I spot Laraw on a sunny morning in Montreal’s lively Plateau neighbourhood, waiting for Marché Floh’s doors to open so we can raid their endless racks of vintage clothing. Dressed in all black, she introduces herself with a soft smile and a gentleness that’s immediately endearing. The Montreal-born pop star isn’t in-your-face, but as she effortlessly poses for a few shots outside the shop with our photographer, everyone passing by steals a glance. While her career is just getting started, Laraw is clearly a natural.
Born Lara Rawadi, the singer grew up in the Montreal suburb of Ville Saint Laurent to a Moroccan mom and a Lebanese dad. Her mom raised her on Queen CDs and a reverence for Celine Dion. “I grew up in an immigrant neighbourhood, so from a very early age I spoke four languages,” Laraw tells me. Although all her bops have been in English so far, she hopes to bring in her fluency in French, Arabic, and Darija (“a kind of Moroccan Arabic”) as her sound progresses.
One of her first songs, “Pretty Necklace,” bounces around my head as an employee opens the doors to Marché Floh. “What a pretty necklace/Isn’t in my price range,” she quips over an anxious, looping beat. “I can’t afford nice things/Diamonds on my neck/zeros on my check.” Growing up in a home where money was tight, she sings, stores like this were nerve-wracking. Today, she can dress up without stressing the price tag. We have the store to ourselves for one precious hour, so we dig in. The employees switch on their early 2000s club playlist, giving us a boost of energy. What does Laraw look for in a stage outfit? “I just want to be comfortable!” she says.
The sprawling multi-level store, a loosely disguised old Urban Outfitters location, is crammed with racks from multiple vendors. There are motorcycle tees, Y2K tops, and lacy slips galore. I grab a pair of tan leather pants with ties up the sides, a fuzzy white tee, and a 2000s satin dress that looks straight out of 13 Going on 30. Laraw fingers a lemon-yellow crocheted dress. We zig zag through the main floor and run upstairs with our treasures. She grabs the pants – “I love them!” – and I wait on the novelty couches outside the change rooms for the moment of truth. They didn’t fit! I swap in a pair of black leather flares. We get in some laughs between photos, but she quickly bounces back to model mode. Maybe in another life, Laraw is strutting down runways.
In this one, however, she actually almost made her name in video game soundtracks. The singer started playing with sound during her studies in music production and sound design at Musitechnic, aspiring to break into Montreal’s booming video game industry. When she graduated and the job market wasn’t as hot as she expected, she began to mess around playing music with friends. “We released like one or two songs and they went really well. Then Sony came along,” she says. “It’s crazy… I’ve just never looked back.”
Laraw is still on the precipice of music stardom, but as pop-up pop stars like Olivia Rodrigo have proven, it doesn’t take long to blow up. There’s no album yet, but she’s racking up songs – her next single “Scissors” comes out on May 27. The breakup banger’s accompanying music video finds Laraw oozing blood from her mouth, as if speaking the truth about a long-dead relationship was so painful it became physical. Emotionally, she’s been running with scissors, and finally tipped and fell. “Oh you cut me into pieces,” she laments over a stuttering guitar riff. Her leather-clad outfit looks as though it was pulled straight off the racks of Marché Floh.
We pack it up at Floh, where Laraw decides to keep the fuzzy white tank. Bags in tow, we settle into a back booth at Le Darling, a nearby plant-filled bar that does coffee by day and fancy cocktails by night. I order a coffee and toast with a fancy infused butter, and Laraw orders salmon gravlax with greens and a mocha. I get a closer look at her intricate jewel-studded eye makeup, which she does herself. Yes, she’s a fan of Euphoria – and laughs, adding that she sometimes gets told she looks like Maddy with her mask on. Laraw is incredibly easy to talk to, despite her shy aura. It’s evident she isn’t about to put on an exaggerated personality or pull any gimmicks to get noticed. A confident star on the rise, she shows up as she is, whether it’s over coffee, or in her music.
Her last single, “This Is How I Lost My Friends,” sees her developing a signature rawness. Written during the throes of the pandemic, it’s a bop with some very real lyrics about the struggles to maintain connections amid waves of anxiety. “What the fuck is the matter with me/I feel so bad lately,” she wails in the chorus. She screams, cries, and sings in the scribbly, early 2000s-feeling music video. “I just told the whole world I have mad anxiety and like no friends,” Laraw laughs.
“It’s been such a journey for me to finally be able to express myself properly,” she says. “I feel like the songs I’ve written are chapters of my life.” The latest chapter, “Scissors,” was written in the aftermath of her longest relationship. She says it’s definitely the saddest song she’s put out so far. But like any proper Laraw song, it’s something you can still dance to.
There’s sweetness to the sour moments, even outside of her songs. Laraw is back living with her parents, and she gushes about how her dad makes her fresh orange juice in the mornings. If you watch till the end of one of her first music videos, you’ll catch an ad for his car repair business. Laraw attributes a lot of her success to the support of her family and the varied influences she draws from the multicultural community she grew up in. She loves Montreal for the different language scenes she can hop between and be inspired by.
But lately, Toronto has been feeling more and more like home. The next venue on her bucket list would be the Horseshoe Tavern – where she imagines performing in a cowboy-ish outfit, of course. Our food interrupts us, and Laraw snaps a picture of her meticulous plate of salmon on toast. She picks around a cucumber slice. “They just taste like… bad water!” We start to eat, and I start to think. Since she’s become a pro at writing breakup songs, I wonder whether she’s ever heard feedback from an ex. She says no, she’s blocked – but we joke that it only goes so far when your song is playing all over the city on the radio.
“I love that for me,” she laughs. “I’m manifesting that.”
Special thanks to Marché Floh for having us! Check them out at marchefloh.com or IRL at 4301 Saint Denis St. in Montreal.