Meet Laufey, TikTok’s hottest jazz ambassador

Laufey Merch

The sound is classic circa ’65 bossa nova and the kids are mad for it. They raise smartphones and voices to sing every word, all but drowning out the pretty girl from Iceland rolling her big eyes and swinging her hollow-body jazz guitar. It’s sexy and electric. Sixty seconds of YouTube gold.

“I’m on such a mission,” says 24-year-old Laufey Lin Jonsdottir, back home in Los Angeles in between sold-out American club dates. She wonders in a different song, by the way, whether the word “pretty” is OK to use — but she and her “Valentine” can’t help exchanging it, so I think we’re good.

“My passion, my main goal as a musician, is to bring jazz music back to this generation,” she says, “to introduce it as something new to this generation and as something that is ours. Something that isn’t just for, you know, your parents or your grandparents. Not some relic. Something that’s current.”

Zooming from her parked car “between engagements” in Santa Monica, the 24-year-old TikTok star, whose debut Australian tour sold out in minutes, conjures a curious collision of old world and new. She’s wearing a lace-trimmed floral frock that might once have been called demure. Her conversation is peppered with quaint, emoji-defying turns of phrase such as “if you will”, “whatnot” and “nowadays”.

“I definitely speak sometimes like I’m from a different age,” she agrees, her practised American accent a result of growing up in Washington DC as well as Reykjavik and Beijing. “And then other days I’m speaking in TikTok lingo … but yeah, I definitely think that’s just my rhythm of speech.

“As much as I’m an old soul,” she volunteers, “I am a 21st century girl at heart. I’m very Gen Z at heart. And I understand the language and whatnot of this generation very well. I understand how they work and how they act.”

Her busy social media bears this out. The sound of Laufey (pronounced Leh-vey) may recall postcards from Ipanema to seasoned ears, but her TikTok persona is more sped-up, digitally styled and filtered, with or without her spookily identical twin sister Junia accompanying on violin.

Their musical education began early. Laufey can’t recall when she first climbed up on the piano stool, but she does remember “running around backstage at the symphony” where her mother played violin. Mum’s parents, in turn, were both professors of music at the Central Conservatory of Music in China.

Cello would be Laufey’s instrument, and key to her pitch and phrasing as a singer. In Melbourne and Sydney next week she’ll play guitar and piano.

“I only remember listening to classical music when I was a baby,” she says. “When we were driving around, we’d be listening to the repertoire that my twin sister and I were playing that week. So classical music has a very special place in my heart because of that. It just truly feels like home.”

The jazz came from Dad, and with it, the weird nostalgia for a time she never knew. She mentions touchstones Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and bossa nova king Joao Gilberto, whose influence is abundantly clear on her latest single, From the Start.

“My Dad also loved the golden age of Hollywood … musicals like On the TownAn American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, so I would end up watching those … I definitely romanticised growing up in a different time, where I got to wear pretty dresses and saddle shoes every day.

“Now that I’m grown up, I can with confidence say that there’s no other century or decade I’d want to live in because there’s no better time to be a woman. And I can still wear pretty dresses with saddle shoes.”

Meanwhile, musically speaking, the modern world clearly began to impose its wicked ways by the mid-2010s, when a young and bespectacled Laufey Lin made an impact on Iceland’s Got Talent and The Voice with an R’n’B inflection more indebted to Alicia Keys than Debbie Reynolds.

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