By MIKE SOSNICK
Nearly every student knew that Carly Rae Jepsen would be playing at Barton Hall on Sunday, but there weren’t many that seemed to be going. There wasn’t a steady stream of them trudging up from Collegetown, and people that I talked to treated the fact that I was going more as a gag than a given. The queue for laughably ineffective pat-downs at the entrance was nonexistent and the slim number of people already in Barton at 7:30 didn’t grow much ahead of the headliner’s set.
The few stragglers didn’t miss much, though. The night’s opener was the wholly replaceable St. Lucia, a band you probably know for that indie-pop song you can sing half the lyrics to but can’t remember who it’s by … yeah, that one. Walking into the middle of their set was like walking into a neon-lit Urban Outfitters soundtrack. Top buttons of patterned button downs were buttoned, hands were clapped, tambourines were slapped and a massive fan kept lead singer Jean-Philip Grober’s undercut flowing. With only two or three musicians of the five-person band playing their instruments at any given moment, the thin crowd responded dutifully to Grober’s inquiry of, “Are you ready to jump tonight?” What St. Lucia’s set lacked in originality, it made up for in the most synth-pop way possible — it was remarkably easy to describe with purposefully bland words like “fun” by people who probably use “Brooklyn” as an adjective.
As Carly Rae Jepsen (praised be her name) took the stage to 101 Dalmatians soundbytes, the crowd didn’t seem much thicker. While I can’t imagine that’s what CCC wanted out of a concert that nearly every student knew was happening, a sparsely packed Barton Hall was exactly what I needed to flail my limbs with reckless abandon in a vague approximation of dancing. The extra space proved immediately necessary as the Cruella de Vil-costumed Canadian — she was compensating for missing Halloween on the plane — launched into the disco pulse of “Run Away With Me” with the help of a band clad in dog ears and spots. Jepsen crooned for a crowd which, although small in number, was massive in its singalong fervor.
I don’t think I was alone in forgetting that “Good Time” is (partly) a Carly Rae Jepsen track; to me, it had always been Owl City’s “song that isn’t ‘Fireflies.’” But “Good Time” was still enough of a summer banger to keep the crowd screaming, even if the bassist’s attempt at the male vocals fell a bit flat. The song ended up being quite representative of the concert itself, with its refrain of “We don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time” proving to be a fine motto for the evening. Jepsen can belt out the most formulaic, dead-simple pop hits and it’s still a blast — “Good Time” was no exception.
Cruella had already shed her faux fur vest when she proclaimed, in the middle of “Tiny Little Bows,” that she “didn’t mean to turn [the concert] into a strip show” as she planned to take off her heels. Conveniently, the confetti cannons shot off to announce this decidedly un-sexy move that would end up requiring a roadie’s help. This refreshingly wholesome move from the 30-year old came in sharp contrast to anyone who was at the same venue two years earlier for Ke$ha’s show (or most major pop concerts, for that matter) where sex appeal was high on the list of priorities. Therein lies much of Jepsen’s appeal — she’s no more threatening than a childhood smile or a jar of jellybeans. She may be short on substance, but her saccharine disposition leaves little to dislike.
Taking off her heels didn’t do much to alleviate Jepsen’s stiff stage presence, but her coy discomfort seemed to be another welcome product of her manufactured innocence. She’d run her hands through her hair every so often in an attempt at passion, but it was impossible to take it seriously with Cruella-inspired grey streaks. Carly Rae defiantly declared she was over dwelling on boys in a bout of mass-produced pseudo-feminism, and stopped herself before uttering what, to her, were “bad words”: “bitching about boys.” How edgy! Her weakly uninspired attempts at subversion only highlighted how cloying she really is, but that’s where her allure squarely lies. Would you be dancing your tushie off to “Boy Problems” if she actually reflected thoughtfully on her relationship issues? Didn’t think so.
Following a few deeper cuts (in relative terms, obviously) that could be loosely deemed the show’s “e•mo•tional” section, she capped off the night with the two tracks everyone was expecting her to end on: “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You.” However much Jepsen may hate those songs by now, it didn’t show on Sunday night. She rattled through them with all the passion that this dedicated fan was hoping for. To say that those seven-ish minutes were a life highlight is probably an exaggeration, but the fact that such an acutely unchallenging pop set could enter that conversation speaks volumes about Carly Rae’s strange, infectious appeal. After the set concluded with a guitar solo from my favorite dalmatian, Tavish, I rode a powerful wave of cheerfully stupefied confusion, unadulterated bliss and inconveniently pooled sweat out of Barton’s alternate universe and back into the real world.