Lauv must be feeling pretty good right now. Real name Ari Leff, the singer-songwriter-producer dropped his debut album ~how i’m feeling~ on Friday (March 6); it’s 21 tracks of emotionally-cathartic pop bangers that unpack everything from modern-day romance to love song fatigue, plus the escapism offered by the Internet — and how it can become a prison of our own design. His full-fledged album was a long time coming, since the 25-year-old spent his teen years studying jazz and playing in bands that had hardly any people at their shows. During college, he transitioned into becoming a behind-the-scenes production genius, majoring in music technology at New York University. He eventually went on to write Charli XCX’s thirsty, synth godsend “Boys” and work with other artists including Demi Lovato and Celine Dion.
In 2017, he was back in the spotlight with his viral earworm “I Like Me Better” and eventually released I Met You When I Was 18 (The Playlist) in May 2018. Lauv has always loved music that feels euphoric and nostalgic, even if it has a tinge of sadness to it. As he puts it, “not in a way that makes you depressed but more so in a way that helps you release.” That comes through with ~how i’m feeling~. It’ll make you dance, it’ll make you feel things, it’ll make you stare out of a car window as if you’re the star of your own teen drama. Meanwhile, the collabs on the album boast the likes of Troye Sivan, Anne-Marie, Alessia Cara, and even BTS.
Teen Vogue caught up with the musician about the journey of the album, Internet culture, masculinity, and more.
Teen Vogue: What story did you want to tell with ~how i’m feeling~?
Lauv: The album was kind of born out of an identity crisis, where I felt very boxed into one part of my personality. There’s so many other sides to me. There's so much pressure with social media to sort of be something palatable for people, to have a personal brand, which is fine until it's not, until it drives you crazy. The album was just the process of accepting all parts of myself as a creative, as a person, as an artist.
TV: Why did you want to open with “Drugs & The Internet” and close with “Modern Loneliness” on the album?
L: For me, “Drugs & The Internet” was sort of like the beginning of doing something different. It was just so different for me to write a song like that and so much more vulnerable in a way that wasn't just about love and a relationship. So I thought that would be just like where I really wanted to start and set the tone: this album isn't just a bunch of love songs. “Modern Loneliness” is another side to that — just feeling really alone based on being so connected on the Internet, and not feeling so connected to the people who were actually in my life. Opening and closing it with those vibes just made sense to me.
TV: With a track like “Drugs & The Internet” and your song “Sims,” you really embrace online culture and how it shapes our lives. How has the internet impacted yours?
L: I could go on for days. I grew up, especially musically, with the era of MySpace. That was me really starting to be an artist and stuff like way back, playing in a band, self promotion, designing your page, coding your page, making banners, all of that stuff, the Internet. Emailing venues all around the US trying to book shows, and then going on tour that we booked ourselves. That was how I cut my teeth and learned everything that I use today.
But at the same time, I have this love-hate relationship with how intense social media has become and how fast content is growing, just on a day to day basis in people's lives. With how much of an overthinker I can be, it becomes really stressful and it almost starts to feel like the Internet becomes like your real life. It absolutely messes with my head and is something I'm trying to work through, just trying to live in the physical world and be connected to the people around me and not what people are saying online, how many likes I'm getting, how many followers I have, blah, blah, blah. That's a very lonely place to be at, because none of that is real connection and it's sort of self-obsession at the same time.
TV: What can you tell me about the penultimate track, “Julia”?
L: I want that song to just totally speak for itself.
TV: The album is long — did you ever think about pulling back from 21 tracks?
L: Originally it was going to be 15 songs. But then I just kept writing. I was probably choosing from more like 50 songs and then it was just impossible to narrow down. I remember sitting with my managers and being like, "Okay, these are the songs. You're voting on these." Then all of a sudden we were at 21 songs. Especially not being on a major label, we were like, "You know what? F*ck it. We can do whatever we want to do." I really believe in all this music and it shows a lot of different aspects of who I am, so I wanted to put it all out. There's no rules anymore. People can just put out however much music, however often.
TV: With the tildes in the album title to the visuals, it feels like you’re experimenting much more as an artist. What did you want to convey with the aesthetic and style of the project?
L: The tildes are a big part of it for me and I hope that people get it. It's very much like, as a person I'm very emotional, I'm very existential. But at the same time, I'm very goofy and I think that it's very Internet-speak, like putting a word in between those little is sort of like, "Ooh, big deal." I wanted it to be kind of like emotional, which is where all the colors come in, different parts of personality, different emotions, but also sort of funny, which is where kind of like the character aspect of it comes in.
TV: We get to see these different characters that are the different sides of you brought to life in the One Man Boyband video series. What’s interesting about them is that they sort of represent different kinds of masculinity. What has your relationship to masculinity been as you embraced being an artist?
L: Growing up I always felt like a mama's boy and having two older sisters, I think I tend to have more feminine energy, if you want to define it that way. For a long time as I got older and as I got to middle school and high school and I wanted a girlfriend, I had crushes on girls and a lot of them weren't really into me back. I felt surrounded by more quote-unquote masculine men and sports players. I just was lying to myself and didn't really embrace the sides of me, and tried to sort of mold myself to fit into that because I thought people would like me better. I struggled with that for a long time, feeling like I was supposed to be a certain type of man. Eventually, it just got to the point where I was like, "I can't do [this] anymore." I remember feeling weird on stage when I first started performing because the way I naturally moved wasn’t really the like “masculine sex icon” [kind of way]. But I've finally gotten to a point where I'm comfortable with it. There's no definition of what a man should be like or what a woman should be like when we're kids, which is a big part of the playfulness of the album. When we're kids, you just are who you are, you love who you love, you're free with the way you act. You're not self-critical. Somewhere along the way I kind of lost that. This album was this process of not taking myself so seriously and just having fun and being myself.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue