Photo credit: Blair Brown
At age twenty-five, Ari Stapans Leff, who goes by the stage name Lauv, has already made a measurable impact on the music world. His debut single “The Other” was certified gold back in 2015. By 2018, he had enough successful individual songs online to assemble them into a compilation album. To date, I Met You When I was 18 (The Playlist) has been streamed over a billion times on Spotify alone. His first full-length album – the massive 21-track offering How I’m Feeling, was released in March of 2020 and has also been certified gold (and those sales will no doubt increase).
All of this is in addition to an impressive number of writing or co-writing credits (usually listed under his real name) on songs recorded by others. This includes artists who are closer to being his contemporaries, such as Charli XCX, Billy Gilman and Daniel Sky. However, a couple of major veteran acts who’ve been around since Lauv was very young (or even not born yet), have also benefitted from his songwriting contributions, including Celine Dion and the Backstreet Boys. “I don’t know if deep down I truly believed [my success] would be possible,” Lauv told Time magazine in 2018. “I still have trouble accepting this stuff now. It’s almost a little bit numb. You’re like, do I really deserve it more than any other person does?”
Lauv’s success is probably not that hard to dissect: the synth-based, studio-heavy R&B-influenced pop which appears throughout his debut album is very much of-the-moment and ripe for universal appeal in 2020. At the same time, however, the title How I’m Feeling clearly suggests a very personal work. Lauv’s ability and willingness to share such raw emotion with the world has clearly spoken to listeners, regardless of whether they can relate to it directly. “Kids can tell if you’re being genuine or not,” he said in that same Time interview. “I don’t think the world needs more role models of people pretending to be something that they’re not.”
Lauv was born in San Francisco and spent his early childhood in the Atlanta area before his family settled in Philadelphia. He began playing the guitar at age eleven and his interest in music dominated his teen years, leaving little room for most of the experiences – positive or negative – that typically define adolescence. For a while he even considered a career on the business end of music, studying music technology at New York University and then working as an intern at a major recording studio. However, the writing and performing aspects pulled him back in after the success of “The Other” earned him a record deal.
As studio-orientated as his music is, Lauv has become a strong draw as a live act, both as a headliner and as an opener for artists such as Ed Sheeran. Three upcoming June dates in China are already sold out, proving that in addition to everything else, Lauv has developed an appeal that’s transcended cultural and language barriers. “It’s definitely interesting being in the spotlight because I’ve learned how to care less about what people think of me,” he told DIY magazine online. “Growing up I was always very self-conscious and wanted to get approval from people. It’s been a really interesting battle.”