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With ‘Bewitched: Goddess Edition,’ Laufey Grows Into Herself

— Photograph by Gemma Warren

When the Icelandic-Chinese musician Laufey was young, she’d travel from her hometown of Reykjavík to China to spend the summer with her grandmother and grandfather. Visiting family still living in the homeland for months at a time is a time-honored tradition for many of the Asian diaspora who have settled in the West. But the singer, now 25 years old, mostly spent her days abroad inside the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where her grandma and grandpa lived and worked (and still do, the singer points out during our Zoom interview). “As a kid, I was running around the conservatory, playing with my grandparents’ students who were like babysitters, taking cello and piano lessons, eating good food, and making sure I didn’t completely forget my Chinese every summer,” the artist recalls from Washington D.C., where she also spent time growing up. “It was such an important part of my upbringing. I was lucky to have a wide view of the world from a young age. I knew there was more than just the confines of my own little Icelandic or American bubble. It was so much bigger than that.”

The experience set Laufey (pronounced lay-vay) down a path of musical exploration and study—and prepared her to become the touring musician with the blossoming career (and growing fandom) she is today. Now, the singer-songwriter born Laufey Lín Bing Jónsdóttir has become a jazz icon for Gen Z, giving standards sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday a modern twist with witty songwriting that bemoans online dating and the trials of growing up on the Internet. Although her sound certainly skews 1940s—with big-band orchestral swells and the soft, tinkling cords you might hear in a smoky jazz club—the spin she puts on the classics is wholly modern. It might seem unbelievable, but some of Laufey’s most alluring qualities—her sultry, low voice; being able to harness the rawness classical music; a sense of personal style that borders on Victorian Regency—were once regarded by the singer herself as shortcomings. Now, they’re assets that set her apart from any other musician in the industry.

Her 2023 album Bewitched, released in September 2023, garnered Laufey her first Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. The Past Lives filmmaker Celine Song directed her new music video. She’s made a Christmas album with Nora Jones, and Nardwuar—the notorious music nerd who consistently wrangles interviews with impossibly elusive artists—picked Laufey for a Q&A in Canada. To celebrate these milestones (“bucket list items,” the singer tells me), she has released today an extended version of Bewitched called Bewitched: The Goddess Edition, which includes four brand-new songs added to the existing album.

“I felt like the story of Bewitched wasn’t completely done yet,” Laufey explains. “And the story is: this time in my life. These albums have been documenting my journey as a young 20-something.” Although Laufey is reflective, and at times, somewhat wistful about the nature of her work, she is not precious about it. “Everything I record, I end up putting out,” she says, adding that she made all four songs added to The Goddess Edition in June of 2023. “You hear about artists with hundreds of songs in their archive, and I have zero songs in my vault. Because I don’t have a single song that I haven’t heard someone claim as their favorite. And if I wrote it, I’m usually pretty happy with it.”

Laufey works fast, but her success has been a long time coming. During those summers in Beijing, she’d study classics from the Great American Songbook (her grandfather was a fan of musicals, especially Oklahoma) and listen with her grandma to Ella Fitzgerald, the first musician who made Laufey fall in love with jazz. She started learning piano at four and cello at eight, and by the time she was 15, she’d performed with the Iceland Symphony Orchestral. She also participated in the 2014 edition of Ísland Got Talent—the Icelandic version of America’s Got Talent—where she placed as a semifinalist, and The Voice Iceland, which saw her as the series’ youngest contestant ever. She attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston for college, and in 2021, one year after independently releasing her first single Street by Street (it charted at number one on Icelandic radio), Laufey suddenly blew up by posting a video of herself singing her song “Valentine.” Now, she has more than three million followers on Instagram and 4.6 million followers on TikTok, where she posts videos that feature her songs, windows into her personal life, and footage of her twin sister, Júnía, who works as her creative director.

Laufey’s crooning, velvety voice is the perfect backdrop for her jazz-pop songs, which feature only live instrumentation. But the artist says her go-to subject matter—themes of heartbreak, nostalgia, longing, and torturous growing pains—can be “so heavy, so life or death.” On The Goddess Edition, Laufey added some lighthearted fare: like the song Bored, which tells of a self-centered love interest who is “way too plain to be interesting,” as the lyrics go. “I am an unserious person in a way, and I felt like I needed to tone these serious themes of love down,” Laufey says. “‘Bored’ is extremely sarcastic, and I’m quite sarcastic. The way I wrote Bored and the way I wrote the lyrics in ‘Bored’ is the way I talk to my girlfriends.” Laufey often uses stories her friends tell her about their awful dates as source material. “I’ll start a song with my own experience, and then it’ll take its own life into something different. That’s the fun of songwriting. You can make it whatever you want.”

To hear Laufey tell it, her experience growing up was marked by being othered. No one in her ethnically homogenous hometown in Iceland looked like her. She was taller than her peers after a sudden growth spurt. And her deep, silken voice—now her edge in the music industry—was a source of embarrassment. “The very first children’s singing competition I did in Iceland when I was 12, everybody around me sounded like a child. I sounded so much older,” Laufey recalls. “That was the comment I always got: ‘You sound like a 40-year-old woman who’s been divorced twice.’ I felt so old and weird, and maybe like a boy as well. I felt overgrown.” To combat any feelings of tomboyishness, she dressed overly girly: “dresses and skirts and ribbons and pearls and pink,” she recalls. “But having a deep voice and being loud and girly and overly big and expressive—those are all the reasons that I have my career today. It’s just now I look at it as a positive instead of a negative.”

These days, Laufey leans on her fans and community (called “Lauvers”), saying that touring is the best time to connect with the people who love her most. And a touring musician Laufey is—a true jazz singer! She splits her life into two halves: one, writing season; the other, tour season. During writing season, the artist is “more like butterflies and rainbows, living the slower and quieter life.” But when she’s on the road, she feels “like an athlete. I have to sleep seven or eight hours every night. I try to eat extremely healthy. I don’t drink alcohol. The second I’m done with a concert, I go back to my hotel room and go to sleep. Absolutely no partying.” That sense of discipline, she wagers, comes from her roots in classical music. “Growing up in recitals, you go on stage, you dress up—and I just love that.” And Lauvers are so into her coquette-ish style, they’ve begun dressing like her—attending her shows wearing bows in their hair, white tights, and Mary Janes. (The look has been dubbed “Laufeycore.”) “I used to feel so frivolous for dressing like that, and a little bit like the boys were frowning on me,” Laufey says. “Now I feel like it’s a show of strength rather than a show of weakness.”


Source: W Magazine

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