Laufey Relishes Her Role as Jazz Ambassador

"It's so cool that a new generation is discovering the music I like and using my music as a gateway to it"

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Jordan CurriePublished Jun 25, 2024

As a child, Laufey always assumed that, if she ever decided to pursue music professionally, she'd play cello in an orchestra. Growing up in a musical family in Reykjavík, her mother a classical violinist for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and her twin sister also a violinist, it felt like a natural progression to follow in her mother's footsteps. The world of classical music she'd been raised in was tough, but, at the time, picturing herself as a singer — let alone a jazz pop singer — seemed unimaginable.

Now, the 25-year-old is in the middle of the North American leg of her tour in support of her Grammy-winning sophomore album, Bewitched. She recently wrapped up two nights at Massey Hall in Toronto, playing to enthusiastic crowds adorned in pastels and hair bows.

"This time around [there] has been a lot of promo and stuff, so I haven't gotten to explore quite as much," she tells Exclaim! over Zoom from inside a car, busy with her press duties, on the afternoon of her second show. "But I've been to Toronto a couple of times, and I really love it here."

It makes sense that her schedule would be booked to the brim. The Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has only been on the rise since Bewitched dropped last year, along with its deluxe Goddess Edition in April 2024, where her dreamy jazz and classical sound, lovelorn lyrics and songbird-like voice have often been credited with giving jazz a new life in the mainstream, exposing it to younger generations across social media. Laufey knows she isn't the sole saviour of an entire genre, but she's grateful for what it means to be a bridge between jazz and a brand new audience unfamiliar with its history.

"It's a huge, huge honour. It's so cool that a new generation is discovering the music I like and using my music as a gateway to it," she reflects. "I couldn't go to an Ella Fitzgerald concert when I was 17. But, you know, hopefully some 17-year-old out there gets to go to a Laufey concert."

Listening to a Laufey song feels like stepping through a portal to a bygone era. One can't help but get the sense that you've heard these songs before, perhaps in a Golden Age Hollywood film or on a radio station your grandparents would've put on in your childhood. It's music that could easily be mistaken for decades-old standards. Laufey's skill and musicianship comes out when she talks about music, launching into describing the unique chord progressions and time signatures that she loves so much about jazz. "[Jazz] has just existed for a while, and that's what makes it seem so timeless," she points out.

Love, in all of its highs and lows, is the beating heart of Laufey's discography. Across Bewitched, her 2022 debut album Everything I Know About Love, and her independently-released 2021 EP Typical of Me, tales of a young woman experiencing her first love, yearning unabashedly, making mistakes, and growing with each romance and heartbreak; it's a storybook for hopeless romantics everywhere.

"Love is the one thing that everybody goes through, but nobody really has cracked the code, right? I remember the first time I had this kind of debilitating crush. My first thought was just, 'Oh my God, everybody goes through this?'" she recalls with a laugh. "It's this thing that we all share, but nobody can really figure out."

In an era where dating apps have left people feeling jaded and drained, Laufey remains hopeful about love: "I think we're all just searching for a sense of safety and comfort, and that's why we're all looking for someone to love. And nothing feels safe or comforting about the pursuit, you know? But when I'm searching for love, in my search for love in this life, it is just the search for comfort and safety and happiness."

She adds, "I live and I write, and I write and I live. It's kind of just how I am."

She isn't yet finished with her time in Canada, where she'll play at the Ottawa and Montreal jazz festivals this summer. Admittedly, she gets homesick every now and then on tour — both for her home in Los Angeles and her family in Iceland. But having her sister Júnía with her, who makes an appearance at her shows to play violin on Bewitched hit "From the Start," gives her a sense of home wherever she goes.

Ever since Bewitched won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in February, Laufey acknowledges that she's felt a shift in the amount of new eyes on her, but she's been so consumed with touring that she hasn't yet had a full moment to process it: "Literally the day after the Grammys, I left to start the European tour, and I haven't really stopped since. So I definitely feel like I haven't completely caught up with it, but it's still so exciting."

It's been a whirlwind of a year, and Laufey isn't slowing down any time soon. But her biggest superpower is her vulnerability — her heart worn proudly on her sleeve as she's completely present on stage, delivering enchanting love songs to people trying to make sense of it all, just like she is.

"Writing about [love] is just trying to figure it out for me, which I haven't," she says. "But I'm still trying."

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