By Hannah Kindred
Icelandic-Chinese artist Laufey’s second album Bewitched rose to be Spotify’s 2nd biggest debut album globally when it was released on the 8th September, and became the most streamed jazz debut on the app. It might be a surprise to see a new album succeed in both charts, but Laufey (pronounced “Lay-vay”) is dusting jazz and classical off the shelves and enchanting Gen Z with bossa nova and symphonic sounds.
Laufey was on tour for her first album, Everything I Know About Love, when she started to write songs for Bewitched. EIKAL came with a naivety towards romance and Laufey has admitted the album is really about how she doesn’t know anything about love, telling Sam Fragoso on the podcast Talk Easy that it’s an album of “growing pains”. Whilst Laufey still finds herself falling in love too easily in Bewitched, she seems more sure about how feelings of love sit within her. But what she has matured the most with is her storytelling through her favourite music genres. Laufey used many jazz and classical elements in her first album, but in Bewitched, we truly see these contrasting musical traditions singing together and create a sound that is truly unique to her.
She invites us to join her up in the clouds in the album’s first song ‘Dreamer’. The opening of the song begins a cappella (voice only) in close harmony with herself, as if setting a manifestation for the album: “Let me be a dreamer / Let me float / I can see the whole world / From my own little cloud”. She watches the world from afar, including her own romances, with a unique retrospect and self-awareness that enlightens her about her own story. Whatever love and heartbreak she is going to experience along the way, she promises to herself:
“No boy's going to kill the dreamer in me”
Laufey makes prominent use of her cello at the start of ‘Haunted’, an instrument she has described to be the “closest instrument to the human voice” to Nylon Magazine. It sings a longing melody below the slow guitar riff Laufey used in her song ‘Fragile’ from her first album. Laufey told Fragoso that everything she does with her music is “very intentional”, so there must be a purposeful connection, perhaps how her lover has left her feeling vulnerable and exposed to her own feelings. The most sensual song of the album, dissonant jazz chords against the legato string melodies create an eerie, gothic atmosphere. As Cathy haunts Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Laufey finds herself enraptured with someone out of reach: “I swear to myself as he leaves at dawn / This will end, 'til he haunts me again.”
As ‘Haunted’ felt the presence of previous songs, the guitar part of ‘Must Be Love’ imitates the instrumentation of ‘Someone New’ from Laufey’s first EP ‘Typical of Me’. She sings of a crush starting to flower as the cello’s pizzicato (plucked strings) tiptoes around her feelings. She soon, however, becomes all consumed by her feelings: “Can’t think right, too tongue tied. /Come kiss me, convince me.” Here, the song crescendos into a moment of magic that rises in you like your favourite Disney princess films. Uncontrollable and unstoppable, “This must be love”, according to Laufey.
Laufey is no stranger to performing her jazz-pop songs with live orchestras, and we get a taste of this in Bewitched as the Philharmonic Orchestra accompanies Laufey in ‘California and Me’. A song I believe shines brightly in the album, the piano plays arpeggios (broken chords) underneath the orchestra as the rolling ocean tide, like the strain of the tears she is “holding back”. The accompaniment of an entire orchestra gives Laufey and her song its own film score as her lover leaves her “and the ocean for [his] old flame” at the apex of the second act of her movie.
Laufey delves deeper into classical music as her first piano composition, ‘Nocturne’, a classical piano piece meaning “night poem”, becomes the album’s interlude. It begins with the arpeggios of ‘California and Me’ as a new melody is played on top (later we hear it to be ‘Bewitched’). The chorus of ‘Bewitched’ is played at the higher register of the piano, alluding back to the innocence of falling in love she sang about earlier in the album. The melody then modulates into the minor key (a key that gives a sad or angry feeling to the music) and we feel the darker, more intense feelings love can bring.
Laufey moves back to jazz with the breezy bossa nova groove of ‘From the Start’. She takes a short break from her heartfelt confessions and sings about her crush talking about their crush with a sarcastic tone: “She’s so perfect, blah blah blah.” She continues with this humour as the dramatic emotions of love feel over-the-top against the gentle bossa nova accompaniment; singing about unreciprocated love being “burning pain” and feeling Cupid’s “arrow through [her] heart” can only feel comedic. In this song, she is unafraid to make a little fun of her feelings and it pays off since this has become her most popular song to date.
Continuing her own tradition from previous records, Laufey pays homage to her love of jazz and teaching at Berklee by singing a jazz standard: ‘Misty’ by Erroll Garner (lyrics by Johnny Burke). Laufey sings the challenging intervals (jumps in the melodic scale) with an ease like Ella Fitzgerald. She adds her own vocal runs and riffs without stripping the song’s charm and pulling it away from the era it was born, only shining a light on her vocal talent and chocolatey alto tones.
The penultimate song ‘A Letter To My 13 Year Old Self’ is written to the most important love of Laufey’s life: herself. She looks back at herself ten years ago and lets her teenage self process moments that affected her self-image “I'm so sorry that they pick you last … I know that you feel loud, so different from the crowd”. She promises to her that she will get to do everything she has dreamed of and more: she will “grow so tough and charm them / Write your story, fall in love a little too”. We hear arpeggios in the piano and cello imitate her many hours of music practice as a child, reminding herself how far she has come musically. The song recognises Laufey at 13 as the ‘Dreamer’ who made her able to write Bewitched, and lets the listener reflect upon who they were 10 years ago, who they are now, and how they are lucky to have gotten so far all by themselves.
The album finishes with the song ‘Bewitched’ and leaves you with the magical feeling that Laufey sprinkled all the way through the album. The Philharmonia Orchestra is back with the xylophones and wind instruments playing a dramatic and spellbinding introduction that transports you into a world where dreams come true. Laufey sings about how it feels to realise you are in love when the world freezes around you and you cannot do anything about it. The Orchestra plays with her in the final chorus as she realises there is nothing you can do but embrace falling in love, and the listener cannot help but feel bewitched with her.
It is undeniable that a large reason for Laufey’s growth this year has come from her social media presence, from singing covers from the Great American Songbook to embracing the trend of speeding up her song ‘From the Start’. However, Gen Z are not just watching her TikToks, they are listening to her albums, and they are selling out shows across the world in minutes. I believe the reason why our generation is captivated by Laufey’s music is that she is providing a uniquely optimistic perspective of love and romance during the Digital Age, where the cynicism that comes with information overload has seeped into a lot of music on our Spotify playlists. Laufey’s use of the classical and jazz genres and her take of their traditions throughout Bewitched allows her relatable highs and lows with romance to be told through a timeless lens, where we can feel every emotion deeply and yet, not be weighed down for too long. In Laufey’s romcom, she lets us all be dreamers.
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