How Laufey's Chinese Icelandic Upbringing Shaped Her Unique Jazz Sound

Laufey has always felt "undefined." Whether it was her unique, modern jazz sound or her identity as a Chinese Icelandic artist, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter and producer tells POPSUGAR she "always felt like an anomaly and a bit of an outsider in my communities."

"Being a bit different became my status quo."

The artist, who recently took home her first Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album, has taken the music world — and TikTok — by storm. Since going viral on the platform in early 2022, she's released two albums, the second of which earned her the accolade. "Being a bit different became my status quo. I took my experience of being undefined into the music industry," she says.

Laufey's background growing up with Chinese and Icelandic parents in Iceland and later living in the US was pivotal to building her sound and, eventually, her career in music. "I had such a mix of experiences learning music," she says. Her first foray into music was connected to her Chinese culture — through her mother, a world-class violinist, and her maternal grandfather, who taught the instrument.

Laufey took piano lessons at Beijing's prestigious Central Conservatory of Music, and she performed as a solo cellist for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at 15. When she started attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, she learned jazz and pop for the first time. "All of those experiences allowed me to grow up hearing the different sounds of each of my cultures and taught me about the things that bind different musical disciplines together and what sets them apart," she explains. Her blend of jazz, classical, and pop is so unique that there's often debate over defining her exact genre of music.

In addition to influencing her music, her college experience allowed her to embrace more of her Asian heritage, which she says she wasn't exposed to growing up in Iceland. "Living in the US has given me exposure to bigger Asian communities that I didn't necessarily have growing up in Iceland, where my mother and a few of her friends were the extent of my Asian community," she says. "Outside of the music industry, I've been able to embrace my identity as an Asian and be more proud of that side of me." In turn, that shift has given her the opportunity to "connect on a deeper level" with her fans of Asian descent.

And now, as a young woman in the music industry, Laufey is passionate about opening up opportunities for other women artists, particularly those of color. She can count the number of women producers she's worked with on one hand. Through Bose's Turn the Dial initiative, which aims to close the gender gap in music production, the musician collaborated with Eunike Tanzil, a rising producer and composer, to create a song from scratch in just three hours. "Eunike has such a beautiful way of approaching a simple melody, which is what drew me to her in the beginning," Laufey says. "It's an honor to create music with other Asian women in the industry. Together, we bring to our music a type of sincerity that is unique to our backgrounds."

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As she continues to climb the charts, Laufey understands her undefined genre and identity represent what mainstream music and media have been missing. For Laufey, her recent Grammy win was "for those who couldn't figure out who they wanted to be."

As she puts it: "It was a stamp of approval proving that you don't have to follow a certain path in order to succeed in music."