Lauv Is Pop’s “Sappy” Heartbreak Kid on New Breakup Anthem “Chasing Fire”
Amid all the glittery party songs, sex jams and bougie anthems about excess, Lauv is rejecting pop's typical escapism for something a little more real.
"I do feel like I'm a little too much of a bummer sometimes," 23-year-old Ari Leff, who goes by Lauv (short for “lauva,” the Latvian word for “lion”), shares of his penchant for writing about heartache and earnest romance. "Whatever is going on in my own head, whatever conflicts there are in my life, I can't store it. But it's not necessarily negative. It’s very cathartic for me."
In 2017, the San Francisco-born artist, who first began releasing music back in 2015 with his debut EP Lost in the Light, scored a major career breakthrough with "I Like Me Better," a Billboard Hot 100-charting mid-tempo electro-pop song about "feeling unsure of yourself while being madly in love with somebody, and accepting that."
"I think that people connected with the sentiment of not knowing who you are and being okay with that. For a lot of people going through their first love, you're both still figuring yourself out," Lauv explains of the runaway success of the track, which as of March 2018 is nearing 375 million streams on Spotify.
The upward traction of "I Like Me Better," along with other buzzy releases like "Easy Love," "Paris in the Rain" and "Getting Over You," eventually led to a spot opening for Grammy-winning chart juggernaut Ed Sheeran during the Asia leg of his 2017 Divide tour. The once-in-a-lifetime experience left a lasting impression on the rising indie pop artist.
"Seeing all of his success... a lot of people let that go to their heads," Lauv recounts. "He and his entire crew were so nice and down to earth. [Ed's] not trying to be anyone but himself. It was an inspiring couple of weeks, in that way."
Aside from ushering in a breakthrough moment for Lauv, "I Like Me Better" was also one of the artist's more optimistic offerings from a discography brimming with heartache and melancholy, a trend which began with 2015's “The Other"—an electro-R&B ballad inspired by his 2014 breakup, and a bona fide Sadboy Anthem that could give Sam Smith a run for his tear-drenched money.
For Lauv, however, his "secret sappy side" is simply his default mode (he proudly cites films like Midnight in Paris and Coco as some of his recent favorites), and he's finally embracing it. "For the longest time I tried to hide that from people. I was trying to be cool...but I wasn't really happy that way. [With my songwriting] now, it's about being totally genuine and being as in the moment as possible."
"I think a lot of pop music is escapist. I could never write a proper party song," the singer continues—though he came close in 2017 when he penned "Boys" alongside Charli XCX off her lauded Pop 2 mixtape, an experience he contrasts with his own emotionally-charged songwriting process. "[Charli] is really, really easy to work with...but to be part of that, working on a song that was more fun and lighthearted, was very different for me."
Lauv, who got his start writing for other artists like Cash Cash ("All My Love") and Cheat Codes ft. Demi Lovato ("No Promises"), won't rule out future collaborations though, particularly of the international variety.
"I think [BTS] are really cool," he muses. "I haven't really gotten the chance to experience [K-pop] culture firsthand, but we've been traveling around a little bit, seeing the world...I definitely look forward to doing more stuff like that."
For now, Lauv is "very much in his own place working on [his] own songs," like new single "Chasing Fire"—a track he wrote when we was 18 and which he cites as "one of his more tragic songs."
"It's basically about doing certain things in a relationship where deep down, you know that it will be over soon," he explains. "You're trying to push back on your own side and chase how the relationship felt when you first fell in love."