July 16, 2016


Our Hero Carly Rae Jepsen Saves the World at Pitchfork Fest

Andrew Toth/FilmMagic
Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

Watching Carly Rae Jepsen perform her song “Gimmie Love” on Friday night at Pitchfork Music Festival, I couldn’t help but think about what a shitty 24 hours it had been.

Not for me, personally; I’m in Chicago, which is lovely in the summertime, and I was lucky enough to enjoy a nice walk and some quality deep-dish pizza that afternoon. But on Friday at 7:00 pm CT, it felt as if the past day had consisted of nothing but awful news. The Nice attacks killed dozens and damaged a nation already in a state of emergency. Donald Trump picked another incoherent old white guy to help him lead one of the two major political parties in our country. And just as Jepsen was about to take the stage, news broke of a military coup in Turkey that would (and did) inevitably lead to more casualties. 

All of this after Orlando, and Dallas, and Istanbul, and Alton, and Philando, and Brexit; this sadness that had been injected into the past month-plus had come back with a vengeance in a single 24-hour period. When Jepsen opened her show with “Run Away With Me,” I wanted to be recruited and run away from this madness, unconcerned with where exactly she was running.

And then, for 50 minutes: Euphoria. Relief. Big hooks about warm sensations. 

You could feel the thousands gathered at Union Park exhale in the presence of this pop queen masquerading within an indie-rock festival, as if an hour of E•Mo•Tion was easing the high emotions of each breaking-news push notification. I didn’t see a single person in the packed Carly Rae crowd glance at their phone during her performance, unless it was to add an all-caps Snapchat caption; there was a collective agreement to unplug and enjoy. And enjoy they did, because it was almost unfair to the other bands performing this weekend just how happy Jepsen’s audience was.

There were far-reaching sing-alongs to album cuts like “Warm Blood,” “Making the Most of the Night” and “Let’s Get Lost.” There were make-out sessions between same-sex and different-sex couples. There was a muscly dude lifting another muscly dude on his shoulders during “Boy Problems,” and the tiny women behind the male totem pole too busy dancing to care about their view being obstructed. There were tiaras, and flower crowns, and capes, and glitter-strewn shirts. There were hipsters with scraggly beards who were thrilled to shout along to “Call Me Maybe.”

Speaking of “Call Me Maybe,” the No. 1 hit (the first-ever No. 1 to be performed at Pitchfork Fest, unless Swans had some radio smash that I’m not aware of) inspired a full-on mosh pit, full of guys and girls who were dance-shoving more than thrashing, grinning as they bumped into each other and in time with those syncopated strings. Think about it for a second: a “Call Me Maybe” mosh pit. No guitar pile-up on Friday—not from Broken Social Scene, or Car Seat Headrest, or Twin Peaks—caused anything that pure, or purely cathartic. And it’s very possible that Jepsen was having too much of a blast while singing the song to notice.

That was the lynchpin to this whole act of joy: In the middle of the full band and backing singers and neon lights and hearts-drenched graphics was a pop star who had reclaimed her career narrative and knew how to put on a dizzying display of affection. Jepsen is no longer worried about mining another radio hit to follow “Call Me Maybe.” She has an arsenal of immaculate pop music and a ton of spunk, and all she wanted to do was show off both. 

For as talented as she is as a vocalist, Jepsen’s true gift as a live performer is making each of her onlookers feel like they’re special members of her posse, and you root for her because she is so clearly rooting for you. Jepsen swooped in on Friday night, scooped up the whole festival and took it to someplace safe and romantic.

So, yes, while the title of this post is a bit facetious, it really did feel like life-affirming pop was lifting the spirits of a crowd that couldn’t help but feel a little weary at that point. The 24 hours before Carly Rae Jepsen started performing were shitty, and the 24 hours after Carly Rae Jepsen finished performing probably will be, too. But for a few minutes, you could sing “Gimmie Love,” and actually receive it from everything around you.