At the core of Duncan Laurence’s music is a flicker of hope. While the Dutch singer/songwriter—whose emotionally bruising “Arcade” won Eurovision in 2019 and became a global hit—frequently lays his soul bare, tackling issues such as heartbreak, loss, and loneliness, there’s always a silver lining. That’s particularly true of his new single, “Electric Life,” which looks at grief as a transformative experience. “There’s no pain in paradise, no heartbreak in heaven,” he sings, before taking a celebratory turn on the chorus: “I miss you and your electric life.” It’s both a stunning introduction to Laurence’s upcoming sophomore LP and an encapsulation of his musical evolution.
“It starts with piano, which is a reference to ‘Arcade,’ and then it explodes into this uptempo pre-chorus,” the 28-year-old says. “There are a lot of surprises. With my first album, Small Town Boy, I drifted into the ambient singer/songwriter lane. I’m done with that.”
Thematically, there has also been a big shift. “You can sing about sad things, but there has to be a little bit of sunshine poking through those big gray clouds,” Laurence says of “Electric Life.” During a writing session with his songwriter fiancé, Jordan Garfield, and producers Paul Phamous and Leroy Clampitt, the topic of grief was broached. “We started talking about people that we lost, and how it would be nice to remember them in a vibrant, beautiful way.” Ultimately, the song celebrates the way loved ones “still resonate within our lives without being there.”
Despite the song’s weighty subject matter, Laurence was determined to cloak it in dynamic, colorful production inspired by ’70s icons like Elton John and Queen. The social unrest that occurred throughout 2020 deeply resonated with him. “There were so many protests, it made me think of the ’70s,” he says. “I started working on myself—manifesting, astrology, everything.” It turns out his quest for healing had its roots in tough times in his childhood.
As a kid, Duncan was always drawn to music. His parents divorced when he was young, and his grandparents’ home was a safe haven. “My grandmother was singing constantly, singing me to sleep, singing when I was anxious,” he recalls. Music became a security blanket. “So even now to this day, when I feel anxious, I start singing,” he says. “That’s why I write sad songs with a hopeful twist. Music helped me through difficult times ever since I was a little kid.”
Music became even more important to Laurence when he was bullied at school. “I was marked as the weird theater kid right away,” he remembers. “It created an unsafe environment.” He unexpectedly found salvation when a physical therapist suggested he take piano lessons to treat a motor disorder in his right hand. “After school, you could find me behind my keyboard, turning all my sorrow and misery into songs,” he says. “That’s when I really understood the power of music. It allowed me to show my damaged little high school self how strong I could be.”
His first break came when a teacher overheard him singing. Laurence was encouraged to perform at an open mic night and rose to the occasion. Not long after, he took the stage at a school event. The room was full of his bullies, but instead of mocking him, they clapped. Laurence had found his purpose.
A stint at the Netherlands’ Rock Academy followed, along with a period of profound self-growth. “It allowed me to finally be myself,” Laurence remembers. “I graduated a year before Eurovision.” During that time, he polished “Arcade,” a song that would change his life. The ballad not only went on to win the competition but also amassed more than one billion global streams. In the US, it became the first Eurovision song to chart in 25 years when it reached number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Arcade” was re-released earlier this year with a new verse featuring FLETCHER. Working with women, particularly members of the LGBTQIA+ community, is a priority for Laurence. His crew on the visual for “Electric Life” and other forthcoming singles, for example, is composed entirely of women. “The time of the white straight male has passed,” he says. “It’s time for a revolution.”
While Laurence’s debut was focused on the past, his new music is “about being in the here and now.” The ultimate goal for “Electric Life” is to promote healing. “I want people to find comfort when they listen to it,” he says. “I want them to think of that one person that they really miss and celebrate them.” After all, out of pain comes new beginnings, and sometimes even hope.