Carly Rae Jepsen is a candy-coated pinball bouncing off the walls at a ballistic pace in a Chinatown beauty store, making 1,000 observations a minute. The store is the size of a college dorm room, stocked mostly with colorful bottles imported from Japan and Korea: Every inch of space that is not occupied by a human body is teeming with product, including men’s “rubber” hair pastes, J-pop idol eyelashes, and a set of night girdles that promises to reduce cellulite. “I feel like we’re in Tokyo,” Jepsen says. Her eyes, manga-sized, scan a row of sheet masks printed with animal faces. Will you be a dog, the packaging asks, or will you be a cat? Jepsen considers her options for half a millisecond before moving on to her next quest: “the goopy stuff.”
“Do you think they have the goopy stuff?” she asks. “Mama loves that.” (It is unclear what the goopy stuff is, or if we ever find it.)
As a singer and songwriter, Jepsen is huge in Japan. (Not dimensions-wise: At five feet and two inches tall, she isn’t huge anywhere.) The country embraced her early on, thanks to the winning harmony of her viral brand of carbonated bubblegum pop music and the cultural appeal of her adorable presentation. It was two prom-night bops — “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You” — that brought Jepsen into the houses and ears of every person in America. The latter single appeared on her 2015 album, Emotion. This year, she followed it up with Dedicated, an exuberant 15-track manifesto on the art of the pop music form. Critics agree: It bangs.
Emotion was the kind of album that turns a Canadian Idol second runner-up into a critically acclaimed indie-pop darling — and somewhere between then and now, Jepsen traded in her brunette shag for a platinum bob, effectively announcing her entrance into the pop music canon. Along the way, she has learned many things. Among them: “Dark brown eyeliner. I learned that black isn’t always the answer.”
Why go blonde? “You know what, Cyndi Lauper, girls just wanna have fun,” she says with a laugh. “But I think I got a little hooked on the feeling of chameleon-ing yourself and what that does for your confidence, even your sense of identity. It allows you the ability to kind of play and not have this expectation of what you’re supposed to be like. I was very much the girl next door — brown hair, kept the safety bangs, didn’t ever change a thing. The first time that I dabbled [in hair color], I felt like a new person.”
Jepsen occupies a rare celebrity niche. She has enough fans to regularly sell out shows but has yet to ascend to the level of recognizability that would destroy her chance to shop for snail mucus on a Tuesday afternoon in lower Manhattan. The only places she cannot safely enter belong to her most rabid fan base: gay men. Once, when she and her boyfriend were out shopping, she saw a fashion show happening in a drag store and went in to investigate. “He, like, slowly, just took me out of there. ‘You’re going to get eaten.’ ” Her face melts into a giggle. “I was like, ‘But I want this wig!’ ”
Which brings Jepsen to an impassioned rhapsody on a favorite hairstyle: the mullet.
Watch her music video for “Boy Problems,” directed by Petra Collins, and witness the unholy marriage of business and party on full display. Jepsen loves a mullet — she got her first one in 2016. It’s a chapter she’d like to return to, either in the form of a wig or sculpted on her very own head, and her argument for adopting the look is very convincing.
“You can’t go wrong. If it’s short enough, you’ll wake up, throw some gel on the front and the rest looks like you made a decision, and that for me is really fun,” she says. “And maybe it’s such a historically unattractive hairstyle to some that there’s a boldness in it that I quite love, because then you just dial it up with makeup and you feel — I don’t know, I just always felt really empowered when I had it. I don’t know if I want to be Goldilocks. I want my edge.”
Many musicians, especially in the pop tradition, consider their personal appearance an enhancement of their production values. Lauper, and Madonna, were direct musical references for Emotion, and Dedicated draws in part on Donna Summer. But for Jepsen, there’s no dissonance between the performer and the person, aesthetic or otherwise. She’s the same person when opening for Katy Perry that she is when cameo’ing on Grease: Live or when beauty shopping in Chinatown.
“My theatrical side onstage is very much just who I am,” she says. At the same time, she’s staring down a kiosk of false eyelashes. “I don’t do the Beyoncé thing where I’m like, ‘And now I’m Sasha Fierce.’ I’m just — I’m always me.”
Then Jepsen catches sight of a new, previously unobserved shelf of sheet masks, and before I can answer, she’s already moved on.
Jepsen’s purchases from oo35mm, Chinatown, New York
Fuku Fuku Lip Cream Autumn Leaves — $12, (Shop Now)
Cure Natural Aqua Gel — $40, (Shop Now)
Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel SPF 50PA — $16, (Shop Now)
Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask — $20, (Shop Now)
Secret Key Rose Floral Softening Toner — $13, (Shop Now)
Pure Smile Art Mask (Azuki) — $4, (Shop Now)
Dejavu Fiberwing Extra Long Mascara Pure Black — $19, (Shop Now)
DUP Eyelashes Deux 910 — $16, (Shop Now)
BCL Browlash Eyebrow Gel Powder Natural Brown — $16, (Shop Now)
Batiste Dry Shampoo in Tropical — $4, (Shop Now)
Fashion stylist, Hayley Atkin. Hair: Dominique Diaz. Makeup: Lottie.
More on Japanese Beauty:
- Allure Editor in Chief Michelle Lee’s Guide to Exploring J-Beauty in Tokyo
- Japanese Girl Group Perfume Share Their Skin-Care Routines
- 16 of the Best Japanese Beauty Products You Can Buy in the U.S.
Now, watch GOT7 try 9 things they’ve never done before:
A version of this article originally appeared in the Month Year issue of Allure. To get your