Who is Laufey? The genre-defying singer-songwriter bringing classical and jazz to…

May 2, 2024, 5:33 PM

Laufey, the genre-defying musician bringing classical and jazz music to Gen Z.

Laufey, the genre-defying musician bringing classical and jazz music to Gen Z.

Picture: Getty Images

Everything you need to know about Laufey, the trailblazing multi-instrumentalist who has harnessed the power of TikTok to bring classical and jazz to new audiences.

Laufey Lín Bing Jónsdóttir, known as Laufey (pronounced ‘lay-vay’), is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, record producer and multi-instrumentalist, who is taking the music world by storm.

Active since the early 2020s, she has achieved prominence for her success as a jazz and classical-inspired pop artist. This year, the 25-year-old won her first Grammy for her 2023 album, bewitched, taking home the Best Traditional Pop Album award.

Having performed as a cello soloist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at age 15, Laufey was a finalist in the 2014 edition of Icelands Got Talent and a semi-finalist on The Voice Iceland the following year.

Laufey was born in 1999 in Reykjavík. Her father is Icelandic father and her mother Chinese. Laufey credits her family for inspiring a love of music – her mother is a classical violinist, and her grandfather was a violin teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music in China.

Laufey performing on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!'  in 2023.

Laufey performing on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ in 2023.

Picture: Getty Images

Laufey started learning the piano at four years old, and the cello at eight. In 2018, she graduated from the Reykjavík College of Music, where she also studied singing. She went on to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2021 with a presidential scholarship.

She first started to find a large, dedicated fanbase through the viral TikTok videos she released during the pandemic. Today, she is one of the biggest rising stars in the music world.

Laufey has been vocal about her goal as a musician: to introduce younger audiences to jazz and classical by blending the barriers between styles of music, writing lyrics that connect with younger generations, and making these genres more accessible to a wider audience.

Read more: Young soloist’s blistering Haydn concerto that won her the world’s most prestigious cello competition

What instruments does Laufey play?

Hailed as a ‘prodigy’, Laufey is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the cello, piano and guitar. As a child, she said first held a violin as early as age two.

Laufey has performed with various orchestras around the world, including the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra.

What voice type is Laufey?

Her hauntingly beautiful and timeless voice, which sits perfectly between multiple genres, has led many to question her traditional ‘voice type’. While her vocal range and capacity for expression is fixed, her voice can be categorized as an alto. With many of her melodies stretching deep down into her vocal register, her alto sound rings out richly.

Laufey herself has confirmed this alto label, jokingly referring to her true vocal register in a recent TikTok.

Read more: What’s the difference between a symphony and a philharmonic orchestra?

Laufey & the Iceland Symphony Orchestra – I Wish You Love (Live at The Symphony)

What albums has Laufey released?

At the age of 25, Laufey has already proven herself an accomplished writer, composer and producer. While studying at Berklee in 2021, she released her debut EP, Typical of Me following the success of her jazzy debut single, ‘Street by Street’. The collection includes six original songs – many of which she wrote in her college dorm room – and a cover of the jazz standard, ‘I Wish You Love’.

In 2022 she released her debut album, Everything I Know About Love, which charted in Iceland and the United States. A year later, she released her second album, Bewitched, to critical acclaim. Its single ‘From the Start’ found chart success in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Bewitched the artist also won her first Grammy at the 66th annual awards ceremony in 2024, crowning it Best Traditional Pop Album.

She has also published a live album called A Night At The Symphony, performed and released in 2023 with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The genre-defying album features orchestral arrangements of her original songs, as well as covers of several jazz standards and a traditional Icelandic song.

In 2024, she released a new single ‘Goddess’, leading up to the following release of Bewitched: The Goddess Edition – a deluxe version of her 2023 album with four bonus tracks.

What genre is Laufey’s music?

It’s difficult to categorize Laufey’s sound into just one genre. Her songs are broadly pop, with major jazz and classical influences in their composition and arrangements. Her vocals adhere primarily to the customs of jazz singing, with her trademark rich low notes and scatting prowess, and she cites jazz great Ella Fitzgerald as one of her biggest influences.

The instrumentation she uses is a blend of classical and jazz influences. Laufey uses a symphony orchestra, solo cello and the instrumentation of the classical world just as often as she incorporates drum brushes and moody electric guitar you’d hear in a Chet Baker recording. Her latest release showcases this range – from a classically-inspired nocturne to a cover of the jazz standard ‘Misty’.

Her songwriting, on the other hand, has the relatability and modern-feel of chart-topping hits by pop stars like Taylor Swift. Her lyrics include personal accounts of her experiences with dating, relationships and love. “Songwriting for me is just detangling my thoughts,” she said in an interview with Forbes. “It’s the same thing as journaling.”

Tying her music to one genre is less important for Laufey. “It’s no longer about genre, it’s about feeling and mood,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “The music I make has older inspirations, but the lyrics are very modern. I don’t see myself as somebody who should have existed in a different decade. I’m very much a 21st-century girl.”

Read more: This exquisite Ella Fitzgerald song was based on a Debussy piano miniature

Laufey Performs Amazing Version of ‘From the Start’ with the NSO | Next at the Kennedy Center | PBS

Who is Laufey’s twin?

Any existing fans of Laufey will be familiar with her twin sister, Junia. Also a classically trained musician, Junia is an accomplished violinist who often plays on Laufey’s tracks. She also serves as Laufey’s creative director, and the two of them have amassed a dedicated following online. They frequently post vlogs on YouTube, TikToks together, and even classical music playlists to encourage their young fans to discover classical music.

Where does Laufey perform?

In just a few years Laufey’s career has skyrocketed, taking her to some of the world’s greatest music venues. In 2024, she began a world tour, with performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall, New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and LA’s Hollywood Bowl. She is also headlining historic festivals like Lollapalooza and the Newport Jazz Festival in the US, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy.

The range of venues and gigs she is playing this year is as varied and accomplished as the music she makes – and she’s just getting started.

Laufey performs in New York, New York in December 2023.

Laufey performs in New York, New York in December 2023.

Picture: Getty Images

Laufey’s musical output and influence on younger generations has been making waves in the industry.

“My fans come (to my shows), and often it’s their first time seeing a live orchestra play – my hope is maybe they’ll come back next week and listen to a Mahler symphony or something,” Laufey said in an interview with Time-out.

“I like to keep the message that music is just music. Back in the day, classical music was just pop. It can just be something that follows you through the day, or lifts your spirits or makes you feel something. And there really is nothing more powerful than seeing a live orchestra.”