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Carly Rae Jepsen's Utopia

Photo by Scott Troyan

I don’t quite know what I expected. I’ve been listening to EMOTION for months, falling hard and fast for Jepsen’s brand of pop, from the Euro-house piano bounce of “I Didn’t Just Come Here To Dance” to the soft R&B ballad “All That,” and even the twisted dark synth poetry of “LA Hallucinations.” I loved this stuff, found myself listening to it for weeks on end, but I was on the fence about going to a live show. Won’t it just be squealing preteens? Won’t it be all Disney-fied and twee? How would a woman pushing 40 feel in this landscape? Then I saw a photo posted on Instagram by rough-edged feminist rockers Bully: Carly Rae Jepsen, looking like pixie Joan Jett, onstage in Nashville, leaning into her fans. The fans leaning back. Badass Alicia Bognanno went to a CRJ show and loved it? I immediately bought a ticket.

Before I leave for the venue, my husband throws out a joking “don’t talk to any boys,” to which I answer, “It’s a Carly Rae Jepsen show; there won’t be any boys.” I’m so wrong. How wrong I am is apparent the moment I walk in through the door of the tiny venue in northern Kentucky: There are men. Women, in fact, appear to be outnumbered. I start to look around and take stock of the rest of the crowd and find myself floored by its diversity in gender, age, sexuality, and race. A cluster of boys in their early twenties hangs close to the front of the stage in a large bro-group, a flock of ballcaps. Little girls walk through the mezzanine flanked by their parents, black Xs on their hands as souvenirs of their first show in a rock venue. A gay couple stands arm in arm next to me; three men lean back against a wall, one in eyeliner and Boy George-esque hat. Cishet couples are present too, and tall solo men in beards punctuate the room. There are many solo women here: Their heads bob through the room ...