The Sword, the Songs, the Savior: Insights on the Fandom of Carly Rae Jepsen

Around her, the steep falls and pits of a weathered kingdom. Nothing remains here — nothing but the shining majesty of a young woman clad in a white dress, accented by black spots, hair blonde as the driven snow of her Canadian homeland. She’s not royalty — not here, anyway, where the ghosts of history echo louder than any of its current inhabitants.

She doesn’t look like them, but she’s here, and right now, that’s all that matters. As she steps further into the grand hall of the kingdom, the heels of her boots bounce rhythmically against the old bricks of the past brigade.

Click, click click, click, click, click click, click.

Reaching the head of the hall, she finds what she ventured for within arms reach. Such a long journey, begun with fanfare that has since calmed, only the occasional enthusiastic villager greeting her with such joy these days. It doesn’t matter.

Situated at the very center of the room, an honored location for thrones in a day of the past, lays simply a sword — still glistening and pristine, as though it was placed here just for her.

She is not one to let it lie. Instead, her fingers curl around the hilt — two hands, she knows how easy it is to drop things this important — and lifts.

This woman is Carly Rae Jepsen. The kingdom is that of Pop. And the sword? It’s Pop Music’s Resurrection.

Well, at least to some.

In terms of swords, Carly Rae has that covered pretty well — by this point, she’s been given at least five at concerts since the meme first popped up over a year ago, because fans just think she’s neat and she deserves to be continuously armed. But why did this specific meme — and this specific performer — strike such a chord that this obscure joke became a rallying cry for thousands of her fans? Well, it has everything to do with who her fans are, and why they listen to her music in the first place.

As someone who has taken up testimonializing Ms. Carly Rae’s music to many people — most who are indifferent to her jams — I think I can speak fairly well on why her music reaches such a specific audience. While there are a good number of those in the mainstream pop scene who flock to her because her music embodies everything good pop should be, there’s also a notable contingent of people who one wouldn’t normally associate with the Canadian-born artist. A large and vocal section of her fan base falls into the LGBTQ spectrum, alongside others who would typically not be seen within the scope of traditional pop fandom. There has been no shortage of other writers speaking about her, and what drives people to stream her hits on repeat, but there really isn’t one sole reason why specific people are drawn to her.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she belongs to a group that society at large would — and has — mostly written off. Her music isn’t deep and brooding, prompting critics to analyze and poke and prod at every lyric. Instead, it tends to either be about love or heartbreak, which are honestly just two sides of the same coin. While it’s not like these are rare topics for songs, the fact that so many of her jams are focused on them leads many to immediately characterize her as someone not to be taken seriously as an artist. This isn’t helped by the fact that she’s as pop as a pop music artist can get — it’s really the only way to describe her genre, and half of her songs on her hit 2015 album E*MO*TION honestly sound ripped from the pop charts of the 80’s. Not that this is a bad thing — but it does prompt many to just throw her into a category of simple, unserious artists that aren’t worth listening to.

By far the biggest reason folks tend to write her off is because they have exposure to exactly one of her songs — and that one song was a hit beyond what even she could have expected. Played ad nauseam throughout the summer of 2012, it’s main topics again drawing from the well of attraction and feelings and sounding generally like teen pop. Because this is pretty much the only time most people have ever listened to her, it’s easy for them to throw her under the bus of being a one hit teen pop wonder — despite the fact that she was 26 when she wrote that song.

All of this has contributed to CRJ being cast into a weird pop purgatory, where she’s notable but not well known, and still making fantastic pop music that is fanatically followed by fans that are often set into stereotypical margins, the same way she has been. While none of her songs are explicitly LGBTQ (though “Boy Problems” certainly has some… less than straight undertones), Carly Rae has enthusiastically welcomed and celebrated these groups of her fans. She’s performed at Pride, has appeared in Pride-based magazine spreads, and even enthusiastically, if a bit bewilderedly, accepted a sword at her fans behest, a meme began by a tumblr user named SwordLesbianOpinions.

It’s this combination of welcoming and the basic, universal nature of her songs that attracts people, but it’s the authenticity and optimism she presents with every lyric that keeps them with her. When she’s singing about love, she’s singing about how strong her feelings areeven to a fault. When she’s singing about a break-up, she’s not making concessions for it ending — and she’s not making excuses for herself. It’s not like she’s impervious to human emotions, either: she’ll admit she gets jealous of others, that getting serious with someone is something that results in a loss of control that is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

But through it all, through all the love she’s had and lost, the breakups that have been both clean and messy, through the gray feelings in-between, her fans can always count on her bouncing back. No matter what note she leaves on, you always know she’ll return, singing songs about how deeply she loves someone new, reflecting on her feelings, always with the same upbeat pop tones that are her trademark. She can be down, but she is never defeated. It’s that inevitable enthusiasm that proves as an ideal for so many of her fans.

Especially being LGBTQ, love is almost never this simple. There’s an added layer of complexity to it, whether it’s hinging on the acceptance of oneself, or the doubt that someone else will accept you as you truly are, it’s hard to see love as cut and clean. But maybe one day it will be — maybe one day you’ll accept yourself fully and be so confident in yourself that you can approach those people you’re attracted to, and if it doesn’t work out, rebound and keep throwing your whole heart into your life. For many, it’s a far off dream — but while listening to CRJ, it doesn’t feel that distant. You can just listen to the lyrics and let yourself feel what you feel, without worrying about what anyone else thinks, no matter how childish your affections seem to those outside. The fact that CRJ is as welcoming as she is, and the way that society views her as on the outside of the traditional pop circle, only helps everyone feel at home with her music.

Maybe she’s not the King Arthur character, pulling the sword from the stone to help save pop music. But to many of her fans, she’s the embodiment of an ideal kind of optimism, a way to pursue whole-hearted happiness, to exist in a moment and just embrace it, rather than dwell on any one feeling for too long. Maybe that’s worth more than any kind of crusade to become more mainstream could ever be, anyway.

But still — she does deserve a sword for her efforts (“Doesn’t everyone?”), and her fans are more than willing to give them to her. It’s the least they can do.

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