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19 February 2024

Laufey at EartH: woozy and nostalgic love songs

The Chinese-Icelandic singer mixes classical and jazz influences in her old-fashioned take on pop.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

The Chinese-Icelandic singer Laufey (Laufey Lín Bing Jónsdóttir) spent her childhood in Reykjavik, Beijing and Washington DC: thanks to her mother, a Chinese classical violinist, and her father, an Icelandic jazz aficionado, she grew up “playing classical, listening to jazz and loving pop”.

Her music mixes all three in a woozy and nostalgic soundscape of piano and strings, grounded by her melodic, old-fashioned voice. At this year’s Grammys, the 24-year-old won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album – a prize historically alternately awarded to Michael Bublé and Tony Bennett – for her album Bewitched. Her sometimes sad, sometimes tongue-in-cheek love songs have a diaristic specificity, influenced as much by the Great American Songbook as they are by Taylor Swift.

Teenagers in Laufey hoodies filled her intimate gig at EartH in Hackney (bigger dates are to come at the Roundhouse and the Royal Albert Hall). In her songs, Laufey presents herself as an unashamed hopeless romantic: her music is almost defiantly sentimental. Dressed in red Mary Jane shoes, a white shirt and a Sixties-print shift dress, she told the audience she was celebrating Valentine’s Week before performing “Valentine” and “Like the Movies” (“I want a love like I’ve seen in the movies/That’s why I’ll never fall in love”). She moved between piano, bass and cello, and was backed by drums and a string quartet. Oddly for a pop concert, the breathless young crowd was near-silent for most songs, the better to hear Laufey’s singular voice.

The only singalong was reserved for her viral hit “From the Start”: at the lyric “Oh the burning pain/Listening to you harp on ’bout your new soulmate/‘She’s so perfect, bla bla bla…’”, the crowd shouted the last three syllables. As she performed “Dreamer” and sang “No boy’s going to be so smart/As to try and pierce my porcelain heart/No boy’s going to kill the dreamer in me”, I thought about the double-edged dare of the line. The committed dreamer must return to fantasy – yes, in the face of disappointment, but also when a dream threatens to come true.

Laufey
EartH, London N16, Thursday 15 February

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[See also: Muna’s anti-capitalist pop]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation

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