For as much as he embraces modern musical innovations, Lauv picks up a thread that can be traced back to timeless troubadours. “We’re in a really interesting age,” he exclaims. “There are artists who write, produce, sing, and do everything by themselves. I look at it like the new generation of ‘singer-songwriters.’ There’s something that I want to say, and I’ve learned how to utilize the tools at my disposal to tell a story. Technology is at a place where you make music with whatever you can get your hands on—instead of just a guitar. As a creator, one of the most special and important things to me is to make music that feels classic and timeless at its core, but to do so in a way that sonically breaks boundaries and defies what’s been done with genres.”

The 23-year-old independent singer, songwriter, and producer resembles an auteur in his assemblage of electronic tones, airy beats, jazz-inspired guitars, and soulful vocalizations. A self-described “hopeless romantic,” his music could be likened to Chris Martin and The Weeknd teaming up to score a movie. Resonating with fans worldwide, that approach yielded over a quarter-of-a-billion cumulative Spotify streams in under a year’s time and a sold-out headline tour as his profile skyrocketed throughout 2017.

However, he took the first step on this journey at the age of five when his parents enrolled him in piano lessons. To accompany his older sisters, he picked up viola two years later before discovering guitar at nine-years-old. As the family moved between San Francisco, Atlanta, and Pennsylvania, his tastes shifted between everything from Eminem and Green Day to Underoath and The Postal Service, comprising an eclectic musical DNA. During high school, the budding talent turned his attention towards production. “There was something about the recording process that intrigued me,” he recalls. I thought, ‘What if I started making music, me, my instruments and my laptop, building out what I was hearing in my head?’”

After logging countless hours in his bedroom writing and producing, Ari entered the prestigious Music Technology Program at NYU in 2012. Under the auspices that he’d “make music for other artists,” he passionately maintained the same prolific output until penning “The Other” and “Reforget” during 2014. At that point, he uploaded the tunes under the name “Lauv”—Latvian for “Lion”—nodding to his mother’s roots in Latvia. “I couldn’t imagine someone else singing these words,” he admits. “They were really special to me. I hadn’t thought about being an artist for a long time. I put so much pressure on myself in high school, but this was something I had to do. It was the first time I was being vulnerable in a real way. It was exactly what I wanted sonically. I was being the most genuine I’d been to myself with this music.”

“The Other” quietly took the internet by storm. Premiered on a friend’s blog, the song virally lit up HypeMachine. Fueling the 2015 Lost in the Light EP, the track eventually generated 100 million-plus Spotify streams and placed on Today’s Top Hits and the Global 100—all from his dorm room. Relocating to Los Angeles and signing a publishing deal with Prescription Songs, he co-wrote the gold-certified Top 5 smash “No Promises” by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato as well as the Pitchfork-endorsed “Boys” for Charli XCX, among others. In the meantime, “I Like Me Better” became his second bona fide smash. It vaulted past the 150-million mark on Spotify, soaring to the Top 30 of the Global Chart and Top 5 on iTunes internationally. A mélange of plucky synth chords and a 90s-inspired drum break, the electrifying production snaps into a soulful staccato refrain, “I like me better when I’m with you.”

“I was reflecting fondly on the beginning of my relationship when I first moved to New York for school,” he says. “I was in a place where I was honestly kind of lost. I didn’t really know where I was going or exactly who I wanted to be. Out of nowhere, I fell in love. I didn’t know about everything else in my life…I was trying to figure it out, but the one thing I knew was happier since I met that person.”

“I Like Me Better” comprises just one phase of Lauv’s debut playlist, I met you when I was 18. Collating all of his music and the 2017 single “Easy Love,” the project brings everything full circle as he confidently steps into new territory. “I wanted to let people experience the songs in the order of the story they’re meant to tell,” he continues. “Everything I’ve written and released so far has been about my time of self-discovery, self-definition rather, in New York City and this first real love. The songs are all connected and I want people to get the full picture. And I want them to unfold it the same way I have.”

Ultimately, Lauv’s vision has only just begun to unfold. “When listening to I met you when I was 18., I want listeners to feel the way I’ve felt on this whole journey,” he concludes. “For me, becoming Lauv was about realizing it’s okay to be vulnerable, honest, and not hide your emotions. In being open, you realize that more people than you might’ve thought feel the exact same way or have been through the same things. We live in a world where a lot of people are afraid of really expressing themselves. They want to portray an image of perfection on social media. The reality is we’re fucking human. I want you to hear my music and feel, ‘I can be honest and vulnerable with the people around me.’”