Published Mar 05, 2020Lauv isn't yet a household name, but if you've been paying any attention to pop music, commercial or alternative, you've certainly heard his songs. Whether it's under his own name ("I Like Me Better" was a Top 40 hit in 2017) or as a songwriter for Charli XCX ("Boys"), Khalid ("Hundred") and Céline Dion ("Imperfections"), Lauv is deceptively unavoidable.
He is Ari Leff (Lauv means "lion" in Latvian, which he chose to honour his mom), a singer-songwriter-producer who has been quietly building his own pop empire. At four billion streams to date and a fan base as intense and committed as any K-pop act, he's one of the digital age's most successful independent acts.
The followup to his 2018 compilation, I Met You When I Was 18 (The Playlist), ~how i'm feeling~ is as ambitious as debut pop albums get. Boasting a total of 21 tracks, half of which have been released as singles in the past calendar year, Lauv certainly put in the work to maximize this moment.
His music has a brilliant simplicity to it; under all of the processed layers, each song sounds almost naked compared to most contemporary pop production. But vulnerability is Lauv's strong suit; he bares all through brutally honest and personal lyrics that feel like the listener is his therapist. At times it borders on too intimate, but his truest gift is in writing undeniable, ringtone hooks and catch-phrase choruses, which serve like jam does coating a bitter pill. (Somehow he turned the 13 Reasons Why-featured "fuck, i'm lonely" into one of 2019's most persuasive ear worms.)
Lauv is, for the lack of a better word, emo, to the fullest. Songs like "Sad Forever," "Feelings," and "Modern Loneliness" all dwell in depression, isolation and confusion, but he has a distinct awareness to frame them as feel-good pop. He also knows to invite others to join in — Troye Sivan, Anne-Marie, Alessia Cara and LANY are all like-minded artists who mesh well with Lauv's personal brand.
However, it feels like he had to sacrifice a little too much of himself to work with BTS on "Who," which sounds better suited for their Map of the Soul: 7, and Sofia Reyes, who completely takes over on the wholly Latin pop "El Tejano," making it feel too much like an outlier on the album.
He may get branded as Gen-Z's poster boy, but like his past collaborator Charli XCX, Lauv has definitely established his own niche. Maybe it's only a matter of time before he becomes one of pop's biggest acts, but for now, ~how i'm feeling~ confirms that he's doing fine looking in from the outside. (AWAL)