Laufey brings jazz to Gen Z

Laufey, a Chinese-Icelandic jazz singer, on the Reach grounds on the Kennedy Center. (Jada Imani M)

The Chinese-Icelandic jazz singer, who grew up partly in Washington, is pining her approach up the charts

Most musicals have an “I Want” tune. It’s the tune the place the hero belts their needs to the final row. What they need is love, normally, and a bit journey, too.

Nearly each tune on Chinese-Icelandic jazz singer Laufey’s new album, “Bewitched,” is an “I Want” tune, and lots of sound as in the event that they got here straight out of a basic musical from the Forties. Her life proper now looks as if one, too. Picture it: The curtain rises on an attractive, younger singer on the cusp of stardom. She’s taking part in sold-out live performance halls. Her face is splashed a number of tales excessive throughout a billboard in Times Square. She is making her desires come true, and but she’s pining away for somebody, someplace.

Laufey (pronounced Lay-vay) desires Gen Z to fall in love with jazz. She desires them to fall in love, interval. Her genres are jazz and classical and bossa nova, however what she actually makes is a soundtrack for falling in love.

It’s music for swooning. Music for wishing. Music for strolling within the park in a swishy gown and catching the attention of a good-looking stranger.

“We’ve grown a new generation of hopeless romantics,” she says, standing on the roof of the Kennedy Center on Friday.

Laufey is taking within the sweeping views of D.C., one in every of her hometowns, earlier than a efficiency with the National Symphony Orchestra, on the day of her album launch. The 24-year-old has a legion of Gen Z followers who love her old style, star-gazy notion of affection — maybe, she speculates, as a response to the quick tempo and countless decisions of relationship apps. Classic musicals and rom-coms present “us a slower pace of falling in love, which seems very romantic.”

Her lyrics communicate to everlasting emotions, however wink at Twenty first-century sensibilities. On the observe “Dreamer,” she sings that she’s “giving up, I’m throwing in my hat, I can’t take another lifeless little chat.” “From the Start,” a peppy bossa-nova single, laments the threesome of “me and you and awkward silence.” It might all simply veer off into kitschy, twee, Pink Martini territory, however stays on the fitting aspect of that line, anchored by melancholy and fact.

“A lot of my songs live in that bubbly world,” she says, “but I’ll bring it back to Earth with some kind of brutally honest statement,” normally at her personal expense.

She composes with an ear for timelessness. There aren’t any references that may date her songs. They float in an ether between the Forties, the 2020s, and — who is aware of? — perhaps a century to come.

In a approach, that is the story of a hometown lady made good. Laufey was born in Iceland, however has lived in Washington thrice, most lately through the pandemic. Born Laufey Lin Jónsdóttir, her Chinese mom is a violinist and her Icelandic father works for the International Monetary Fund. Her childhood bounced backwards and forwards between D.C. and Reykjavik. She has a twin sister, Junia, who works as her inventive director.

The Jónsdóttir sisters, who’re trilingual, lived in Spring Valley and attended Horace Mann Elementary School for a number of years. Their mother and father would take them, as kids, to the Kennedy Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra and the ballet. This shouldn’t be Laufey’s first time performing within the live performance corridor — she performed the cello within the NSO’s Summer Music Institute as a toddler — however it’s her first time performing her personal songs right here.

“I feel very plugged into D.C. culture,” she says. “It feels very much like home.”

“It feels like our mom is coming to pick us up,” Junia muses earlier than the present. (Their mother and father are again in Iceland.)

Laufey’s household listened to Bach and the Beatles in equal measures. Jazz, typically Ella Fitzgerald or the Gershwins, was at all times in rotation. As a gangly teenager, Laufey appeared on “Iceland’s Got Talent” and “The Voice Iceland.” She attended Berklee College of Music, and when she was caught at house through the early days of the pandemic, she started writing songs and performing them on social media. She began to get a following on TikTook, posting fashionable movies of herself singing that earned a whole bunch of 1000’s of views. Her first album, “Everything I Know About Love,” was launched in 2022.

It charted in Iceland, the place Laufey is a recognizable face. What’s it like to be well-known in a nation of lower than 400,000 individuals?

“It doesn’t take much,” she says. When Icelanders encounter Icelandic celebrities, they have an inclination to be fairly chill. “Chances are,” Laufey says, “you’ll see them again. It’s like, not that exciting. I grew up running into Bjork in the supermarket.” But individuals will generally method her in Reykjavik bars after they’ve had just a few.

With “Bewitched,” her profile is starting to rise within the United States.

“We’ll still be talking about her in 20 years. That’s my guess,” says singer-songwriter Ben Folds, the NSO’s creative adviser and host of final Friday’s live performance. “She’s incredibly, almost boldly articulate in an era [in] which that is risky and people like to stay a bit esoteric and abstracted.”

He provides: “The TikTok s—, I could care nothing about.”

But the “TikTok s—” — she has practically 3 million followers — is what’s getting youngsters to pay attention to jazz. Her music properly dovetails with two TikTook traits: The notion that one ought to “romanticize your life” in addition to have “main character energy.” Both ideas encourage customers to really feel grand emotions and be the protagonist of their very own private film, even when they’re simply commuting on the subway.

“A lot of my fans just say that when they listen to my music, it makes [them] feel like they’re walking around Central Park or that they’re in a jazz club years ago in Paris,” she says. “Others might think it’s cheesy, but I just think it’s so wonderful that my music can provide a soundtrack to that.”

And Laufey is sweet at TikTook, too, crafting intelligent and humorous brief clips to join together with her followers. In one, she addresses the similarities between her music and the Disney canon — all of the Disney princesses sing an “I Wish” tune, too — and she or he doesn’t cringe on the comparability.

“To me, it just feels like there’s an air of accessibility around it,” she says. “And I never like to have an air of pretension. … Disney feels like it is for everyone, so I’ll take that any day.”

Laufey’s rising success didn’t come from the faucet of a fairy godmother’s wand, although. It’s the results of a deliberate imaginative and prescient.

“It was important from the get-go to create worlds” and have, in her appears to be like and social media, a “visually compelling story to go along with her descriptive and world-building songs,” says Junia, who final month give up her job as a inventive director on the Universal Music Group to work for her sister full-time, and to be part of her on an upcoming tour (a D.C. live performance on the Lincoln Theater on Nov. 4 is already bought out).

Junia’s imaginative and prescient, with Laufey’s collaboration, is a preppy ’60s schoolgirl-esque look with pops of French Yé-Yé — loafers, socks, pleats, puff sleeves — that her followers name “Laufey-core,” and emulate at exhibits.

“We want to be fresh while keeping on top of those classic elements, just like in her music,” says Junia. Fashion homes are starting to discover: Chanel is dressing Laufey for some upcoming exhibits.

Tright here is one tune on “Bewitched” that has a unique tone than the remaining. In “Letter to My 13-Year-Old Self,” Laufey pens a missive to the lady who had bother becoming into every of her cultures — the lady whose Icelandic identify was mispronounced in America and whose Chinese identify, Bing, was mocked in Iceland.

She sings: “I’m so sorry that they pick you last/ Try to say your foreign name and laugh/ I know that you feel loud, so different from the crowd/ Of big blue eyes and long blond hair and boys that stare.”

As a teen, she says, “I felt like I was just so awkward and I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t think I was — you know, honestly, I didn’t think I was beautiful enough.”

But now extra individuals are about to know her identify, which originated in Norse mythology because the identify of Loki’s mom. She is aware of that individuals will in all probability mispronounce it, and isn’t too bothered anymore.

“I kind of enjoy the discourse around my name,” she says. “It’s kind of an enigma.”

As she tells her 13-year-old-self, in tune: “One day you’ll be up onstage/ Little girls will scream your name.”

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