If there is one artist that surprised the hell out of me after walking out of their show, that would be the artist known as Lauv. I have been to many concerts in my day both as a spectator and as a photographer—music and photography are my things. But Lauv’s first show out of three—back-to-back—at the Wiltern was an experience that I don’t think I will ever forget.
Lauv's real name is Ari Staprans Leff. He was born in San Francisco and ultimately his family relocated to a suburb of Philadelphia. Leff became a talented musician, learning to play piano, guitar and viola while singing and playing in local bands and writing nostalgic sad love songs. He attended NYU studying music technology, interned at Jungle Studios in NYC and eventually fell back to his high school roots of writing sad love songs after coming across an article from Paul Simon that inspired him to uncover his innermost buried feelings. Leff introduced himself to the world in 2015 as “Lauv” (said "loud" with a V) which means “lion” in Latvian, when he uploaded his very first track "The Other" on Soundcloud. The song went viral reaching the Global Top 100 on Spotify. An EP and a couple tracks with some big artists later, Lauv released his first full-length album, I met you when I was 18, which was inspired by a relationship he had with a girl while in college. His widely-known single from that album "I like me better" launched his career into superstardom and right on to Ed Sheeran’s Divide tour as his opening act in Asia. Lauv then toured that album all over the globe while writing with other artists and releasing one-off songs like "There’s no way" with Julia Michaels and "I’m so tired" with Troye Sivan which was a segue into his newest album How I’m feeling that will be released March 6, 2020. In November 2018, Lauv announced his first headlining tour and that he would release songs from the album as they were recorded, a uniquely different approach to a typical album release.
And that ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the present. Lauv is currently a resident of Studio City, CA and during the show, he expressed, “I have played shows all over the world, but there’s something about a show in LA that makes me so nervous!” The Wiltern was packed that night, sold out in fact. He actually sold out all three back-to-back shows at the widely popular venue and for obvious reason. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand what the fuss about Lauv was about, but walking out of the Wiltern that night, it was crystal clear. But wait, I actually have to take a couple of steps back. Lauv was the headlining act of his tour, which means he must have had an opener that was cohesive and just as widely talented as he was, right? Of course he did! 2 artists on the same bill that completely took me by surprise, and I am now a huge fan of? I was shocked twice in one night. This was a first for me!
Lauv’s opener was Megan Bulow, known simply as “Bulow,” a German pop singer that began collaborating at 16 years old with Canadian writers and producers after being discovered at a camp in 2016. She released her first EP, Damaged Vol. 1, in 2017 which included her bouncy synth hit "Not a love song" that was inspired by the idea of meeting someone for the first time but not ready to commit to a relationship. In 2018, she released "Damaged Vol. 2" that rounds out the Damaged EP with lyrics that conovey a sad and bitter disposition towards guys. Bulow then released Crystaline, a 7 song EP in early 2019 that has warm summer vibey innuendoes over rich trap-like beats. On Oct. 4, Bulow released her highly-anticipated EP Contender with her newest single "Boys will be boys" that she is now touring currently.
Bulow was completely unknown to me and so naturally, a couple of days before a show, I will usually spend time listening to the artists that I will be photographing. I try to find their setlist online and be as prepared as any photographer can be. Right before Bulow came on, I was escorted with the rest of the photographers to a ramp which was far from the stage. Bulow began her set with her song "Wake up" and also played "Get Stupid" and "Sweet Little Lies" from her Crystaline EP. She then closed out her set with her song "You and Jennifer" and her biggest hit to date "Not a love song." I describe her sound as sexy, sensual and heavy; her choice of lighting was moody and dark, her face was hidden most of the time, which shifted the focus on the music instead of her. Bulow’s overall show would prove to be a stark contrast visually to Lauv’s set, but melodically there were similarities that seamlessly brought the two shows together as a whole.
The photographers and I were then escorted back onto the ramp as Lauv’s show began. The deafening screams began as the lights went down and his stage design took me by complete surprise. Behind Lauv was a floor-to-ceiling screen wall that had concaved boxes where his drummer and keyboardist were located. He began his set with "Drugs and the Internet" under an overhead spotlight from his highly-anticipated album How I am feeling. As the chorus hit, the whole wall lit up with lots of color and trippy old computer graphics. He then followed with two songs from his first album, "Paris in the Rain" and "Paranoid." After security kicked myself and all of the photographers off the ramp, I ran to the closest area I could stick myself into and I didn’t move. I was completely captivated by what I had experienced in my camera and I made the decision that I wasn’t leaving. The flow of the show dodged in and out of his first and second albums, which currently had a total of 6 released songs out of the anticipated 21. The amount of detail that went into creating the graphics and colors that played out on the screen wall ultimately captivated the audience and set the mood for each song. I would describe Lauv's sound as vibey yet romantic with times of sadness and hopefulness. He moved across the stage with ease and at times you would find him on his knees in the center. He played the guitar and played his own guitar solos which completely shocked me. I had zero clue he was so multi-faceted! The more he dove into his set, the more he showed off his talents.
After a couple songs from his first album, he began talking to the crowd about his new album How I am feeling, explaining the album cover in detail. To give you an idea, there’s a large picture of him sitting cross-legged staring into the camera with six different versions of himself posing and wearing different colors. Lauv explained that each were a different version of his personality and it was a reflection of this identity crisis he had experienced while finding himself after his first album. He said, “I think there is all of this pressure to have a personal brand. Is this or that on-brand for me? Because as artists we’re all diverse and we have different aspects to our personalities. I think it’s ok and we don’t have to be one thing.” One of my favorite songs from his newest album is "Feelings" and generally the crowd seemed to feel the same way.
One of the most unique elements of a Lauv show was when he began explaining the significance of the blue box-like booths that people were lined up for in the lobby. He said “I have been doing this project for the past couple years on tour, it’s called My Blue Thoughts. Basically the whole concept started as this little box that I had at shows where people could take a piece of paper and pen and just write whatever was on your mind; something you need to let go of, something you’re afraid to tell somebody, something that is weighing you down, something you are struggling through. Basically, you can anonymously put these notes in the box and I would share them on my Instagram Story and people can see that they are not the only person going through what they are going through. You can walk into the booths privately and say whatever you want to say, you can have a silhouette instead of your normal face, you can change your voice. It’s like a non-religious confessional and it maps all over the world by keyword so you can see that you are not the only person feeling the way you feel.” Lauv then played his song "Superhero" explaining right before that the song was inspired by one of the original notes that he received when he first began My Blue Thoughts.
Another pivotal moment in Lauv's show was when the lights dimmed and across the screen was writing on the wall narrated by Lauv himself. In short, he explained how he had experienced anxiety and depression. He had no desire to write music and questioned if he even wanted to continue his career as a musician. He did seek help and he wanted to share his message that it’s ok to feel this way. Getting help and finding ways to cope will allow you to have a normal life. Mental health is a huge topic these days and I found that his show touched on his experience and his hope is to help people relate to one another in our differences and our similarities—that we are all more alike than we seem. He then continued with his set bouncing off of that story singing his song "Sad Forever."
The last and final song Lauv played was "I like me better" and he had the whole crowd losing their minds. He barely could sing the entire song as the crowd was almost louder than him. It was quite a sight to see. Overall, I don’t think I have ever experienced a show quite as unique as this one. It was almost as if Lauv's show was like a movie, moving in and out of emotions through storytelling. As a fan of music and what the artist brings to the table, I thoroughly enjoyed the time he took to connect and speak to his fans. The mental health aspect, allowing people to speak through him was admirable. Lauv and Bulow have absolutely gained a fan and I highly suggest that you get to know these 2 artists and check out a show of theirs! You won’t be disappointed!
Lauv's Set List – The Wiltern – Oct. 19, 2019
- Drugs and the Internet
- Paris in the Rain
- Easy Love
- Fuck, I’m Lonely
- I’m So Tired
- Chasing Fire
- Sad Forever
- For Now
- Getting Over You
- The Other
- Never Not
- I Like Me Better
Photos by Brittany Berggren, brittanyberggren.com