Rundey Lin, a 23-year-old Icelandic musician and songwriter (known to her fans by the mononym Rundey), never dreamed that the music she began writing while attending college in Boston would reach so many people Has.
Now, nearly three years after recording her first single, Rundey (pronounced Lay-vay) has released a debut EP and full-length album, amassed nearly 700,000 followers and over 18 million likes on TikTok — and is with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra performed for two nights in October 2022.
Rundey encourages younger generations to fall in love with jazz and classical music thanks to her enchanting jazz-infused discography – which fans have likened to the soundtrack of a Studio Ghibli or Disney film.
Rundey recorded her first song on her college campus in Berklee in the winter of 2020 – just as COVID-19 was becoming a global threat.
“I figured if I don’t record this song today, I’ll never record it. I don’t know when I’ll be back on campus,” she told TODAY.
After releasing “Street by Street,” her first single, in April 2020, Rundey noticed that people were embracing her music on various streaming platforms. Within a month of its release, the single reached 100,000 streams. Its launch coincided with the rise of TikTok, the most downloaded app of 2020.
From there, Rundey took on a manager and continued to write as the pandemic grew.
Now, at the end of 2022, Rundey can boast of almost 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Her song “Valentine,” which went viral on TikTok after its February 2022 release, now has about 18 million streams.
Her streams have increased, but her goal remains the same: Rundey wants to connect younger audiences to genres they may have previously written off.
“Gen Z didn’t grow up going to CD stores and checking out our favorite music genre departments. We grew up consuming everything that’s cool on TikTok, going to Spotify and listening to “Rainy Day” playlists – which can include a range of different styles of music. And I find that the coolest. I think that’s why I can be successful with my music in 2022,” she said.
How Rundey brought jazz to Gen Z
Before her debut album Everything I Know About Love was released in August 2022, she had also released a seven-song EP called Typical of Me in 2021.
“When I first started working on these projects, I just said I really want to make sure we reach a younger audience,” she told TODAY.
Rundey knew their challenge was to refresh jazz and classical to make the genres relevant while preserving what makes them timeless.
“I really wanted to focus on launching it and redesigning it for Gen Z. I hadn’t seen anyone do it before me, so I was struggling to figure out exactly how to do it,” she said.
Taking the baton from artists like Michael Bublé and Norah Jones, who have given their music a similar tone of timelessness, Rundey is arguably the first of her generation to make jazz cool for Gen Z.
So what’s in the secret sauce of Rundey’s music? Aside from many things (see: rousing arrangements and her delicate but strong voice), Rundey believes in her relationship factor.
“I grew up in a classical music family, grew up on jazz, and I want these art forms to survive, but I also recognize that they need new blood and new life to survive. What Gen Z needs is a hair’s breadth of relationship skills. I want to show everyone that I’m just one of them,” she said.
And a child of Gen Z she is. Rundey is active on her social media accounts, particularly TikTok and Instagram, which she runs all by herself to ensure her messages remain authentic.
“I don’t have the feeling that I was born in the wrong century. I don’t dress like I lived in my thirties or anything. I’m a 2022 kid,” she said.
Tendency to escapism
Rundey has a theory as to why her songs resonate: They evoke another era perfect for a generation looking for a way out.
She lamented that the pandemic was bringing the world to a halt for Gen Z, just as they had hoped to explore.
“That old, cinematic, jazzy sound or that timeless, classic sound feels like escapism, you know? We were all looking for a way out,” she said.
Gen Z’s obsession with nostalgia can be found elsewhere, like TikTok’s “Coastal Grandmother” aesthetic reminiscent of Nancy Meyer’s rom-coms, or the comeback of analog technologies like film cameras, vinyl records, and cassette tapes.
Their music, a homage to years past, fits in with the trend. “Gen Z has a taste for that kind of music — and so many people don’t even know it,” she said.
Rewrite the songbook
While her sound is classic, her lyrics are not: Rundey sings from the perspective of what she calls a “young, confused” woman.
“So many of the jazz standards of the old days, or all of them, were written by men. My songs are very, very clearly written from a young, confused female perspective,” she said. “So I think it gives young women a voice.”
As a result, their lyrics are understandable.
“I’m very, very honest in my songwriting. I’m not cryptic. I’m definitely very confident and I think this is a very confident generation. We make fun of ourselves a lot. So I think there’s a relationship,” she said.
In doing so, she engages in theoretical discussions with songwriters of yesteryear: when writing, she draws inspiration from composers and artists of the past and present.
She named Gershwin, Rogers and Irving Berlin as musicians who continue to influence her love of jazz standards – and sees singer-songwriters like Norah Jones, Sara Bareilles, Carole King and Taylor Swift alike.
“I think a lot of people think because I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz, I hate modern music or I like pop music or something… and I think I love pop music. I have no interest in erasing them from our musical soundscape,” she said. (PS: Her favorite song on Swift’s “Midnights” is “Karma.”)
“Everything is cool and new and wonderful”: How it goes on for Rundey
Rundey has now completed the US portion of her tour and is now performing in the UK. When we speak to Rundey, she’s on London time, but laughingly admits she never really knows what time it is. “I’m extremely confused culturally and never in one place,” she joked.
Raised between Iceland and Washington, DC, moved to Boston for college, and now based in LA (when she’s not touring the world, of course), Rundey admits she’s used to jet lag. “I’m in a constant state of not really knowing what time it is,” she said.
She also expressed that a few years ago she wrote a list of things she wanted to achieve herself. She thought at the time that some of the dreams were a bit pompous.
“I remember when I wrote it I felt so stupid because so many of them seemed so far searched,” she said.
Now? She told TODAY that she’s accomplished everything on this list — and she’s excited for what the future holds.
“I always say I’m in the best part of my career right now because I’m so excited about everything. Everything is new and cool and wonderful and I hope that somehow I can keep that up,” she said with a smile.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com