Count Lauv among the Swifties. “I’m in absolute awe of Taylor Swift. I think she’s literally one of the best that’s ever existed — ever,” the 28-year-old “Stranger” singer-songwriter tells Bustle on a call from his Los Angeles home, reminiscing about the moment he “freaked out” after she recognized him at an MTV Video Music Awards afterparty.
Lauv has a lot in common with the “All Too Well” singer. They’re both confessional storytellers, with Lauv penning visceral songs for himself and co-writing relatable lyrics with Charli XCX (“Boys”), Celine Dion (“Imperfections”), BTS (“Make It Right”), Troye Sivan (“I’m So Tired”), LANY (“Mean It”), and Anne-Marie (“F***, I’m Lonely”). They also share a New York University connection as Lauv studied music production at the same institution where Swift recently received an honorary doctorate degree. “All the eras of Taylor are just so spectacular and her music videos are like movies,” Lauv adds. “I have so much respect for her. She’s just insane.”
Seemingly taking a page out of Swift’s cinematic playbook, Lauv’s “Kids Are Born Stars” music video features a child actor playing a younger version of himself, akin to how Swift’s “All Too Well” short film employed Stranger Things star Sadie Sink to portray a younger Swift.
“Kids Are Born Stars” is the third single from Lauv’s second studio album All 4 Nothing, which came out Aug. 5. “This album for me was very much about reconnecting with Ari, the person deep down, and the little kid inside of me,” Lauv says. Born Ari Leff, he started writing songs in eighth grade, performing in his basement in the suburbs of Philadelphia, until his breakthrough single “I Like Me Better” jump-started his career in 2017 (the song now has more than 1.4 billion streams on Spotify). Three years later, Lauv dropped his debut studio album ~how i’m feeling~, dissecting his heartbreak and depression packaged as dance-pop bangers.
Lauv promises the new 13-track album is more personal, raw, and off the cuff lyrically and sonically. “Up until making this, I had been so obsessed with my dream to be this big musician with my career,” he explains. “And in a lot of ways it led me to be really lonely and really anxious and struggle a lot with my mental health.” So he recalibrated. “I felt like this album was a forcefield that stripped all that away, and [made me] be like, ‘How is the me on the inside?’”
It’s a question Lauv posits repeatedly throughout the album. “I see through the pills you take, I see through the face you make, hey, Ari, are you happy?” he asks on “Hey Ari,” an acoustic guitar standout that feels particularly intimate, like reading a page ripped out of Lauv’s journal. Hearing “Hey Ari” for the first time brought him to tears. “I was just bawling on the floor. It was intense.”
All 4 Nothing is an unfiltered introspection of his highest highs as heard on “All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love)” and lowest lows as evidenced on “Bad Trip.” The album mostly features the hooky, electropop style Lauv is known for. “Stranger” has earworm potential, while “Summer Nights” sets up moments for his falsetto to shine.
The album’s themes — checking in with himself, reassuring his inner child, and admitting he has struggles — feel like therapy assignments. But for Lauv, who’s been a mental health advocate for years, his mental health is inextricable from his music — and his existence.
On Being A Leo, His Favorite Lyric & Mental Health
What’s on your mind right now?
What’s on my mind right now is that L.A. should be called Lost Angeles. [Laughs] I’m just kidding. I don’t know why that just popped in my brain. I actually just came from talking with my therapist so I’m freshly therapized and ready for my interview.
What’s the lyric you love the most from All 4 Nothing?
I’ve never even thought about this. I think this one would be “Hey Ari, are you happy?” ’cause I think that’s something that’s so important that I ask myself and everyone asks themselves. Not like, “Are you successful?” or “Are you this?” but “Are you happy?”
What’s a song you’re proud of?
“Bad Trip” is one I love a lot. That’s a favorite of mine.
What has this album taught you about mental health?
I was definitely struggling with substances. I definitely do not recommend to anyone whatsoever the path that I went down. I was struggling in different ways and also wanting to experiment with different forms of consciousness and whatever. I think I learned that all of these things that I’m seeking are somewhere inside of me already and I just have to accept myself and love myself with open arms and the confidence will come out naturally and the clarity will come.
You’re a Leo. How does your zodiac sign influence the way you make music?
I do think that I can be very control-heavy so I can be very obsessed with the way I see things happening and very into my own vision, which I think is good in making music, but sometimes I’m like … I can see how maybe it would be hard to work with me in some moments because when I’m working on music I’m a really strong, opinionated person.
Is there a genre you wish you made music in?
Honestly, sometimes heavier metal or screamo because I used to love listening to so much of that.
How have you taken care of yourself over the past couple of years?
Meditation is a huge one. Therapy. I’ve been on medication too just for OCD and a little bit of depression. Trying to be consistent with exercise. I’m really bad at drinking water, but I need to drink more water. And I just try to be really patient with myself.
I think one of the big things that came with working with this album is being really in tune with not what I think needs to happen but what I truly feel needs to happen. Because my mind can get really lost in all of these shoulds — I should do this and I should do that — and it’s not really what’s right for me, it’s just what I think and what I’ve been programmed to think. So I think just tapping into my intuition more helps me take care of myself.
On Meeting Drake & Stanning Rex Orange County
What is your go-to karaoke song?
Who’s a musician who when you hear their songs think, “I wish I wrote that”?
I was literally just listening to Rex Orange County in the car today just being like, “I love the way he writes songs so much.” Another fave song of mine that I wish I wrote is “Motivation” by Normani. I just love that song.
What is the song that should play at your wedding and the one that should play at your funeral?
Oh damn, that’s dark. I wanna say “Down By The Bay” by Raffi at my funeral. And then at my wedding, I guess it depends on what my partner wants too. But right now, I’m gonna say “Pluto Projector” by Rex Orange County because I love that song. I’m basically a Rex Orange County stan.
Who’s made you the most starstruck so far?
I would say it’s a tie [between] Taylor Swift and Drake. I met [Taylor] once at an afterparty and I tweeted about this, but she was like, “Are you Lauv?” And I was like, “Oh my god,” and I freaked out.
I ran into Drake at a sushi restaurant. That was so crazy. I worked up the confidence to go up to him and I had no plan of what to say. I was really making eye contact and stuff. I was like, “He probably doesn’t know who I am. I have no idea how this is gonna go, but I’m just gonna go for it.” And I had no plan and I ended up being like, “Hey man, so I’m like an artist. And like, umm, I really like...” I was really doing the whole kid trying to pitch a mixtape kinda vibe it was so funny!
What was Drake like?
Drake actually was super chill. He spoke to me for a sec and then once I told him my artist name was Lauv he was like, “Oh, you’re him. OK.” It was so funny. This was probably six months ago.
Who’s an artist who’s famously cheesy but you love absolutely unironically?
Nickelback. I think they have some bangers.
Who do you want to collaborate with next?
Coldplay, Drake, [and] Rex Orange County are the three that I'm really into that I would love to somehow work with in some way shape or form someday. It’s really just stuff that I love and collabs just also happen naturally by meeting people. So I don’t like to overly plan for stuff like that.
You’ve also collaborated with artists from different genres like K-pop, Bollywood, and Latin. How do you approach infusing your music with specific sounds?
Music, in such a cool way, is so insanely global and so cross-cultural. That’s one of my favorite parts about music is when sounds are crossing and things you don’t expect happen and combinations and stuff like that, so I guess it’s kind of just naturally unfolded that way.
Do you have any traditions when creating a song or with your collaborators?
I do like to meditate with people when we’re in a studio if we get caught up with anything. Other than that, just drinking way too much caffeine.
What’s your go-to coffee drink?
Either cold brew oat milk or sugar-free Red Bull.
On Making Music & Forgetting Lyrics
“Kids Are Born Stars” talks about your eighth-grade dance. What was the first song you slow danced to in middle school or made out to?
Oh my god, I can’t remember! Probably something by Teddy Geiger or John Mayer.
Was that song inspired by your actual eighth-grade dance?
The song was kinda inspired just by me looking back at like eighth grade and when I was first making music and was struggling with confidence and stuff. [It] was just kind of about that whole time.
Do you have a standout memory from that age?
I used to just love biking to school every morning and that was one of my favorite experiences as a little kid. Waking up sunny, living close enough to school to just hop on my bike. There’s something really nice about that. Listening to music. Listening to a lot of Owl City in eighth grade.
What’s the song you grew up listening to that you still know all the words to?
I don’t know if there’s any. I’m actually weirdly, for somebody who writes songs, not that good at memorizing lyrics. I forget my own lyrics all the time, especially on live streams. My fans always make fun of me. I’ll literally forget the lyrics so often.
What comes first, the melody or the words?
I would say 60% melody, 40% lyrics. Sometimes it happens at the same time but slightly more often than not melody comes first.
What moment made you feel like a musician?
I think when Ed Sheeran asked me to go on tour with him, that was when I felt like, “OK, this is for real for real.” That was a moment I can never trade for anything ever. So cool.
Was there a moment you felt ready to give up on musician life? What got you through it?
So many. The number one thing was just my love for music because that’s the thing that got me back at times that I’ve wanted to quit. And sometimes I take a break from social media, but I get back on and I see all the love and kindness.
And recently I did these pop up things in New York and London, and being able to see everybody in person again was so fucking amazing so those were the things that were kinda, “Wait a second.” Even though I get really in my head sometimes, I love this.