Photo by Scott Troyan
I first fell in love with Carly Rae Jepsen the year I was supposed to graduate college. It was spring; Chicago was rainy, and my pen pal Scott—who I harbored a not-so-secret crush on—sent me a link to a YouTube video. “You’re going to love it,” he assured me. It was March 19, 2012; the video was a low-budget, webcam affair, with a group of obscenely attractive young pop stars—Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale—mugging in hoodies and sunglasses. They were lip-syncing to a song I’d only just heard of.
“What is this?” I asked Scott, caught between an eyeroll and a jaw drop. I was skeptical—it’d barely been a year since Rebecca Black’s “Friday”—and I was wary of anything that sounded too kitschy. But this sounded good.
That day, I had been sitting on a stained futon in an apartment I sublet from a group of my ex-boyfriend’s fraternity brothers, rewatching the pilot of The O.C. I’d just returned from three months in San Francisco, where I had tried to live some semblance of adulthood, and I wasn’t keen on being back in a city—and surrounded by people—I thought I’d left behind. I didn’t have many friends left; I burned too many bridges on my way out the door. It was spring break, and the campus was desolate. I hadn’t been permitted to enroll in classes that quarter, so it didn’t quite qualify as a break for me.
I’d had a particularly rough year. I’d been dumped by my serious boyfriend in a fairly melodramatic manner; after spending two years mastering the break-up-and-make-up dynamic of teen soap operas, we finally ended things for good. His last act of defiance was to put his fist through a canvas painting I’d made for him when we were together, which rendered me hysterical. We couldn’t even occupy the same room in the months before he graduated. But I wasn’t just beset by adolescent romantic angst—I’d also left home after a ...