‘It’ girl Rola welcomes Jepsen to Japan

by Robert Michael Poole

Special To The Japan Times

It’s a meeting of the memes. Inside one of Shibuya’s biggest clubs, Japan’s happy-go-luckiest talent perches eagerly and wide-eyed on her high stool awaiting the arrival of Canada’s most cheerful pop star.

After bounding into the room gleefully, Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t disappoint. A nonstop frenzy of interviews and appearances in Tokyo has only seemed to energize her — the perfect counterpart to omnipresent idol of the moment, the eminently chirpy Rola.

Both young women have shot to fame in a flash with infectious catchphrases and the help of fan tributes on video-sharing website YouTube.

Surrounded by a swarm of executives for only a matter of minutes, the two purveyors of pop culture share their scant moments together swapping sentiments of spreading happiness through their work.

“Life is short and you gotta have fun, but it’s way more fun to share it!” Jepsen exclaims buoyantly. “Ditto!” responds Rola swiftly.

Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” was released in Canada a year ago today, but it has become the hit of this summer overseas. The former 2007 “Canadian Idol” bronze medallist had previously shown on that TV program how clever and mature songwriting was in her DNA. Thanks to what she calls “an imaginary experience,” the girl-braves-her-inhibitions-to-catch-her-crush tale played out in the popular video for “Call Me Maybe” (261 million views and counting on YouTube) has quickly reversed her “Idol” role of covering famous songs for a shot in the music business. Now, celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Katy Perry have been singing and dancing along in YouTube videos to her song instead.

Last week, Rola joined the pack when she debuted her own lip-dub to “Call Me Maybe” on YouTube. The prominent tarento (showbiz talent) goes by one name and is primarily known as a model for Popteen and ViVi, but has become a sensation on TV here due to her seemingly ditzy questions and turns of phrase. Rola made her debut as a singer with the track “Memories” in July, which peaked at 20 on the Billboard Japan charts in its first week of release.

“I love music and dancing and I’ve been actively encouraged to make music,” the 22-year-old tells The Japan Times. She then professes her desire to master fluent English — after Jepsen, 26, expresses her hope to discover Rola’s music in Canada someday.

Born in Tokyo to a Bengali father and half-Japanese, half-Russian mother, Rola spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh. At 9 she returned to Tokyo and was brought up by her Chinese stepmother.

However, Rola’s most difficult challenge may be yet to come. With her ubiquitously mimicked catchphrase and hand gesture for “OK!” now so synonymous with her name, switching idol charm for songwriting smarts would be no mean feat. On her side is poise and aplomb; she calmly redirects her own interview to put a bold suggestion to Jepsen: “You seemed nervous before appearing on ‘Music Station’ this morning,” she posits, referring to Jepsen’s appearance on the popular TV Asahi music program.

“I was more excited than anything,” responds Jepsen, who then admits to having become so immersed in watching acts Kat-tun, Juju and Kishidan that she, “Kind of forgot at one point that I (had) to go on stage in a second because I was just so taken by it.”

As far as viral videos go, “Call Me Maybe” may have just been overtaken on the YouTube music charts by K-pop’s dark horse Psy and his track “Gangnam Style” (surely footsteps Rola would like to follow in), but this week saw the launch of Jepsen’s highly anticipated second album, “Kiss,” which could establish her as one of the world’s leading pop voices.

After a lackluster collaboration with American act Owl City on “Good Time,” Jepsen’s new solo single “This Kiss” not only sees her prove that she can recapture the magic of “Call Me Maybe,” but perhaps that she is a touch braver now, too.

“I have never actually asked for a boy’s number in quite that (‘Call Me Maybe’) way, but there’s been moments when I’ve been able to sporadically step outside my comfort zone. I once did a kiss and run,” she admits. In the lyrics to “This Kiss,” a slick 1980s-style electro-track produced by Redfoo of LMFAO, Jepsen is already seeing one boyfriend, but can’t help her impulses, singing “And you’re a real hot thing / But you know I’ve got a boy somewhere / so can you feel the tension?”

The rest of the album is chock full of sticky-sweet numbers interspersed by a few that reveal a vulnerability and subtlety to Jepsen’s voice, such as “Turn Me Up,” and a much-fussed about Bieber duet that keeps things pleasant and calm on “Beautiful.” It’s a further sign of Jepsen’s unbounded confidence that when asked who she’d really like to give her number to, she swiftly replies “Ryan Gosling, he’s very cute.”

Rola meanwhile, brimming with innocent excitement of what may yet be to come, simply replies “Hmm … too many!”