The Icelandic-Chinese singer and songwriter certainly isn’t quiet about her adoration, especially when sharing how the famous city inspired many of her songs to a full audience on tour.
“You bewitched me / From the first time that you / kissed me / Waited all night / Then we ran down the street in / the late London light / The world froze around us / You kissed me goodnight,” Laufey sings of the chorus in her lower-register tone as she strums a guitar.
With the delicate swell of instruments in the background against a starry night backdrop on stage, it’s as if the Los Angeles-based singer (whose full name is Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir) is transporting everyone to the cobble-stoned streets of London for an evening — the “charming” place where not only her twin sister Junia lives, but also where she fell in love.
Through her signature classical jazz style, Laufey (pronounced “lay-vay”) takes her audience on a spell-binding journey as she weaves between songs and rhythms that mirror the singer’s own self-discovery about falling in love.
As a social-media-savvy artist who always sought to make such genres more accessible to a modern audience, she draws inspiration from the “jazz greats” like Chet Baker to convey a timeless perspective that only a “21st-century twentysomething” can express — where instead of writing songs about being “deeply in love or deeply in heartbreak,” the 24-year-old composer is exploring the less-charted middle ground.
“Most of my friends’ experience has been everything in between — all the confusion and the questions and the ‘Oh, am I love?’ Or the ‘Do I want to let go of him? Does he like me? I think I like him,’” Laufey tells PEOPLE. “Those kinds of feelings are, I think, the bulk of the female experience.”
The multi-instrumentalist’s music has been full of these self-initiated back-and-forth conversations ever since the release of her debut single, “Street by Street,” in 2020. Just two years later, she would release her debut album, Everything I Know About Love, to critical acclaim.
Her more mature sophomore album, released in September 2023, has reached a new level of success. Bewitched not only became the biggest jazz album debut in Spotify history, but also landed the “Promise” singer her first Grammy Award nomination for best traditional pop vocal album — all in the midst of her largest world tour so far, the Bewitched Tour.
In addition, she also joined forces with the world-renowned London-based Philharmonia Orchestra for her tracks, “Bewitched” and “California and Me” — a far cry from the pandemic days when she composed and plucked her cello in a small bedroom alone.
When reflecting back to how it all began, the “Beautiful Stranger” singer is quick to hone in on her ever-evolving identity.
While speaking to PEOPLE on Zoom during a quiet morning in her Nashville hotel, she sits dressed in her go-to tank top, cardigan and loose denim jeans with a contemplative look in her eyes.
She begins by describing the “very Chinese upbringing” she experienced despite growing up half-Asian and living between Reykjavik and Washington D.C. Ever since she was 4, her Chinese mother would teach both her and her sister how to play the piano, all in Mandarin.
That’s how Laufey, who now plays the cello and guitar as well, first fell in love with classical music. Later on, she would develop a taste for jazz after combing through her Icelandic economist father’s records of female jazz musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
“I think whatever your mother teaches you is going to be closest to your heart,” she says with a laugh.
Her twin sister and creative director, Junia, later felt herself drawn to the violin when she was 7 years old — the same instrument their mother played in Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music.
“I remember looking at my grandfather and my mother’s little violin students, and I thought they were so cute, standing there with a little violin,” Junia tells PEOPLE as she sits in the hotel lobby. “I was like, ‘I wanted to be cute and I want to play violin.'”
“So maybe, all of my decisions have been derived from aesthetic thoughts from the very beginning,” the creative director adds.
Yet Laufey began to experience a “weird in-between” when she entered middle school and high school and felt distanced from her cultural heritage. After all, not many of her classmates with their “long blonde hair” and “big blue eyes” resembled her 13-year-old self — the one with “curly hair” and clothes that “don’t quite fit,” as she writes her heartfelt song, “Letter to My 13 Year Old Self.”
But whenever the budding artist would travel to the States, away from the more “reserved” Icelandic people, she was quick to notice how “super outspoken” everyone seemed to be.
“People would be like, ‘Oh yeah, I noticed you’re sad today,’” she recalls of her initial shock. “Nobody would ever say that in Iceland.”
Later on, when the “From the Start” singer finally moved over to the U.S. for good, she got to rekindle her cultural belonging with “so many more people who look like me.”
“It’s funny — you don’t realize how important it is until you’re around it for the first time,” she says. “I remember literally being excited, finding friends in college for the first time and exchanging stories about our grandmas telling us to eat more or finish our plate. There’s just certain nuances in the culture, and it’s the most magical thing.”
The same cultural shocks also carried over to the concept of love as well. Whereas in Iceland, its small size makes people “couple up fast,” dating in America means “you have the luxury of going on a date with someone and never talking to them again.”
“Because I lacked the confidence to believe that somebody would like me, I just didn’t even try,” Laufey explains. “I think everybody’s time will come, and maybe this is something I tell myself, but if you’re a late bloomer, chances are, you just know what you want.”
“There’s nothing wrong with trying things out and learning that way by dating from an earlier age,” she adds. “But if you’ve waited that long, you know what you want.”
The “Dear Soulmate” singer says she notices that it’s usually “confident and smart women” who are more in tune with their needs. But on a deeper level, she also believes being a late bloomer is an experience that many people of color can relate to, and especially her fans, the Lauvers.
“It feels like you’re falling behind growing up, especially when I never saw people who looked like me fall in love,” she says. “So, you are almost trained to believe it’s not for you.”
While navigating childhood insecurities and questions about love, Laufey says she could lean on her twin sister, Junia. Even now as both women navigate their twenties together and apart, they can always count on each other as siblings and creative partners.
“She’s someone that will always tell me the truth, which I really value,” Laufey says of Junia, whom she calls the “ultimate creative mind” that can sway her on anything.
“It’s funny — there’ll be a cardigan that I don’t like that much and I’m not sure about it, but if she loves it, she can sell it to me,” she continues. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so right.’”
While the twins are identical in appearance and agree on the same aesthetics (like the fashion style that Laufey’s fans have dubbed as “Laufey Core,”) they also differ in career paths.
Even though she currently works as Laufey’s creative director, Junia was just a college graduate with a degree in economics and international relations a year ago. Despite working on the creative design for Laufey’s past projects, the designer always viewed it as a “side hustle” to a more traditional path in investment banking.
“Music to me, up until college was classical music, so it was either a glorified hobby or a pathway to a career being in an orchestra and a violin teacher,” she explains.
Yet, from the pandemic onward, Junia says she was always looking for a “creative outlet.” After experimenting with podcasts, knitting and an eventual stint at Universal Music Group, she made the leap to join her sister full-time after realizing a career in the music industry was possible.
Since that momentous decision, she’s made sure to carefully curate the designs, concepts and outfits for each of Laufey’s projects with sisterly love.
London also holds a special place in Junia’s heart. It’s not only the city where she lives when she’s not with Laufey on tour, but also where she experienced both love and heartbreak. It’s within England’s capital where she also indulges in “vibe seeking” for her next creative inspiration, whether it’s down in the countryside or along the fashionable streets.
“Everything we were just consuming at the time just feeds into the album,” Junia says of her collaborations with Laufey. “I would say we live the album aesthetic, not only in the assets, but also in our lives. It sounds insane, but genuinely, I think that’s why it works.”
Everything feeds off one simple question that Junia asks herself with every new project: “What’s a vibe that we’re feeling this season?”
Whether it’s peasant dresses, TikTok Cottage Core, polaroids during COVID, mid-century furniture from Facebook Marketplace, or in Junia’s case, Piet Mondrian-inspired dresses she spotted while walking along Paris’ Seine river after a breakup, the overarching theme is always “timeless and classic.”
“I would say the best way to describe creative direction, at least for Laufey, is that we build worlds,” Junia says.
However, creative collaboration isn’t the only “world” they’ve built together. The pair have also since charted a new musical landscape on stage with Junia on her violin and Laufey with her smooth alto vocals on the song “Best Friend.”
As opposed to her earlier violin-learning days, getting to make music with her sister has been much more of a “joy.”
“It’s a fun way to adorn her set,” Junia says. “Her music is free — it’s like nobody’s testing me, especially the parts where I get to play. You get to improv a little bit and nobody’s judging you there. That’s the beauty of the type of music that Laufey makes.”
Outside of the working world, the sisters have also freed themselves to develop their own respective identities in life and love. While they both certainly won’t let each other “marry an asshole,” Junia still says there’s an extent to which “you have to let the people you love experience things for themselves.”
That’s what Laufey was able to do for Junia when the latter was experiencing her first relationship, albeit with a guy that the former “really didn’t like.”
“She allowed me to sail through that, and I walked out on the other side with an experience,” Junia recalls. “That was the gift I got out of Laufey, not her telling me that she saw a red flag. I sort of got it myself.”
Thanks to friends and family, Laufey says she’s been able to better navigate the “crazy, crazy, year” she’s experienced so far. However, those relationships can also become a challenge to maintain with her busy schedule, which keeps her touring well over half the year.
“It’s so easy to become isolated in this job if you don’t actively keep up those relationships because you’re always alone in a hotel room,” Laufey explains. “It’s funny — there can be so many people around you and so many fans, and you can still feel a bit lonely. I think I combat that by having my sister on tour with me, so I’m never alone, which is so lovely.”
As her career continues to reach a wider audience, she also is beginning to adjust to the “weight” that being a role model for many young fans brings. Much of it stems from her own memories as a younger Laufey who looked up to her own musical idols and “followed every single word” they said.
“I know my position now as a role model for many, and I want to do them justice,” she says.
Part of that goal is making sure she never strays too far from her “Gen Z” energy, which has made her a viral sensation on social media for her relatable and funny content. Although she’s a self-proclaimed “old soul” at heart, there’s nothing that will stop her from invoking the “Gen Z lingo” that she loves for her 3.2 million fans on TikTok.
“I think there’s a misconception that you have to be one or the other,” Laufey says of being either old-fashioned or modern. “Growing up, a lot of people thought I was just old fashioned or just sounded older or more mature, but I’m actually very, very young in that sense.”
“I don’t reject social media at all,” she adds. “Social media is the way to reach an audience and have it be in your own power.”
It’s a power that has uniquely strengthened Laufey’s connection to her fanbase, Junia says, which provides extra layers of context for an audience to decipher.
“Say Laufey makes a song about a really good date,” Junia muses. “The first level of context is like, ‘Oh, it was a really good date.’ The second level of context is knowing what makes Laufey laugh and what makes a good date for Laufey.”
Junia herself has also found a creative way to use social media on tour. Armed with a tiny mic in hand, she excitedly walks up to Laufey’s fans as they line up for her concerts at each stop. Feeling inspired by online street interviews, the creative director thought it would be “funny” to see how many fans would be able to tell the difference between her and her sister.
“For those who know it’s me, that’s fun,” Junia says with a laugh. “But some people don’t know — and how ridiculous is it that your artist comes out with a tiny mic to interview their own audience?”
The tour, which experienced a sold-out North American leg, will continue to Europe come February of the new year. Amid the excitement and frenzy of Laufey’s growing stardom, the “Valentine” singer has learned to treasure the smaller and slower moments just as much.
In fact, she knows exactly how she’ll spend her next off day, where she’ll first wake up “slowly” and hole up at a coffee shop for several hours. While sipping on a warm oat latte, she’ll cozy up with her favorite book, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and sneak time in between to journal and people-watch.
When asked about whether she has an ongoing romance at the moment, Laufey can’t help but flash a mysterious smile.
“Yeah, maybe,” she amusingly says, without giving away another hint. “That’s my response: maybe.”
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Whatever she’s “experiencing right now” is the journey she wants to take her audience on in the future, complete with her beloved classical and jazz influences. By gaining confidence in her writing ability, Laufey’s learned so much about herself already — and knows there is so much more to explore.
“I think that I’ve learned that I have a lot of love to give and share with someone that’s worthy of it,” she reflects. “We all have a lot of love in ourselves.”