Early interviews with pop-soul rising star Lauren Spencer-Smith often find her sitting in her childhood bedroom, the walls adorned with posters of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. After the runaway success of what was only her third original single, “Fingers Crossed,” the 18-year-old from Port Alberni, BC on Vancouver Island, connects to RANGE from a hotel room in New York City, having just gone to Times Square to see her face on a billboard right above the American Eagle.
“That was one of the coolest things that’s ever happened,” she beams. In the months that followed, that particular accolade was joined by a couple more options to choose from. After “Fingers Crossed” quickly shot up the global Spotify charts, reaching as high as the runner-up spot after going viral on TikTok, Spencer-Smith has sold out tours across the US and UK, performed at the Juno Awards, and inked a major-label deal, all while sending another heartbroken hit, “Flowers,” to the charts and preparing the release of her latest single, “Narcissist.”
The singer is wide-eyed and excitable, speaking rapidly and clearly a little overwhelmed by her schedule suddenly becoming jam-packed and chaotic. Still, on some level, she seems confident that it would have happened sooner or later. Spencer-Smith will attest to having a fondness for singing that began around the same time she learned how to walk and talk, and has already racked up the kind of resumé that most aspiring musicians would dream of.
Dominating her local talent show at the Port Alberni Salmon Festival, after three straight victories in the “12 and Under” category the organizers made her compete outside of her age range for fairness’ sake. Spencer-Smith only went up from there, appearing on the Steve Harvey show after scoring a viral video with a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way;” she then finished in the Top 20 of American Idol, and even scored a 2020 Juno nomination in Adult Contemporary for Unplugged Vol. 1, a live cover album recorded during a concert at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre. Most recently she performed her new single “Narcissist” on the Jimmy Fallon Show, which was followed by a stunning homecoming concert of sorts, headlining in Vancouver BC where she left her audience awestruck.
“I’ve always been a dreamer, so there has literally never been a time in my life where I was like, ‘this is not possible,’” she says. “But just being in front of 20,000 people, I really felt the feeling through my body like, ‘this is really what I want to do for the rest of my life’.”
Spencer-Smith wouldn’t be much of a dreamer without what she calls her Manifestation Notepad, which she credits for working overtime to bring her to the level of success she’s experiencing now. Lately, she’s been filling up the pages by writing her greatest aspirations repeatedly. At the time of our interview with the rising star, the most recent success was the acquisition of her US visa, which she used to relocate to Los Angeles, link up with some top-tier producers and get to work on her debut album. Once again displaying her incredible ambition, she notes that she would have done it sooner, but she legally had to wait until her 18th birthday to live alone south of the border.
“Whether it’s just me writing ‘I am happy’ or ‘I am successful,’ or something like ‘I’m gonna have a #1 song,’ I write it down and speak it into existence,” she says. “I refuse to believe that ‘Everything happens for a reason’ type stuff. If you don’t have a manifestation journal, go buy one. It’s legit.”
While the #1 might still be coming in the future, Spencer-Smith did obtain her first top 20 hit on the Billboard charts with “Fingers Crossed,” joining a contingent of Generation Z superstars like Lil Nas X, The Kid LAROI and Olivia Rodrigo who have grown up with a comprehensive understanding of social media and how to utilize it to their benefit.
The parallels between “Fingers Crossed” and the latter’s breakout single “drivers license” are almost eerie – both are lyrically hyper-specific songs in the midst of teenage heartbreak, teased to widespread acclaim and anticipation in a November TikTok post before being released in the first week of the following year and prompting a bevy of Google searches from those not in the know when they shot to the top of the charts. Time will tell if history will repeat itself.
Success stories like these might seem like a brilliant stroke of luck on the surface, but Spencer-Smith knew exactly what she was doing. She could talk about the ins and outs of the TikTok algorithm for half an hour straight. “TikTok is the one platform that anybody can go viral on,” she says. “You don’t have to have a following, they just put you in front of so many people’s For You pages, no questions asked. The music industry has shifted so much from what it used to be – you can just post a video on TikTok and be the next biggest thing in music.”
It’s difficult to sum up the diverse music of an entire generation, but the one connecting thread between all of the biggest hits seem to be the same kind of emotional vulnerability and half-joking openness about deep-seated issues. Spencer-Smith and many of her contemporaries grew up idolizing Taylor Swift’s legendary pen, and now most of them are emulating her model – with a little bit more profanity. Spencer-Smith draws reference to another teenage TikTok success story of the moment as an example. “GAYLE and her song ‘abcdefu,’ that’s a Gen Z song for real,” she says. “You would never hear anyone in my mom’s generation doing that. They’d call it disrespectful. We’re like ‘screw disrespectful, we’re Gen Z, we can do whatever we want!’”
Spencer-Smith believes that refreshing sense of authenticity is creating a seismic shift in the way social media functions as well. Stereotypical pictures of the online chatter often involve abundantly fake lifestyles, posturing and self-advertisement, but Spencer-Smith believes her song took off because the teaser she posted was so raw and unedited. It wasn’t even intended for social media.
“It still depends on the person, but I feel like for me and a lot of other people, they just want to share who they really are,” she says. “Everyone’s sitting with their jeans unbuttoned and being like ‘hey, we all sit like this after we eat dinner!’ There’s a huge shift where people are just learning to be themselves and be accepted for it.”
While Spencer-Smith, now in a new committed relationship, heads back to the studio to apply that authenticity to the other side of the romantic spectrum, the world should be watching for whatever she manifests next.