Laufey, the TikTok musician making waves in the jazz world, believes that music today is less defined by genre and more focused on evoking emotion and setting a vibe.

Estimated read time 8 min read


Six hours prior to the performance, a group of teenagers have already formed a line outside EartH arts venue in east London. They sit on the sidewalk, completing homework or playing Uno, in the hopes of securing a spot at the front of the stage for one of 24-year-old Laufey Jónsdóttir’s three sold-out shows. The grey February afternoon looms with the possibility of rain.

Sitting in her dressing room, wearing a spotless gingham dress, Jónsdóttir remains unbothered by the high levels of anticipation despite the peeling walls surrounding her.

“I have always sold out my first headline shows in 2021,” she states. “I don’t experience nerves before performing, because once I’m on stage, I am instantly able to sing and connect with the crowd. It’s the most enjoyable aspect of being a musician.”

It is not surprising that Jónsdóttir, also known as Laufey, has consistently performed to sold-out audiences. In the four years since her debut single, Street By Street, her accomplishments and recognition have been impressive. She has amassed over 4 million followers on TikTok, with her songs going viral multiple times. Her Instagram following is also impressive, with over 2 million fans. In 2023, she surpassed famous Icelandic artists Björk and Sigur Rós as the most streamed artist from Iceland. That same year, she performed to sold-out crowds of over 60,000 people worldwide and released collaborations with Norah Jones and Beabadoobee. Her fame has even reached the likes of Billie Eilish, who publicly praised her in February when she became the youngest person to win the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, a title previously held by legends like Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, and Michael Bublé. Currently, Jónsdóttir is embarking on a world tour, which includes performances at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, a cross-country tour in Europe, and a special performance with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra in the Philippines. As expected, all of her shows are sold out.

Laufey holding her Gramym in a pink dress –>

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Laufey’s quick rise to fame is impressive, but even more remarkable is the genre of music she creates. Through her two albums, “Everything I Know About Love” and “Bewitched,” released in 2022 and 2023 respectively, she has mastered a blend of classic 1950s jazz vocals with rich symphonic arrangements and candid songwriting, reminiscent of Taylor Swift. This has resulted in a unique style of pop music. Similar to Norah Jones, Laufey has become known as the new face of crooning jazz and has successfully made it appealing to teenage audiences, something that hasn’t been done in decades. Her torch songs take listeners back to a nostalgic era through a sepia-toned lens, a world that the younger generation has not experienced.

She states that her music draws from older influences, but the lyrics are current. She does not view herself as belonging in a different era, as she embraces being a 21st-century woman and cherishes the opportunities available to women in this time period.

Laufey’s compositions encompass various elements of contemporary love, ranging from spotting a crush on the subway (From the Start) to facing the challenges of undefined relationships (Promise). Her smooth, Ella Fitzgerald-inspired vocals add a cozy touch to her music.

According to her, being a musician is particularly opportune currently since audiences are more receptive than ever. With numerous platforms for music consumption, genre has taken a backseat to emotion and atmosphere. Ultimately, young listeners prefer young voices over older ones trying to impart wisdom.

Laufey and her twin sister as children, playing violinisView image in fullscreen

Laufey and her twin sister, Júnía, were born in Reykjavik to an Icelandic father and Chinese mother and were both raised in a musical environment. Laufey’s mother plays violin for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and her maternal grandparents were both violin and piano professors. Laufey’s love for jazz, sparked by her father’s collection, and her mother’s passion for classical music led her to begin playing the violin at the young age of two. At four, she started taking piano lessons, and at eight, she began learning the cello. While initially needing some encouragement to stick with music, Laufey is now grateful for her mother’s insistence on practicing for an hour every day, as it all clicked when she turned 13.

At the start of her teenage years, Laufey joined a youth orchestra and music quickly became a way for her to connect with others and escape from feeling like the only person of color in her community.

She expressed feeling like an outsider due to being one of the few Asians in Iceland and having spent a portion of her childhood in the United States. Additionally, she identified as a nerdy orchestra student and spent her free time practicing instead of playing with friends. She viewed music as her pathway to opportunities in the United States or the United Kingdom.

At the age of 15, she played as a soloist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and participated in the reality competition Ìsland Got Talent, ultimately making it to the final on television. She shares, “During my high school years, I was very focused on discipline and did not drink or attend parties. My main priority was to earn a scholarship and study at a foreign university.”

The determination and effort paid off and in 2018, at the age of 19, she moved away from her family to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music with a highly esteemed Presidential scholarship. She experienced many firsts during her two years there: living on her own without her twin sister, studying jazz instead of classical music, and falling in love. She reflects with a smile, “It was my first taste of independence, no longer being part of a twin duo, just living as an individual woman. I was excited to grow up and experience life, and suddenly I had all these new things to draw inspiration from for my music.”

Laufey performing At EartH, Hackney, last month.

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Due to the impact of Covid-19, Laufey was forced to turn to the internet as her only means of sharing her new songs about love, rejection, and yearning. Despite initial disappointment in not being able to perform live, she took advantage of the lockdown to post online videos of herself singing her new material. To her surprise, this gained her a following among young people.

During the month of April in 2020, she independently released a song called “Street By Street”, which was a melancholic ballad with folk influences centered around reclaiming a city and its memories from a past romantic partner. However, it wasn’t until the following year, when Laufey posted a video of herself singing her song “Valentine” on TikTok, that she gained widespread popularity. According to her, “Valentine” was originally written as a jazz song as a joke on Valentine’s Day, but the unexpected explosion of notifications on her phone changed her perspective. She now sees it as a new standard and enjoys how a song she wrote in tribute to the past can also be interpreted as new music.

In essence, this is the core of Laufey’s musical appeal – using old sounds in a new way to evoke a sense of longing for a time that her teenage fanbase may not have experienced. While her first album, Everything I Know About Love, was mainly made up of songs she wrote in her Berklee dorm room, her newest release, Bewitched, showcases Laufey’s growth as a musician, with co-production credits and her first foray into classical music composition. Despite this, she remains an independent artist without a contract with a major record label.

“I have matured as a person, so the music has also matured,” she explains. “Every note in the songs is played with me present in the room, and all the instruments used are real. Our goal is to introduce classical and jazz music to a wider audience.”

One of the standout songs on the album is the heartfelt jazz ballad titled “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self,” in which Laufey delicately shares her experiences of feeling inadequate during her teenage years. She explains, with her head lowered, that she used to feel like an outcast because of her low singing voice and the lack of Asian role models in the music industry. Reflecting on her past, she wrote this song to remind herself of her big dreams and to encourage her younger fans who may also have similar aspirations, but may doubt themselves due to insecurities about their appearance.

At the Hackney venue EartH, over 1,200 fans cheered loudly as Laufey performed a diverse setlist ranging from 1940s jazz standard “I Wish You Love” to her own modern hit “Valentine.” As she nears the end of her performance, she sings “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self” and takes a moment to address the crowd. “I finally feel like the artist I always wanted to be when I was younger, and it brings me immense joy,” she shares with a shaky voice. “When I look out at my audience every night, it feels like the community I always craved but never had.” Her fans cheer and some wipe tears from their faces, nodding in agreement. It seems that their long-awaited concert experience was well worth it.


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