From A ‘Small Town Boy’ to A Chart-Topping Artist: The Story of Duncan Laurence

‘Loving you is a losing game’… and cue the beat drop!

I’m sure we’ve all chanced upon this song as we scroll endlessly on TikTok or as we listen to the charts on our music streaming apps. It really gets your adrenaline pumping and makes you want to start singing at the top of your lungs! 

Ladies and gents, the song is ‘Arcade’. This song has been on a crazy journey, from crowning Duncan Laurence the winner of Eurovision Song Contest 2019, and giving the Netherlands its first win since 1975, to becoming viral on TikTok and peaking at #5 on the Singapore Top 50 charts

The melodious yet powerful voice behind this song is none other than Duncan Laurence! And I had the very special chance to speak with Duncan and hear his story.

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Duncan Laurence – what is his story?

His journey started as early as in his schooling days. Duncan was bullied a lot when he was a student. School is always a massive part of all our lives as kids, and these experiences define who we become as adults. Duncan’s life at the time was full of negativity from the bullying.

“I took that negativity home, and I wrote songs about them. And that really taught me how to create my own space, my own world around me, to be happy and become who I want to become in this world,” he shared with a smile. And like that, music became his haven, his escape, his life. He started songwriting from such a young age. The peace and solace he never found in school, he found in music. 

He then participated in a local talent show. This was the first time Duncan had performed songs that he had written himself on a stage. And as he stood on that stage singing with his heart, he spotted among the audience people who were related to, or who were his bullies. Seeing them stand and applaud for him as he ended his performance, was when he realised that he had finally shown these people who Duncan Laurence was; not someone they bullied all the time, but someone who has something to tell in this world. 

And that’s when it hit him: this was what he wanted to do in his life. The feeling he felt on that stage, was something he never wanted to give up on. 

Duncan Laurence Aesthetic Shot 1
Duncan Laurence

With the newfound flame of passion for music burning in his soul, Duncan tried out The Voice of Holland in its fifth season. When he was on that platform, a realisation that hit him was that he never wanted to sing covers ever again! He didn’t enjoy it, and this realisation followed with another: he wanted to write his own music that he could be proud of.

He mentioned how he had gone into this “backstage mode” where he wanted to make a major reset to his style – from performing covers of already legendary songs to actually making legendary songs himself. 

As he exited this transition, he entered the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019, and performed his original song, Arcade, and won! He described how it was an incredible feeling, and it served as a confirmation of what he wanted to do. 

He then had this epiphany that if you do what you love, if you own it and are proud of it, “anything can happen”, in Duncan’s words himself. He realised how big the world is, how big music is, and how big his dreams were becoming. His words can really stir some determination in you to do what you love and stay true to it. Indeed, people always tell us to follow our dreams, but you have to do it as you remain true to yourself, and as you remain proud of what you do. 

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“Anything can happen” – Duncan Laurence

He then continued to nurture his own sound, inspired by the artists he listened to every day. He loves listening to the “soft and cinematic side of rock“, which greatly influences his sound and style. He has sought inspiration from artists like Coldplay, Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol. In fact, he cited Snow Patrol to have had a big influence on him in music production. 

Duncan shared with me how he never realised the power of production and soundscaping, and now that he’s discovered this world, he just wants to keep exploring and trying new things. He wants to create a worldly and cinematic sound experience, one that his listeners can just sit back and relax to, yet get amped up for a jam session!

He expressed how he’s been drawn towards “emotional music, music that I can play on the piano that tells a true and honest, and sometimes, or rather most of the time, a tragic or sad story with a little bit of hope in it always.” It’s beautiful how he always tries to make his music meaningful and share a message veiled beneath the story he’s trying to tell.

And this is evident in his recent album released in 2020, ‘Small Town Boy’!

Duncan Laurence “Small Town Boy” Album Cover
The album cover of “Small Town Boy”

Personally, one of the many things that I loved about his album was how he shared a little commentary about every song before it played on Spotify. Each song in the album is a story, but Duncan shares a personal journey and story behind each song in under 60 seconds, before the song plays. I am a sucker for stories, so this just made me so happy.

Duncan shared that he never knew this was possible. He heard examples from other artists, and he felt that the way they talked about their songs was so cool. He said, “I want to do this too! I have so many stories about my songs that I want to tell people more about, about why I wrote songs! Even now, with creating a new album, creating new songs, working towards a new era of Duncan Laurence, I’m like almost saving the little stories behind the scenes!” 

When you listen to his album, you also realise how brilliant and emotional his lyrics are. As I listened to the songs, I often caught myself wondering, ‘How did he get the idea to describe it in this way?’ 

When I asked him about it, he said that he gets inspiration from his daily life occurrences! He shared with me how he’s always very open to inspiration, and he “always keeps an antenna on, for whenever I can catch something somewhere, and it can be anything!”. He described how sometimes he finds his inspiration in the tiny little things around us that we would often forget, but they’re such powerful thoughts and memories. 

Any idea, or such memory or incident that happens, he records it as a voice memo or a note on his phone! “Like coming home from a day of work and getting distracted, or sitting on the couch and all of a sudden being drawn back into time and into that relationship that you forgot about, and how much heartbreak it still causes. Maybe even the colour of their eyes. Anything!” We may often think back to miserable times and brush them away, but Duncan sees these little moments as opportunities to make them a story to comfort and soothe his heart, and maybe even someone else’s.

Besides songwriting, he also loves to produce his songs, including many tracks on his album himself, like Sleeping on the Phone and Umbrella! He finds thrill in finding the perfect sound that matches the music to make it the best possible experience for his listeners.

He also always finds himself thinking about the video or the concept of the songs he creates or the stage he wants to portray. As he works with professionals who do such a fantastic job, he also loves to share his ideas with them and share whatever is on his mind. He thinks that this way, they’re combining both their worlds to make it perfect.

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“It’s always a collaboration when you work with me, kinda.” – Duncan Laurence

Just like that, Duncan shared with me his story from the very beginning to this same day. His journey was not easy, but he never gave up on his dreams, or that feeling he felt on stage at that talent show. He has humbly moved forward, and he has so many more stories to share.

But what else will he endeavour in his journey? He teased at a couple of announcements coming our way this week and that lately, he’s been in the studio “a lot a lot”, with clear, extra emphasis on “a lot”! 

As the inner fan in me screams at this tease, I just can’t wait to see what the future holds for Duncan! He’s heading towards a new era, and I know it’s going to be amazing. He has so many more stories to share, and I hope to be a part of his journey and hear more of them.

Be sure to continue jamming to ‘Arcade’, and check out his album ‘Small Town Boy’ on Apple Music or Spotify for a roller coaster of emotions that will leave you wanting more as you near the last song!

This was the story of Duncan Laurence. What’s yours? And how will you share it with the world?

Visuals courtesy of Universal Music Singapore.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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