How 23-year-old Laufey is making jazz and classical music cool for Gen Z


Laufey Lin, a 23-year-old Icelandic musician and songwriter (known by the mononym Laufey to her fans), never imagined that her music, which she started writing while a college student in Boston, would reach so many people she has.

Now, nearly three years after recording his debut single, Laufey (pronounced Lay-vay) has released a debut EP and full album, garnered nearly 700,000 followers and over 18 million likes on ICT Tac – and performed with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra for two nights in October 2022.

Laufey encourages younger generations to fall in love with jazz and classical music through his haunting jazz-infused discography – which fans compared the soundtrack of a Studio Ghibli or Disney movie.

Laufey recorded her first song on her college campus in Berklee in the winter of 2020 – when COVID-19 started to become a global threat.

“I was like, if I don’t record this song today, I’ll never record it. I don’t know when I’ll be back on campus,” she told TODAY.

After the April 2020 release of “Street by Street,” her debut single, Laufey noticed people taking her music to various streaming platforms. Within a month of its release, the single reached 100,000 streams. Its takeoff coincided with the rise of TikTok, which was the most downloaded app in 2020.

From viral TikTok songs to symphonies, Laufey is Gen Z’s ticket to making jazz cool again (Courtesy Gemma Warren)

From there, Laufey took on a manager and continued to write as the pandemic dragged on.

Now, at the end of 2022, Laufey has nearly 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify. His song “Valentine”, which went viral on TikTok after its release in February 2022, now has around 18 million streams.

His streams have increased, but his goal remains the same: Laufey wants to connect younger audiences with genres they might have previously abandoned.

“Gen Z didn’t grow up going to CD stores and going to our favorite music genre sections. We grew up consuming everything cool on TikTok and going to Spotify and listening to ‘rainy day’ playlists – which can include a range of different styles of music. And I think that’s the coolest thing. I think that’s why I’m able to thrive in 2022 with my music,” she said.

How Laufey brought jazz to Gen Z

Prior to the release of her debut album, “Everything I Know About Love”, in August 2022, she also released a seven-song EP titled “Typical of Me” in 2021.

“When I started working on these projects, I just said, I really want to make sure we reach a younger audience,” she told TODAY.

Laufey knew his challenge was to refresh jazz and classical to make the genres relevant while preserving what makes them timeless.

“I really wanted to focus on introducing it and reframing it for Gen Z. I hadn’t really seen anyone who had done it before me, so I had a hard time figuring out how to do it, exactly,” a- she declared.

Taking over from artists like Michael Bublé and Norah Jones, who infused their music with a similar tone of timelessness, Laufey is arguably the first of her generation to succeed in making jazz cool for Gen Z.

So what’s in the secret sauce of Laufey’s music? Among many things (see: sweeping arrangements and her delicate yet strong vocals), Laufey believes in her relatability factor.

“I grew up in a family of classical music, I grew up listening to jazz, and I want these art forms to survive, but I also recognize that for them to survive they need new blood, of a new life. What Gen Z needs is a hair’s breadth from I want to show everyone that I’m just another one of them,” she said.

And a Gen Z kid, she is. Laufey is active on her social media accounts, particularly TikTok and Instagram, which she runs entirely on her own to ensure her messaging remains authentic.

“I don’t feel like I was born in the wrong century in any way. I don’t dress like I lived in the 30s or anything. I really am a child of 2022,” she said.

From viral TikTok songs to symphonies, Laufey is Gen Z's ticket to making jazz cool again (Courtesy Gemma Warren)

From viral TikTok songs to symphonies, Laufey is Gen Z’s ticket to making jazz cool again (Courtesy Gemma Warren)

Lean into escape

Laufey has a theory why his songs resonate: they evoke another era, which is perfect for a generation looking for an escape.

She lamented that the pandemic closed the world to Gen Z, just as they hoped to explore it.

“That old, cinematic, jazzy sound or the timeless, classic sound is something like escapism, you know? We were all looking for an escape,” she said.

Gen Z’s obsession with nostalgia finds an echo elsewhere, like that of TikTok”coastal grandma” aesthetics, reminiscent of the romantic comedies of Nancy Meyers, or the return of analog technology, such as film cameras, vinyl records and cassettes.

His music, a tribute to bygone years, is in line with the trend. “Gen Z has a palate for this kind of music — and so many people don’t even know it,” she said.

Rewrite the songbook

Although her sound is classic, her lyrics are not: Laufey sings from the perspective of what she calls “a confused young woman.”

“A lot of old jazz standards, or really all of them, were written by men. My songs are very, very clearly written from a young and confused female point of view,” she said. “So I think it gives young women a voice.”

As a result, his words are relatable.

“I’m very, very honest in my writing. I am not enigmatic. I’m definitely very self-aware and I think it’s a very self-aware generation. We are laughed at a lot. So I think there’s a relatability,” she said.

From viral TikTok songs to symphonies, Laufey is Gen Z's ticket to making jazz cool again (Courtesy Gemma Warren)

From viral TikTok songs to symphonies, Laufey is Gen Z’s ticket to making jazz cool again (Courtesy Gemma Warren)

However, she is in theoretical conversation with songwriters of yesteryear: while writing, she looks to composers and artists of the past and present for inspiration.

She has cited Gershwin, Rogers and Irving Berlin as musicians who continue to influence her love of jazz standards – and also looks to singer-songwriters like Norah Jones, Sara Bareilles, Carole King and Taylor Swift.

“I think a lot of people think that because I listen to a lot of classical and jazz that I reject modern music or like pop music or something… and I’m like, I like music pop. I have no interest in erasing it out of our musical soundscape,” she said. (PS: her favorite song on Swift’s “Midnights” is “Karma”.)

‘Everything is cool, new and wonderful’: What’s next for Laufey

Laufey has now completed the US leg of his tour and is now performing in the UK. When we speak with Laufey, she’s on London time, but laughingly admits she never really knows what time it is. “I’m extremely culturally confused and I’m never in the same place,” she joked.

Growing up between Iceland and Washington, DC, moving to Boston for college, and now residing in Los Angeles (when she’s not traveling the world, of course), Laufey admits she’s used to jet lag. “I’m in a constant state of not really knowing what time it is,” she said.

She also said that a few years ago she wrote down a list of things she wanted to see herself accomplish. She thought at the time that some of the dreams were a little lofty.

“I remember when I wrote it, I felt so stupid because so many of them seemed so wanted,” she said.

Now? She told TODAY that she’s achieved everything on this list – and she’s excited to see what the future holds for her.

“I always say I’m in the best part of my career right now, because everything makes me so excited. Everything is new and cool and wonderful and I hope I can stick with it,” he said. she declared with a smile.

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