Okay, okay—technically, it was 17 hours. We flew out of Newark and into Toronto's Billy Bishop, checking into a bleak Airbnb a mere ten minute walk from where we'd join the city's elite to watch Carly Rae Jepsen play with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I kept telling people it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity", like I was trying to convince them to open a Tim Horton's. I wasn't totally wrong, though: Canada was fronting the bill for this CRJ show, partially because the country's been celebrating all year in honor of its 150th birthday, hosting tall ship races and giving out free pictures of the queen in the process. But when I asked Actual Canadians what other Canada150 events they'd attended, they looked at me like I was nuts and asked if I had tried ketchup chips yet. (I did—they're good!)
While I consider Carly Rae Jepsen one of Canada's oft-celebrated national treasures—like Anne of Green Gables and Joshua Jackson—it turns out that she's seen in Canada the same way she's seen here: a sorely underrated icon for pop music-loving communities. So even though her face probably won't be appearing on Canadian currency anytime soon, I knew that it was important for me, a self-proclaimed Jepfriend, to take a psuedo-religious pilgrimage up north to see Carly in her native lands. I'd be surrounded by her people as her music finally gets its proper due, with soaring strings and booming brass, celebrated (if only for just one night!) as a motherfucking national treasure.
I also came seeking something that fans often look for: that rare, intimate experience with your favorite artist. I'm not talking about meeting Carly—although I'm sure she's very nice—but witnessing her hometown symphony playing her music to diehard fans and her friends and family. Carly's music is naturally full of exuberance; she's a "passionate supplicant, praying away human frailty," Jia Tolentino once wrote in the New Yorker. What would it feel like for her to perform at what I assume would be her own peak happiness?
"I'm so happy it's almost like I'm uncomfortable," Carly said at one point during the performance, following a rendition of "Your Type" with a string quartet made up of principal players from the TSO. The performance was a melancholic take, thanks to dramatic strings that she previously included for her performance at the Polaris Prize Gala—which served as inspiration for this particular show.
"It's the best and the worst," she adds, laughing, causing even the most self-serious cello player seated behind her to crack a soft smile. We're all in this together. I can't help but get high off the bursting pride from the audience around me. We're so proud of her! She loves this! She sounds so good! She looks so happy! We're a bunch of moms and dads at our kid's recital—and our kid just totally nailed her solo.
So much of current pop music is owed to its producers (why do you think EDM DJs have become marquee names?). We give thanks to the Max Martins before us while poring over which tracks on Katy Perry's Witness were written by Mike Will Made-It, DJ Mustard, and Jeff Bhasker. Carly's bops surely resemble pop staples (the pink-plonk of machine-made stimulant), but at this performance, these songs were broken down to their bones, adding emphasis not just on lyrics and melody, but on Carly's vocals—which took me by surprise, to be honest. Her voice never once faltered; if anything, it grew in strength, wavering between joy and longing as the night went on. (There are only two emotions on her last album, 2014's E•MO•TION: joy and longing.)
Thankfully, as to not throw us all into cardiac arrest, Carly disappeared for a costume change as the orchestra showed off by performing "one of Carly's favorites", Debussy's "Clair de Lune"—which was also in Ocean's 11 and Twilight, conductor Lucas Waldin reminds us. Later, a performance of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture" is smartly sandwiched between E•MO•TION tracks "Boy Problems" and "All That". He surely gets the themes of her work.
While the orchestra shows off their skills, Carly switches from long shimmering gown to long shimmering gown, propped up on high heels that gravely limited her movement. And the audience was limited by what we could do with our upper bodies and reaching arms; I've never not been sweaty and flailing when seeing her live, and clearly, neither had the the other Jepfriends around me—which was perhaps the most noticeable problem with Carly's big night at the TSO. After all, imagine having to hear your favorite pop song while sitting down. At one point in the middle of "Boy Problems," a clearly frustrated guy in a "I REALLY REALLY REALLY LIKE YOU" tank top shot up, freeing himself from the restraints of his seat. We all quickly followed his lead.
Heading back to NYC the next day, we accidentally took the wrong train the wrong way and ended up at the wrong airport. You'd think the imminent danger of missing our flights back would cause stress, but both of us merely shrugged and got on the next train back. Was it Canada? Carly? The excess endorphins leftover from last night? All I know is, somehow a night of Carly Rae Jepsen worked better than any amount of klonopin ever has.
Oh, and we made our flight. Shout out Porter Airlines.
Lindsey Weber is still kind of mad Carly didn't play "Cut to the Feeling." Follow her on Twitter.