The woman behind the griddle tosses the vegan sausage into a heap of bell peppers and onions. She takes a look at me, then another, and then she asks if I like the music we’re about to hear.
I choke on my words before stuttering out, yes, kinda. I really don’t like Katy Perry, I say, even though she’s the whole reason for the night—I’m just here for the opener, Carly Rae Jepsen. I like her music quite a bit and I’m very excited, I tell her.
She laughs and tells me with a wave of a bun that the men, they don’t come to the arena for this sort of thing unless it’s with their girlfriends, and she laughs again, politely, at how obviously alone I am. The sausage on the griddle crumbles slightly before she can tong it onto the bread.
It doesn’t sting much. I’m accustomed to it. Since a moment after the release of her 2015 album Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen has commanded an abnormally large amount of my attention. Some people find this surprising, and despite at least two years of repping my love for her music, I still catch a mildly offensive amount of flak for being open about it. I assume that’s because of two reasons: (1) I’m a white male with a vocal obsession with extreme metal, which many folks assume is inherently masculine in a way that doesn’t allow for a passion for something so sweet and supposedly feminine; and (2) They just haven’t heard the damn album. If they had, they’d understand what draws me to the Golden 1 Center this night.
I find my seat, a nosebleed. Up that high the walkways are narrow, the incline steep enough to send a shock of paternal dread through me when I see a young girl skipping down the stairs, her feet bouncing on the edge of each step. I’m right next to a gaggle of tweens, unintentionally but unavoidably the creeper lurking on the edges of their Instagram stories. I don’t say anything after the one closest to me whips me with her hair for the fifth time.
I look out over the stadium, trying and quickly failing to count the innumerable lights from the illuminated Katy Perry-branded cat ears sold at the merch booths littering the outer walkways. A throng of folks gather around the stage, from which a curving tendril of a catwalk juts out to divide the audience. A ring of banner ads provide most of the lighting for now. As they rotate through their cycles, the inevitable transitions from light colors to dark perpetually recreate a hush of expectation as the folks who haven’t been paying attention come under the impression that the show’s about to begin.
Eventually, that hush is rewarded—it’s happening, there she is on the stage. The unmistakable horns of “Run Away with Me” ring out, and the Queen of Everything follows.
I shout out with a thrill that I’m immediately ashamed of. Nobody else around me is this stoked on CRJ. It’s OK, though. This is the good shit. I’m alone in so many senses, so far away that I can barely even see what she’s wearing, but I can hear her, and I can roughly imagine what she’s doing. It’s real enough.
She makes a perfect run through “Emotion,” then “Gimme Love,” “Let’s Get Lost” and “Cut to the Feeling,” snapping out small squeaks of happiness between the immaculate high notes. Her stage act is authentic and clean in a way that charms by lack of audacity—the way she struts across the stage as both performance and as sincere thrill to the beat, the way she looks out into the crowd and says with mild but genuine surprise, “Oh, my goodness!”
Enrapturing would be the wrong word for her act. Uplifting gets closer, but it overstates the simple pleasure of merely being in the room with such a positive, affirming person doing exactly what she loves without pretense. With every second I learn further forward in my seat, silently mouthing as many lyrics as I can recall.
She shouts out to the crowd, “This next one’s a singalong,” and then I’m no longer alone. The crowd roars out, they know what’s coming as the opening notes of “Call Me Maybe” play. Behind me, a voice not accustomed to screaming lets it rip with complete abandon. The song of hers that I’d spent the most time trashing suddenly becomes the center of my heart. For all of my feelings of otherness that I’ve felt as a guy folks refuse to believe loves pop, my instincts to distance myself from the crowd melt away in a moment as we all come together to sing every word of that damn song.
And then she strikes into “I Really Like You,” and as the band trails into an extended jam, she slips into the back. It’s all over. I’ve seen what I’ve need to see, and soon enough I disappear just as she does, already knowing that all of the spectacle to come could never compare to a few moments of authentic joy.