“I totally get it,” explains Lauv, the 23-year-old independent and multi-platinum-selling artist, on his reputation for writing break-up anthems. “I’m very intense, I guess, about the way I feel.” But it’s paying off tremendously.

Pop’s newest heartbreak kid has over one billion streams. He just finished a sold-out world tour, and his single, “I Like Me Better,” is certified platinum in nine countries. Lauv’s playlist, I met you when I was 18., shares his story of self-discovery, navigating NYC, and of falling in love for the first time.    

Born in San Francisco, Ari Leff, is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. He adopted the stage name Lauv, the Latvian word for lion, as a nod to his mother’s heritage. His name, Ari, also means lion. After spending his high school years playing in a band and self-booking summer tours via Myspace, Lauv enrolled in NYU’s Music Technology Program in 2012. He considered switching gears and becoming a songwriter, producer, or record engineer for hire, but then he wrote “The Other” with Michael Matosic. This one felt special, and Lauv started making music for himself again.  

Lauv, who just performed on the Today Show in New York City, spoke with Pop Counter Culture about his “late night emo thoughts” and his evolution as an artist.   

What is it about nostalgia, sadness, or tragedy that attracts you? Why do you gravitate towards these themes in your music?
I have a love-hate relationship with it. I’m feeling it a lot right now. I’m in New York visiting. All of the songs on I met you when I was 18. are about my time in New York. I’m definitely in a very weird and nostalgic place right now. I think a lot of the best qualities with music, especially certain types of songs, is how powerfully it can bring you back to a certain moment in your life. How it can make things, that at the time you didn’t think were beautiful, seem beautiful now. It’s really interesting the way nostalgia works. I find myself looking back on certain parts of my life that at the time didn’t seem like anything to me.

In terms of song writing, you’ve shared much about your life. Is anything off limits?
There’s no need to bring in specific people’s names, at least not yet. Who knows. I don’t think there’s anything that’s off limits. Who knows where I’ll go. 

What about your draft tweets?
A lot of my Twitter is me musing about whatever is going on in my head. There’s definitely a lot of emo-ass stuff in my draft page. [There’s] stuff I wrote when I was feeling really, really passionate or fired up about something but then gave up halfway through. Mini poems, late-night emo thoughts. Like when you’re really feeling yourself, but then you take a step back [and say], ‘I’ll revisit that.’ Usually, I never do.

In the media you’ve been labelled as “sensitive” and as the “Heartbreak King.” What do you make of that?
I think it’s funny. I totally get it. I agree, but, at the same time, I think everybody evolves. I have always tended to romanticize things, whether that’s love, friendship, or memories. 

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In terms of gender norms, sensitivity is often associated with femininity. What do you think about making music that breaks or resists traditional ideals?
It’s definitely important, in general, and to me. I’ve always felt challenged by the idea of how a man is “supposed” to be. Throughout my life, at different times, I’ve struggled with that. [I’ve] struggled with feeling like I should lift heavier weights to be more of a traditional man or to look more attractive as a male should look. But what I’ve come to terms with is, whatever people what to call it, masculine or feminine energy, on different days it’s different for me. It’s important to be and express however you feel, even if it’s something that’s [different] from your sex or gender. 

You have a distinct style in how you dress and your artwork. What role does fashion play in how you represent yourself?
All of the artwork is stuff I dreamed up in my head. Minimalism is important to me because I like things that feel like they have a purpose. Musically, I love when I’m making a song and there are just a few things together in a way that I couldn’t imagine before. [It] creates this beautiful, minimalist, synergy. That’s the way I approach things visually as well. 

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Your playlist, I met you when I was 18., is about falling in love for the first time and figuring out who you wanted to become. What self-discoveries did you make during that time?
It was [about] becoming more comfortable in my own skin which a lot of people go through. Being okay alone and figuring out what I’m passionate about. I Met You When I Was 18. is me being in love for the first time and figuring it out. I learned a lot about relationships and how to compromise while also maintaining your own identity. I don’t necessarily believe that compatibility is the most important thing in a relationship. I think you choose to love people despite the things that in an ideal world you would change about them. I think it’s about seeing past that. 

You’ve commented before that you feel your identity changes all the time. For you, what aspects make up identity?
I think it’s how I’m feeling in that particular moment. I feel like I went through different phases – musically, the people around me, the place. When I moved to New York City, I wasn’t around people who grew up there. I felt like I could freely associate with people. For me, identity can evolve over time. There’s something really beautiful about how sometimes people come into your life, and it’s not meant to be forever. You help each other grow in different ways, and you become different people. Identity is something I think about a lot. 

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What do your parents make of all your success?
My parents are scientists. They’ve been really supportive of me and my sisters in driving our own paths and doing what were passionate about. They come to a lot of shows. When I was on tour with Ed Sheeran in Asia last year, my parents flew out to a show in Singapore and stayed a couple of days. It was really awesome. I love them. 

What’s next for you?
I’m working on new music. I’m really excited. Blank slate. I’m also playing a bunch of festivals this summer in Europe, the US, and Canada. I’m going on tour with Ed Sheeran in the US in the fall. That’s going to be fucking insane. I’m also doing my own headlining shows in between those shows.

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