Jepsen's ballerina movie gave us summer's best pop anthem
Let's set playlists on fire
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The radio stations may tell a different story, but ask the pop lovers to pinpoint 2017’s true Song of the Summer, and the xylophonic opening of “Cut to the Feeling” is sure to echo quickly thereafter.
Carly Rae Jepsen struck sonic gold again, five years after the runaway success of “Call Me Maybe,” with “Cut to the Feeling,” this sweaty season’s most underrated jam — and the climactic song that tops off Jepsen’s first-ever animated film, Leap!, now in theaters. It’s a charming little French-based film about ballet, destined to be the favorite DVD pick of a zillion little ballerinas over the next year, but because of Jepsen’s pump-up pop hit, the movie seems to have achieved an even fuller extension than it might have without it. How on pointe.
Jepsen, who was just announced as the opener for Katy Perry’s upcoming tour, is due out with another album expected sometime in 2018, but the singer carved out time to chat with EW about her surprising summer smash.
EW: The character you voice in Leap!, Odette, is a fallen ballerina-turned-teacher. How did you even begin to channel that?
CARLY RAE JEPSEN: In the beginning, we tried to make her as stern and closed off as possible. But then there were a couple of lines where I felt especially bad being so mean to this little girl, so we toned it back a little. I think it’s kind of lovely how she gets inspired by this young girl and remembers her own love for why she got into it in the first place. I feel my own younger self in this. It’s got that Anne of Green Gables, Annie vibe — a young orphan who has a big dream and a big heart and is willing to do anything to get there. You need to have that passion if you’re going to try on an extreme dream, and I think young kids should be dreaming that way all the time.
What is Odette queen of? Queen of cleaning? Queen of getting injured in a fire?
Queen of teaching ballet!
What did you find different about the experience of recording dialogue versus recording music?
There was definitely a different concentration to this. In this particular circumstance, I was one of the last to record vocals, so all of the characters’ lips were already moving and I had to find a way to emote at the pace of her lips and still have it come out natural. When I’m in the booth just singing my own songs, I’m this spastic dancer who isn’t thinking about how I look or what’s going on. I’m just feeling the music and being ridiculous. This took a lot more honed-in concentration.
How is your ballet?
It’s… poor. Yeah, it’s poor. I don’t pretend to be coordinated at all. I think I took some classes when I was a young girl. I remember doing a Snow White number and there were like 25 Snow Whites because no one wanted to be a dwarf.
“Cut to the Feeling” is the film’s big finish. Did you write it with that intent of a vibe? What’s the chicken and egg of it all?
This was just a beautiful surprise blessing. At the end of doing the voiceover, the producers were like, ‘Hey, we’d like to get your advice on the music and vibe we’re going for. If you have a song, we’d love to hear some stuff.’ And on the way to making [my 2015 album] E•MO•TION, I had written so many songs, so I had a lot left over. This one, in particular, I had in mind once I heard what they were looking for. I’ve always really felt this song could legitimately use a home that was more theatrical, and what better place than an animated musical?
The song really seemed to pop when people first noticed it in a leaked trailer for the movie. Did you see any of that?
This was one of those songs that I was really happy was getting a new life somewhere, but I never knew what the plan was for it to release or how it was going to come out. I was actually on holiday in Italy when I started getting late-night emails about it.
What has surprised you most about the song’s reception?
That it got one? I was really stoked about it. The first time I performed it in Chicago, having everyone sing it back to us, was a feeling that I hope never leaves; how music can spread beyond your knowledge. It’s just a little magic trick. I just want to thank every person individually, like, ‘Thanks for listening. It’s so cool of you.’
You wrote hundreds of songs for E•MO•TION and already have dozens for your new album, expected in 2018. How do you keep getting into these situations?
It’s never my intent! With this particular album, I wanted to do the opposite. Instead of writing, writing, writing, very diligently, I wanted to spend time on each song until it felt right and not overdo it. [Laughs.] However… apparently that’s just not the way I work. I’m 50 songs in now. I think what I love about writing music is that every day you show up and don’t know what’s going to happen, and the joy of that is so exciting. “Isn’t it cool how this didn’t exist before today?” You can’t hold it or anything, but it’s a feeling, and that’s such a lovely thing to be able to create with people. Some of the songs that I’m writing aren’t necessarily even with the intention of release at all. Some of them are just therapeutic for me.
In terms of your new album, does it affect the tone because you’re writing during summer?
I think, yeah. You’re definitely affected by where you are, your surroundings, the people that are close to you at the time. I think even some conversations that you have with friends or girlfriends. If I spend a night with my ladies and we get into talking about men and love, I need to go to the studio the next day because I just want to vibe off of that. The piano is an instrument that I’m just dipping into learning, but I’m really enjoying it. I’m finding it my nighttime hobby of calming my head down and learning a little classical beginner piece before going to bed.
Did playing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra earlier this year influence you at all?
That experience stands alone as one of the coolest collaborations I’ve ever been involved with. Not even just on stage, but in the room. It was amazing to combine the sort of poshness of an orchestra evening with, like, wild dancing and singing and a real club party. I don’t know if I could really say that I’m going to make an orchestral piece for my next album, but there’s always room for a string section.