The musical witching hour

Lara Bhakdi reviews Laufey’s release Bewitched and explains how the Icelandic singer-songwriter has cast her spell

People who buy tickets to jazz concerts in the US are overwhelmingly middle-aged and male, according to the Jazz Audience Initiative. The popularity of jazz concerts seems to have been dwindling with young people in particular – and yet recently, one Jazz artist has sold out shows worldwide, with songs from her new album taking over social media. 

‘Bewitched’, a 14-track release by singer-songwriter Laufey, is all over the internet, with Pop Data reporting that the album has had the “biggest debut for a Jazz album on Spotify” ever; it’s a new entry on the Billboard 200, coming in at #23. Prior to its release, the album tracklist had first been communicated to fans via a crossword puzzle, and it was made available as sheet music shortly before September 8th, allowing for avid ‘Lauvers’ to practice and share their own renditions. Here’s a look at Laufey’s album and the young, diverse fanbase the singer has managed to build.

Regarding genre, the singer is Icelandic-Chinese and has talked about how her upbringing has nurtured her love for jazz and classical music. Considering her background, it’s no wonder that elements of these genres are so present in her songs. “Bewitched” isn’t her first album; she released “Everything I Know About Love” last year, and an EP titled “Typical of Me” in 2021. She has also uploaded jazz covers to YouTube and frequently went live on Instagram while accumulating fans. Earlier this year, her live performance with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra was released as an album, perhaps highlighting the influence of classical music on her work and the adaptability of her songs. While she retains these influences in “Bewitched”, the album also branches out to other genres. 

“Even though these tracks are about romantic love, it is a testament to Laufey’s accessibility that some can be seen through a platonic lens.”

Through multiple songs from the album, Laufey explores the relatable turmoils of romantic love. “From the Start”, a bossa nova-style track, might be one of the most recognisable songs for non-fans; it was a significant contributor in propelling Laufey to fame earlier this year and won the hearts of many by virtue of its down-to-earth lyrics about love and memorable chorus. The song – and the sped-up version – can be heard in the background of quite a few videos posted to social media. The mellow vocals, rhythmic guitar, and creative use of scatting (a jazz technique in which the singer utilises their voice as an instrument) bring this fun track to the next level. Other tracks about the nascence and beauty, but also the heartbreak of love – often in a coming-of-age setting – include “While You Were Sleeping”, “Second Best”, and “Haunted”. These songs often feature a combination of guitar, vocal, and string accompaniments. Even though these tracks are about romantic love, it is a testament to Laufey’s accessibility as an artist that some can certainly be seen through a platonic lens as well.

Laufey’s voice is astonishingly versatile, ranging from a soulful lower range to a higher register. Her voice carries the beginning of the first track, “Dreamer”, in an acapella section and adds an ethereal accompaniment to the tune in “Must Be Love”. Her higher register especially shines in “Serendipity”, a song that reaches for haunting, fragile high notes in its account of a serendipitous love.

“The skillful reinterpretation of the jazz standard “Misty” cements “Bewitched” as a jazz album.”

The perhaps most notable deviation from Laufey’s usual style can be found in ‘Lovesick’. It’s slightly farther from the classical music and jazz influences that are easy to hear in the sweeping string sections and intricate harmonies of her other songs, but shines as an example of versatility on the album. Another deviation from the expected is the “Nocturne (Interlude)”, which, as the name implies, is a classical-style piano piece consisting of the arpeggiated accompaniment from “California and Me” and the melody from “Bewitched”, both tracks that were released before the entire album was released (along with “Promise” and “From the Start”). Despite this refreshing genre diversity and fusion, the skillful reinterpretation of the jazz standard “Misty” ultimately cements “Bewitched” as a jazz album – and an excellent one at that.

One of the final songs on the album is also one of the most personal. In “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self”, Laufey addresses how growing up biracial and feeling othered as a result of her identity and personality affected her, and also how she overcame these obstacles. This sense of identity contributes to a beautiful conclusion to the album.

While many might theorise why Laufey has become so popular, this album makes the reasons obvious. Not only does the artist’s immense talent transcend the boundaries of genre to create an incredible listening experience, but she has removed the barriers of elitism and lack of relatability for an audience that has seldom been able to find themselves in jazz.

Lara Bhakdi

Lara Bhakdi is a second-year European Studies student and one of the Deputy Food & Drink Editors.