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The Canadian popstar on true love, bad outfits and her new album, Dedicated

When Carly Rae Jepsen wrote Call Me Maybe, Billboards greatest chorus of the 21st century, she was aiming for a sense of childish excitement. Its how she writes much of her pop as she puts it today, I want to feel Im on the top of a mountain with Beyonc-wind in my hair and I can fly for a second.

Jepsen is one of pops more intriguing characters. When Call Me Maybe entered the Hot 100 in her home country, Canada, seven years ago she thought shed made it. Then Justin Bieber heard the impossibly catchy track, filmed himself and Selena Gomez lip-syncing to it, tweeted the video, and it was viewed 76 million times. The song mutated into countless cover versions: even Colin Powell sang a creaky version on live TV. In the video for Jepsens follow-up hit, I Really Like You, Tom Hanks lip-syncs to her words and they dance together, a preposterous and happy pairing like Beauty and the Beast. There followed a mashup version of that track, made from Nick Clegg speeches.

Jepsen quickly became one of the most-memed popstars in the history of social media. There was the tumblr campaign to give her a sword, and make her look like Joan of Arc (I like her and I think she should have one the poster deadpanned). There was a tweet about why she was better than Mozart (Carly: writes her own lyrics / Mozart: no words in songs). Less glossy and styled than other stars of the LA song machine, she is endearingly more Cyndi Lauper than Katy Perry.

We meet in Londons Kings Cross. Shes come from LA but I had jet lag on my side in a weirdly wonderful way she woke at 3am, and went for a run round east London as night was clearing. Her words tumble out but there is a science in what she says. On the new album, one bubbly, tropical love song rolls out after another. Ask her how to make a hit and shell say: Well, theres the build, the pres, the anticipation, the explosion, the pulses, the celebration but its not necessary to lock that formula in your head.

Alongside the enthusiastic technical talk she is marked out by a certain innocence. When I read back a memorable lyric from the new album about helping a man get to sleep (Like pressure points / my love can ease him in my hand) she actually blushes. The song is about Popeye, she says; she and her co-writers, all musical-theatre nerds, were discussing the hidden hooks in Robin Williams 1980 film version. They liked the idea of adapting Olives song He Needs Me. What if they funked it out, wrote a pre-chorus around the concept, and changed it into a sexy song about the great spinach eater?

My fashion is not to do with whats fashionable. Jepsen performs at Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, 2018. Photograph: Timothy Hiatt/WireImage

Her people told her that Disney would never license the track. So she drove to Disneyland with a fake contract for Mickey Mouse, got the mouse to sign it, then sent a photo to her record label who got onto Disney and pushed it through. It wasnt the first fake contract shed made that worked. At nine, she wrote one for her parents in Mission, British Columbia, promising to buy them a house by the sea when she grew up which she did, recently, with the proceeds of her big hit. Jepsen gets stuff done via slightly magical methods. She dealt with the inevitable pressure of trying to follow Call My Maybe by playing Cinderella on Broadway just to challenge herself.

Her third album, Emotion, didnt sell much but the critics liked it. Play your cards right, of course, and one big song will bring in sufficient money to finance the obscurest of albums. A hit gives you artistic freedom, she agrees.

Jepsen wrote her first song at nine a terrible protest song called Theyre Cutting Down the Big Trees. Her first love song, Dear You, came when she was 17. It began as a letter, but when she read it back to herself, she heard a cadence and a melody: We were younger than our age, very shy, she says. We were slow-movers. It was a big deal to hang out, share songs and have a kiss.

Even the way she talks about it now is romantic. She has a knack for capturing the beginnings of love like early Taylor Swift, she can sell a teenage feeling to a nine-year-old child, or to a jaded adult. But theres a science to love, too. The butterflies stage doesnt stop happening as you get older, she says. In fact, it intensifies as you realise how present you should be, because its not going to last. You are more awake for it. Which makes it bittersweet.

.Watch the video for Now That I Found You from the album Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Her parents, both teachers, divorced when she was a child, and moved in with new partners. I found an early fascination with the houses I grew up in, such different homes, my dads and my mums, and witnessing those couples, she says. Ive always been hyper-aware of the feelings in those households: four unique people, all strong in their own identities.

Love and music became intertwined. When Id listen to songs, Id end up feeling for the artists to such an extent that it would bring me to tears if I imagined too much about them, she says. Her parents, who remain friendly, still shared a love of James Taylor so shed listen to him. Her mother would sit her down with a little wine glass full of juice and ask her what she thought Leonard Cohens song Famous Blue Raincoat was about. We had all these conspiracies: Jane was definitely in love with this guy, not that guy. They still play the lyrics game when she goes home.

You get the sense that one of the biggest challenges she has faced is overriding a natural shyness, whether with her image or industry politics. She argued not to appear in close-up on the cover of her new album, Dedicated, which instead shows her back.

I dont love the way that in pop music, your body and face seem to be a big selling point, she says. I told them, Im 33, Ive had years of putting my face on stuff. I want it to be purposeful. Im not wanting to hide away but image can be everything for some artists, and I thought, God, I cant compete with that. I feel more confident in my age and my weirdness now, and the fact that my fashion doesnt really have anything to do with whats fashionable. Now, I might make a bad outfit choice, but at least its me making the decision.

The other day, someone was trying to style her like Marilyn Monroe, and she ended up looking like a cracked-out Annie so she objected. Her point being: Theres a way to still be kind and stand up for what is me.

I suggest that it is unusual to meet a popstar concerned about being kind. I think it would be miserable to be travelling with a crew of people who secretly hated you, she says. How lonely in an already lonely business. Jenna is my assistant, but that doesnt mean I will call her at four in the morning.

When Jepsen hit public consciousness in 2012, the main debate in pop music was the over-sexualisation of female singers. The power is in your hands [now], as a woman, in a different way than it ever was, she says. The days of guys telling women how they should look are gone. When I got into some of the LA offices the first time round, the dynamics felt off to me, but I didnt have the words to say it.

Thats what the younger generations are doing for us, she says: resetting the dynamics, standing up for themselves. Putting up with less shit.

Carly Rae Jepsen. Photograph: Steve Jennings/WireImage

Shes learned to avoid producers who are too LA-ish, especially the ones who treat songwriting collaboration like therapy sessions for the artist. I hate that shit, she says. I dont need you to write about my life! Ive got this! I was able to slowly but surely shake those people away from me. Doesnt mean I didnt meet a lot of them.

She still goes to Disney World: loves the rides, putting her head back and feeling her stomach drop. Her boyfriend, James Flannigan, a song-writer and average multi-instrumentalist (according to his Instagram) whos worked with Dua Lipa and Kodaline, co-wrote a track on Dedicated called Real Love. Does she believe in it? This idea that two people commit to each other for life, my mum and stepfather are a good example. I havent had more than two-and-a-half years, so I wouldnt be expert enough to say. But there isnt one checked box for a correct life. Im dedicated but maybe I still have some questions.

Dedicated is out on 17 May (Interscope Records). Kate Mossman is features editor of the New Statesman

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/may/12/carly-rae-jepsen-dedicated-interview-more-confident-in-my-weirdness-now-olive-oyl