I didn’t know it was possible to be too happy until I went to a Carly Rae Jepsen live show. This isn’t a bad thing. I just didn’t know one could smile this hard, or be so outwardly enthused about any one thing.

Such a realization was made all the more revelatory, thanks to the sack of frustrations I carried into the venue. In brief: One month after the Orange Line shutdown, it still took approximately 2 hours to make a 4-mile trip from Jamaica Plain to Roadrunner in Brighton. By the time I made it to the neighborhood, I had to walk to the venue in a cool, unfriendly rain. I had missed Empress Of’s opening set. The night was suboptimal. But that black, vaporous cloud of frustrations and annoyances and MBTA curses dissolved upon actually entering the room. The venue was packed to the walls with people going absolutely bonkers awaiting the arrival of Jepsen. When she finally made her entrance, amid the cheers, I heard one man quip with pride, "She still has it." This, of course, implies that she might have lost it, which she never did.

Jepsen is a pop music savant. Depending on whom you ask, she's a mystic, too. The Canadian made her entrance onto the international pop scene with the 2011 single "Call Me Maybe." Its success — the single’s international chart positions are otherworldly — ensured her a contract with Schoolboy Records. The virality (and endless parodies that only the 2010s internet of Obama's America could deliver) ensured the song's — and artist's — place in the popular memory of a generation.

It felt like the dazzling success of "Call Me Maybe" was bound to make its artist a one-hit wonder. The single dropped at the edge of the streaming frontier, at a time when GrooveShark was still an active entity and Pandora was still a house party staple. Talking about your preferred BitTorrent client was perfectly normal conversation. "Call Me Maybe" claimed the second-highest spot on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 Songs list in 2012, alongside "Somebody That I Used to Know," "We Are Young" and "Party Rock Anthem." "Thrift Shop" and "Rude" had yet to make it to our ears. In all fairness, listening back to charts that are around a decade old will ensure that plenty of music sounds dated. In all fairness, those same charts contain some hits with enough cultural capital to stick around for more than five years (see: Atkins, Adele). But, to anyone listening in 2011, Jepsen seemed destined to be tied forever to "Call Me Maybe." She was too much of an unknown (despite having already released a studio album) and her new single was an omnipresent behemoth (by the end of 2012 the video had amassed some 357 million views on YouTube, and today it's at more than 1.4 billion).

Still, she's spent over a decade with international recognition, and has amassed a deep bench of tunes which together can be worked into a great number of setlist permutations. "Call Me Maybe" arrived about one-third of the way into her Roadrunner set. Clearly, fans don't show up for that one song. They don't even show up to see her. They are there to be with her.

On this particular night, for this particular tour, the enthusiasm was palpable — in no small part to an inebriated concertgoer joyfully flinging about their body, and on no fewer than two occasions launching it directly into mine.

Jepsen opened that evening (and 2020's "Dedicated Side B" album) with “This Love Isn't Crazy.”

"I understood everything/ That you could hurt me, baby, and I could hurt you too," she sings. But she's quick to remind us: "Oh, but love isn't cruel." In that line lies her appeal. Many songs dealing with amorous desire are resigned to the idea that pain and heartbreak is collateral for the relationship, that dysfunction is a function. But Jepsen reminds us that it's all baloney. Love isn't cruel.

Those themes of happiness, desire and self-love run deep through her discography, and they were on display throughout the set: "Run Away With Me," a sing-along number that reinforced how real the sexy saxophone trope is; "Emotion" and it's petty curse tablet of being forever out of reach from an ex who made a huge mistake by ending things; the aforementioned "Call Me Maybe" and its unabashed flirtations.

There are also the relatable expressions of whimsical frustration, as in the synth organ– and dance piano–laden "I Didn't Just Come Here to Dance" (about that unrelenting need to be noticed out there on the dance floor) and “Beach House” (the annoyances of online dating in your thirties).

These aren't just feelings of a passing age either. The So Nice Tour is in support of her upcoming sixth studio album, "The Loneliest Time." As the title suggests, this was a creation borne of COVID-19 lockdowns. Its singles — all performed on tour — are an ode to California Love (“Western Wind”) and a cheeky despair for the annoyances of swiping for love (the aforementioned “Beach House”). A third ("Talking To Yourself") wonders just how heavy the singer weighs on the mind of an ex, and is more than a little reminiscent of fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know."

I never attended a mid-'90s Morissette concert, but I have a hard time imagining its atmosphere could match the insouciant innocence of a Carly Rae Jepsen live set. A lack of masks, public health risks aside, allowed for a full view of visages of excitement. Concertgoers bonded, inviting strangers into their tight circles to dance and hug and reminisce about Jepsen-related musical memories. This was a crowd of 30-somethings that were behaving like high school juniors — a comparison that's impossible to escape considering I saw Olivia Rodrigo play the same venue just a few months prior.

Carly Rae Jepsen
Pop musician Carly Rae Jepsen poses for a portrait.
Courtesy of Roadrunner

But that's not to suggest an immaturity on the audience's part. Jepsen's music projects a self-awareness to the nth degree. Her lyrics tempt nostalgia for a bliss that may only exist in your imagination. They allow you to reconstruct your past as a Disney Channel original movie, and invite you to reflect on the most intense crushes and hopes of your youth. It doesn't matter if weekends weren't spent at the beach, or if you didn't share a first kiss at the homecoming dance, or if you couldn't savor the cool of an ice cream cone because of a reactionary intolerance to lactose. Listening to her music allows these memories to exist by proxy. Jepsen isn't creating a vicarious experience for you, the fan. She is allowing us to reimagine — albeit briefly — our own past, with a verisimilitude of goodness that we may or may not have ever known.

"The Moon ... is a reminder to us, in its constancy," said Jepsen in an Instagram post, "that even when we are having the loneliest time, we are never really alone." The So Nice Tour leans heavily into that lunar imagery — a moon with humanoid features and named the Ambassador of Love welcomes you to the concert. The ambassador offers words of encouragement, and reminders that every person is worthy of celebration. During a brief instrumental interlude for Jespen's costume change, the ambassador reintroduced the singer, making it clear that "I really, really, really, really, really like you."

This isn't musical "Bildungsroman." Jepsen’s music begs you to look for the innocence you forgot to pack when you gathered your strength and hauled new baggage into adulthood. In a room with her, cynicism is stripped of its appeal. The world didn't make you that way — people did. And once those numbed feelings are found, what could you do with all that emotion?