As 2018 winds down, Billboard is asking some of the artists who helped define the year in music to look back on their accomplishments, favorite memories and pop-culture obsessions from the past 12 months. Check out other interviews with St. Vincent, Anne-Marie, Kali Uchis, Dan + Shay and Swae Lee.
Pop singer-songwriter LAUV just woke up in Los Angeles, and he’s pleased to see that it’s raining outside. “It was waterfalling this morning!” he excitedly tells Billboard one day in late in November. “It’s nice for me, because it gives you that moody vibe.”
Indeed, moody vibes are a specialty for the 24-year-old (real name: Ari Leff), who became one of 2018’s biggest breakout stars thanks to his glowing, give-you-all-the-feels love songs that are as confessional as they are catchy. He followed up his electro-pop hit “I Like Me Better,” which peaked at No. 27 on the Hot 100 this year, with hearfelt songs like the acoustic “Superhero” and the Julia Michaels duet “There’s No Way,” and in May, he completed I met you when I was 18. (the playlist), a 17-track collection of his work over the past few years.
The singer, whose stage name comes from the Latvian word for “lion,” also hit the road extensively, supporting Ed Sheeran on tour and completing his own headlining trek. And just the night before our call, Leff took the stage on The Late Late Show With James Corden to perform his collab with Michaels.
As he preps for an even busier 2019, Lauv looks back on his favorite memories of the past 12 months, from a late-night sushi run in Tokyo to the best gift he received from a fan.
What was it like performing “There’s No Way” with Julia Michaels on Corden?
We had a lot of fun! Every time I do a TV performance, I want to do something a little different, arrangement-wise. So I started the song on piano, and that’s where we started the record originally. Julia and a couple of other friends all just played our chords in a little loop, and we wrote the song in, like, two hours. So I wanted to give [the performance] that feeling at the beginning. And Corden’s just a legend, you know? Carpool Karaoke, that’s my dream.
What’s a dream you accomplished in 2018?
For me, the big things were doing my first sold-out world tour at the beginning of the year and just playing all these shows. Those were some of the most magical moments — playing in a bunch of places I’ve never even been to in my life, playing to sold-out crowds, meeting my fans. Every time, I kind of expected nobody to be there. So that really made it real for me.
What’s it like to be onstage and see fans repeating your lyrics back to you?
?So one of the hugest moments for me was when I played Irving Plaza in New York, actually, earlier this year. I was so nervous for that show. I wrote I met you when I was 18 pretty much about being in New York and being in love for the first time. For a while, I would be afraid that not that many people would be singing the words, so I would sing with them. But there was this moment in the show when people were screaming so loud that for the first time, I just stopped singing. I let it go. It was so crazy. That was a turning point for me.
What’s the best gift a fan gave you in 2018?
I have some really awesome fans who will literally come with custom merch and gift it to me. There was one girl who made all these custom little enamel pins of me, which I thought was really cool. I think that’s the biggest flattery. With gift-giving in general, when someone gives you something handmade, that is the most beautiful thing ever. At my last headline show in Orlando a couple weeks ago, somebody gave me this shirt they designed that was basically me as a cartoon lion in all these different situations. I’m a Leo, and LAUV means “lion” in Latvian, so I thought it was really special that somebody would take the time to do that.
You mentioned your star sign — are you into astrology?
Mildly. I recently looked at my whole chart, but I always forget what my rising sign is. It’s one of those things that I really want so badly to believe in, and I think I kind of do, but it’s so vague that you never really know if you can trust it.
Tell me about the My Blue Thoughts box you have at your shows.
I basically ask everybody to pick up a pen and a piece of paper. I want it to be a place where people can write something stream-of-consciousness. Especially nowadays, there are always ways to get away from yourself, but there’s so much going on in everybody’s head that they’re afraid to let go of. I wanted to create a place where people can write something anonymously and let it go. So that was a fun project that I was doing this whole year.
What sort of things do people write?
People will talk about struggling with eating disorders, depression, losing family members, people they are in love with, being in love with your best friend — all sorts of stuff. It’s all these secrets. It’s cool, because what I would also do is post photos of the notes from the shows, and I have a separate little website, so people can see that a lot of people go through the same stuff. I think that’s the same reason why music can bring people together. It’s because you can relate to one person’s experience in a big way.
Aside from the Irving Plaza show, what was your favorite tour stop of 2018?
A huge one for me was Tokyo. We actually just announced Asia dates for next year, and I’m so excited. Tokyo is so cool to me, because I love cities that are walkable and where I feel like there’s so much culture. Tokyo is this whole different world where it’s very much like that, but they use space so well. They’re so clean, so it feels so pristine and organized and neat, but there’s still so much life and personality there at the same time. It’s a beautiful city, and the people are really sweet there. After I played my show, me and my band stayed up all night and went to the famous [Tsukiji] fish market at like, four in the morning, because that’s when they open.
Did you try anything?
We got sashimi bowls. We were wandering around everywhere. There were so many places to go, and we were so indecisive.
You’ve also toured with Ed Sheeran. How would you describe him as a person?
Amazing. Honestly, I won’t lie, I was definitely nervous, because I look up to him a lot. But he’s so down to earth. He’s, I would say, the nicest person I’ve met in my life. And not even as an artist, just as a person. He’s nice, he’s funny, he works hard. He’s not caught up in bullshit. I think there’s so much competition, and there can be weirdness in the music industry, but he’s all love and makes great music. I have a lot of love and respect and appreciation for him.
Aside from your own shows, what’s the best performance you saw this year?
I just saw Cardi B and was blown away. It really turned me on heavier to her music, especially that song “Ring” with Kehlani. That song is a banger. It was so different from what I would usually see. The energy in the room is so fucking hype, her dance moves are so hard, and she’s got so much personality. Especially after being on the road and being with Ed and doing acoustic guitar, it’s this whole other world. Also, I saw Lil Wayne for the first time ever. That was insane, because just seeing the look in his eyes — he looks like an absolute demon, but he also shows everybody so much love. He’s such a legend, it’s crazy.
Why was it important to you to brand I met you when I was 18 as a playlist, instead of an album?
The whole process was me going back and forth with whether I wanted to focus on myself as an artist, or whether I wanted to focus on being a writer and producer for other artists. And I think by the time that I decided to make it a playlist, it was me deciding, “I’m ready to go all in and focus on being myself and doing my thing and my journey.” But I didn’t want to call it an album, because it was this ongoing thing I’d been doing for a while. I wanted to honor it as a story, because it is all part of this chapter of my life, but I wanted to let it be a little more open-ended.
Did you ever get any pushback for that idea?
Not really. My team has been really supportive of everything I’ve wanted to do from the beginning. We were all on the same page. And now that I’m working on my actual album, I wanted that to be a separate project, and it felt like it was coming from a more concise time.
Do you feel like your writing process has changed?
A little bit. I’ve gotten more aware of what works for me and gotten more confident in that process. It’s basically going in with no expectations and having no idea what I’m going to make and just trying to be as in the moment as possible. I’ve realized all my favorite songs of mine have all been unpredictable. They just kind of happened. When I really like something, a lot of times it’s just a conversation that turns into a line, that turns into a whole song ll of a sudden. I want all this control, and I can easily get in my head, so I have to remind myself to as much as possible be in the moment.
If you could go back in time to 11 months ago, what advice would you give yourself about 2018?
I would have just gotten off tour with Ed in Asia. If I could go back, I’d just tell myself to trust myself more, but also to know when to let go and trust in people around me. I definitely think I can cause myself a lot of extra stress by trying to do everything myself. That’s the beauty of collaboration — doing your thing, but trusting the people around you to also do their thing.
What’s one thing, big or small, you regret in 2018 — and no saying “no regrets!”
As I get older and older — and this is like, a life thing — there’s been times where I’ve strayed away a little bit from close relationships with my family, my sisters, my parents. There are times when I’ve been more distant than I would be proud of, or shied away from having serious conversations. But I think just after having Thanksgiving with my family, I’ve had some really beautiful heart-to-hearts with both my sisters and my mom, and I think the one thing I regret is not doing more of that.
Last one: What was your most memorable Uber, Lyft or taxi ride of 2018?
It’s definitely happened a few times where I get in the car after a long flight, and they turn on the radio, and my song [“I Like Me Better”] comes on. And there was this one time where I was just fucking around and was like, “Ygh, I hate this song.” And the guy was just like, “Same,” and changed the channel. I didn’t say anything. [Laughs]