Liveshot: Carly Rae Jepsen brings nostalgia-packed showcase to ACL

Sage Dunlap, Life & Arts Associate Editor

Eager audience members tossed around a yellow beach ball while awaiting the arrival of singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen. After a few minutes, fans chanted, “Carly, Carly, Carly,” a call which seemingly activated the set. Under a pink wash, the singer’s band and backup vocalists rushed to their places, followed by the bleach-blonde pop sensation herself. 

“Austin, are you ready to run away with me tonight?” asked the singer, introducing her 2015 album opener “Run Away With Me.”

On Friday of ACL’s first weekend, Jepsen’s sunset performance on Barton Springs Stage invited fans for a sweet, nostalgic escape. Donning a rainbow pinstripe set, the pop star mesmerized the crowd with both old classics and new songs from her upcoming album The Loneliest Time.

Aesthetically, Jepsen played into the appeal of many of her mid-2010s throwbacks, such as “Call Me Maybe.” Surrounded by kitschy set pieces, including large seven-pointed stars and fuzzy clouds resting on the ground, the set’s atmosphere recalled the look of a high school prom straight out of a cheesy rom-com. 

In performing her saccharine love song “I Really Like You,” hand-drawn doodles decorated the screen behind the performers, evoking the carefree nature of a grade-school crush. While an offbeat aesthetic choice for most performances, the comic book-like set design perfectly matched Jepsen’s laid-back, sentimental showcase. 

Jepsen’s crowd interactions compounded the performance’s relaxed tone. Throughout the set, the singer playfully riffed off lighthearted anecdotes from her love life. When introducing electro-pop heartbreak hit “Your Type,” a song about unreciprocated interest, the singer called out to the crowd, “Let out a moan for me if you’ve ever been friend zoned.” Other amusing trivia, including the fact that her love song “Now That I Found You” was, according to Jepsen, written about her cats, also made the showcase feel more intimate despite the sprawling crowd. 

While older fan favorites inspired the most energetic response from the crowd, the real gems of Jepsen’s set came from her newer works. As bold neon swirls turned to lush California landscapes on the stage’s projection screen, Jepsen delivered a breezy performance of the 2022 single “Western Wind” allowing the singer to showcase a calmer sound to contrast her electro-pop roots. In the midst of flashy throwbacks and high-energy tunes, a performance of upcoming song “Go Find Yourself Or Whatever” revealed a more vulnerable side of the singer. The airy, acoustic ballad, backdropped by a rotating moon, offered an introspective note to usher fans into her new era. 

While Jepsen appears to seek a changing sound in the pop sphere with her upcoming project, her ACL 2022 performance stands as a testament to her comforting, intimate approach to music. As the sun set on the festival’s opening night, Jepsen left reminding fans that while most celebrated for her beloved throwbacks, she will continue to evolve in the realm of pop music.