Laufey's Old-Time Pop Is Smooth. Its Relationship to Jazz Is Spikier.

The 24-year-old multi-instrumentalist found fame on TikTok with her nostalgic songs. But her dedication to her followers may be holding her music back.

Laufey's Old-Time Pop Is Smooth. Its Relationship to Jazz Is Spikier.

The nostalgic TikTok singer was able to get through about 20 minutes of her Town Hall show on Wednesday, the first of two sold out shows at the Midtown Manhattan theatre.


Put down your hollow-body electric guitarist. She began singing "Dreamer," the barbershop pop tune that opens her album 'Bewitched', with her hands free. She changed her pose with each line as she walked across the stage: she bent forward at the waist as if she were sharing a bit of gossip, while keeping one leg straight and the other hip-bent. Her head was turned to the side as if she were mid-sigh.

Posing is an important part of the Laufey equation. The big sigh is also a key component in the Laufey equation.

If you're one of the millions of people who fell for Laufey in the last 12 months, then you probably have a lot of music on your computer and are young enough to be moved by a song that describes the tragedy of a crush. You may also only be vaguely familiar with the midcentury pop repertoire she draws from.

Laufey Lin Jonsdottir, 24, is a cellist and multi-instrumentalist who grew up between Washington and Reykjavik. Half-Chinese and half-Icelandic, she is a third-generation musician, and as a youngster she often tagged along to her violinist mother's orchestra rehearsals. She studied music business at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and when the pandemic sent students home, she returned to Iceland and began posting videos of herself covering tunes by Billie Eilish and Chet Baker -- always in a throwback style swelling with overdubbed vocal harmonies and jazzy acoustic guitar. (Mind that word, jazzy. We'll come back to it.) Amid the pandemic, this content was a comfort, and a following developed fast.

Laufey is fond of reminding interviewers that she thinks of herself as 'old-fashioned'


Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

Laufey’s sound is simultaneously nostalgic and perfect for our online world where big feelings are best expressed in Pop Tarts. Her lyrics, which at times mention social media or the disappointments that come with digital dating, are the only thing that would not have been out of place on American radio between 1940 and mid-1960s. This was before the Beatles and Stones began to break the rules.

Laufey had not written any original music before 2020. But as a classically-trained musician, she developed a talent for combining pleasant parts to create a satisfying whole. Adam Neely, a jazz musician and YouTuber who released an erudite piece of music in September, is a good example.


He had no trouble decoding the DNA of her music.

The first song that Laufey composed was

"Street By Street"

She recorded it with the assistance of a music-production major who lived across the hall the day before she left Berklee for lockdown. This song was a hit in Iceland and spread to the rest of the world. The song appeared on her EP 'Typical of Me', which she released in the year following. It was a mix of jazz, bossa nova, and other old-school sounds, but it also felt like a dream that Laufey had created. This music was distinct and precarious, with a drum machine sound that was unfussy and a grooviness similar to Corinne Bailey Rae. It was unsure of its future, just like most people in that moment.

You could say, since then, that her process is now subsumed in her profile. She has more than three million followers on TikTok and another two millions on Instagram. Her feed has evolved into a direct-to fan service. Laufey, who writes music with her composing partner Spencer Stewart, says that she is influenced by her fans when it comes to what she writes. She was asked to write a song that reflected being the second choice of a lover. Her response, "Second Best," is a catchy, but difficult-to-place song from 'Bewitched' in which she laments: "You were my everything/I'm your second best."

Laufey performed at Town Hall in front of a dark blue drape with stars and large movie set spotlights. It looked like the set of 'La La Land' A follower said recently that her music sounded "like if La La Land was a sequel"; she

Enjoy the best of both worlds

This feedback.) She played guitar, cello and piano with expert skill, accompanied by a four piece band and string quartet. She sped through 17 songs in just over 75 minutes, not including the short encore.

After all, we live in a messy, anxious world. Laufey’s mix of bossa-nova, romantic pop, and show tunes reassures us that yes, old standards still apply. (Midset, she played "I Wish You Love" and quoted from "Misty.")

Laufey claims that her readers dictate a lot of what she writes about and covers.


Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

Laufey is fond of reminding interviewers that she's 'old-fashioned', a phrase that sounds, when spoken, like splitting the difference between

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She often talks about her love of Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker, and it is evident that they have influenced her. The swooning, syrupy sound of her voice is more reminiscent of, say,

Patti Page

The grand dame of the 1950s contralto, best known for "Tennessee Waltz" and "(How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?"

All of this is not necessarily a concern. It can be a bit off-putting when Laufey (and now her formidable P.R. It can be off-putting to hear Laufey (and her now formidable P.R. Jazz music was originally created as a kind of deviation from the rules and was intended to be for everyone.

She told Zach Sang, the podcast host, recently

"It's sad that this genre has become something that doesn't feel like it's for everyone. It's the death of a genre, I believe.

All are important. Yes, her music may introduce some to the vibrant and open creative landscape of jazz. Laufey, who doesn't improvise or play with a swing rhythm on her instrument and does not engage in the risky collaborative spirit of jazz, is not its ambassador. In fact, she is making an antiquated form of radio pop, but calling it jazz. This is exactly the type of thing that keeps jazz back and confuses casual listeners about its relevance.

There is also a bumper crop young alchemical jazz singers, who are engaging the past in a smart way, reinventing it for the present and trying to understand how its values could translate into our increasingly digital, isolated future.

Samara Joy

The Grammy-winning artist of this year knows how to honor the past while moving forward.

Esperanza Spalding

She has done it for more than a decade with unmatched creativity, and has also been embraced by millions of young people.

Melanie Charles's

Live show is not only well-crafted and bold, but also very creative and exciting.

Laufey's ability to play her own songs, more or less as recorded, was the most telling thing at Town Hall. This seemed to be related to Laufey's process on social media. When followers dictate what you create next, you are trapped in a familiarity loop. What is expected of you also becomes what you create. Laufey might want to learn from Mitski, a musician who she admires.


And for whom she has expressed admiration --

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