Swedish singer and songwriter Zara Larsson’s meteoric rise to musical success is the story usually only reserved for fairytales. The 22-year-old has gone from victory on a competition reality show as a child to scoring herself a certified No. 1 as a teen, aged just 15. Add to it a rather justifiable four BRIT Award nominations and a casual 4 billion streams as well — over 20 million hits each month from just Spotify alone — and that fairytale just mentioned gets a hard reality check. But that doesn’t stop her from starting off our virtual conversation with a good ol’ chat about something that’s become an unexpected distraction.
“I’m trying to be fancy for you,” shouts the familiar voice through our screen, ushering in a world of compliments over her impressive and sparkling jacket and matching cut trousers that get the supermodel pose treatment. “I would wear this on a casual day though. Everything that sparkles!” And sparkle it does.
Zara struts onto the cover of EUPHORIA. as the world holds its breath for the release of her new album. Expected to be titled Poster Girl, the next installment of the So Good artist’s catalog is a hotbed of activity on fan forums with rumors of possible collaborations and unannounced song titles. Pausing from her MTV EMA 2020 rehearsal schedule — which she later went on to slay with a kick-ass performance of her single “WOW” — the “Lush Life” star came under the microscope when we asked when she plans to — as one fan so perfectly put it in anticipation of new music — “feed the children.” (Yes, we quoted this comment to Zara and she unsurprisingly loved it!)
“It’s been ready for a while now,” fires Zara out the blocks. “’Love Me Land‘ was the last song that I wrote for this album and that was written one day before lockdown in LA, so back in March. I went back home (to Sweden) and have been putting it together since. We’ve had a little shoot for the album and are wrapping it up, it just takes time. The track listing is now there. Everything is there.”
There’s some serious internal screaming now occurring on our part over an actual finished product living somewhere in the universe or most probably just on Zara’s laptop, which is where she’s fed her musical habit since the world shutdown — “I’ve been able to record a few things and I’ll send them to people who are way better than I am at producing. A DJ might have something and they’ll send it to me so I can put down an idea and send it back.” The pandemic hasn’t actually played a part in this new era. In fact, quite the opposite, as Zara debunks one of the greatest untruths about her work.
“I actually didn’t write anything during lockdown,” she corrects, citing a possible nod in any future work, but just not this installment. This time it’s all about dance, dance and … well a bit more dance. It’s a grab your mates and get down sorta vibe.
“I think maybe future music will have some nods to lockdown, but I wanted this album now to be a form of escapism,” she beams. “I don’t know how quickly we can go back to the way we were, but what I can say is that I want to go out on the dance floor when I hear this album — at least the dance floor in my head! I don’t want to think about lockdown here. I don’t want to think about quarantine. I don’t want to think about that shit — but maybe the future album. This next one is normal life.”
Pushing away any conversation about COVID — and frankly who can blame her — we nosey into what the last eight-months-plus have been like for somebody who has spent almost all their life in the public eye. In front of an audience is clearly where Zara feels safest, so what happens when the curtain comes down so unexpectedly?
“I’m a notorious series watcher,” Zara cackles, making her relatable in oh so many ways. “I’ve kind of been doing nothing, which is both good and also bad. Sometimes you do need that little break and I’m a person who needs a routine. If I don’t, I will just lay in bed all day and eat in bed and not have the energy to even go pee. I’ll just lay around and that makes me feel really anxious and depressed. Then when I’m anxious, I want to get out of bed even less.” We nod in full agreement.
Like all of us during these weird times, Zara relies on her nearest and dearest for that much-needed reality check: “I live with my sister, which I’m so thankful for because I’ve never been alone. She’s got her boyfriend around sometimes and my best friend lives down the street and we’ve been a close group just hanging out. I’m very lucky that I’m not by myself because I would’ve gone into depression. It’s hard, really hard.”
As for learning a new language, getting abs, and baking every meal from scratch — the dreaded ‘what did you do in lockdown?’ question that makes us want to scream at its very mention — Zara’s having none of that. Music’s taken the reigns between her box set watching and aggressive napping.
“I’m a perfectionist and wanted to learn how to produce, but when I open Logic, I’m so fucking frustrated that it doesn’t come out and sound like Max Martin made it, or like why doesn’t it sound like a No. 1 hit?” Caught in her own laughter and banging on the table furiously, she continues. “That’s why I don’t want to play the piano because I want to be instantly good at stuff and that’s a really bad trait of mine. It’s either all or nothing, but that’s what I’m going to learn is how to produce. I still haven’t learned but …”
As we say a hopeful goodbye to lockdown controlling our lives and a hard twist back to this new album Zara’s got fired up to serve, her previous collaboration with “Symphony” with Clean Bandit has now passed 1 billion views on YouTube. So is the pressure on to chart an equal musical smash-hit? In short; yes.
“I definitely feel pressure to release music in general,” Zara admits without regret, noting her “we just saw what did stick” attitude from the past. “So Good was doing very well and I want to live up to that. I do have a lot of pressure on myself and sometimes I forget why I’m doing music and that fact earlier on I was just releasing stuff left and right.”
But an artist who releases at great speed Zara isn’t anymore — and this comes with new factors after a recent decline in commercial success.
“I really enjoyed doing ‘Love Me Land,’ but I didn’t know it wasn’t going to be commercially successful,” she explains with an exhale. “I really wanted to do this. It was 100% me and I feel like it’s the perfect song for the perfect video and everything I wanted to do. It hasn’t been nearly as successful as some of the other things I’ve done when it comes to numbers, but still, that’s the song that people come up to me and say that they love. I take that to heart more because I did that song for me. It would have been amazing if it had been a huge success story but wah wah wah. I didn’t really care that it wasn’t in a way because I just feel so fucking good about it.”
But could the key to greater mainstream success be matched by the ability to join forces with others on the Poster Girl album? “I do, I do. Not all of them are set but I have … I might have some,” Zara confirms of fresh collaborations on the new album, triggering a quick self-induced recall of information before we’re able to dig for any other possible album gossip.
As for the wishlist — either via this album or a future remixed album in signature Dua Lipa fashion — the list goes like this: “Kehlani, I’d love to do something with her. She’s like my number one now, I think she’s really cool.” We gasp once again, Zara laughs. “Even Nicki Minaj, but I want us to be in the studio and come up with a song together. For a remix, a Swedish artist called Snoh Aalegra — love her.”
And right on cue, the “B-bomb” is dropped. “Like, I could say Beyoncé but I don’t know if I’m worthy. I don’t know. Like, I don’t know if I’d even want that because I want it to be so bad.”
With the fans circling the rumor mill around a possible Little Mix collaboration as well, there’s one final name thrown into the mix — and it’s a one-word answer. “Ariana.”
That’s it. A single answer to a prying question leaving us hanging in the balance dreaming of those breathy Ariana tones mixed into a classic Zara Larsson mix. Lovely.
You wouldn’t get past the most recent post on Zara’s Instagram page, which has now peaked at an impressive 6.2 million follower barrier, without noticing her love for explosive fashion and an eye for targeted statements. We wonder if her clothing choices reflect the within she is unable to vocalize.
“Fashion is a way of expressing who you are and what you think,” Zara starts. “Even politically with where you stand and your opinions, it’s a way of speaking without speaking I find, especially as I grow older and can allow myself to be more confident and not care.”
Caught in the thought, she pauses and smirks, seemingly self-evaluating while speaking. “I have always been a showgirl. I love a little glitter and all that. Glitter, feathers, big things like camp but a little bit of show. I feel like I found that as I’ve got older. My favorite style is the very line of tacky and luxurious. That’s how you define me!”
Curious, we push for more on what flipped the switch towards such great fashion moments.
“Growing up in school — I went to the Royal Swedish Ballet School — we were wearing our fucking leotards, tights, and ballet shoes in school when we were dancing. When we weren’t, it was a hoodie and sweatpants. That was my style through my whole school year,” Zara tells.
Breaking for a pause as she stands up, twirls, poses, and demands: “How cool are these jeans? Excuse me, I feel like a hot girl!” We agree wholeheartedly. “I wouldn’t really dare to wear this a few years ago, but now I feel like the shit. It goes hand-in-hand with identity and finding your confidence and pushing your boundaries a little. Wear it and you’ll feel really good. It’s partly about where I find my confidence. It used to be that I wanted to wear what everyone else is wearing, now I want to wear what no one is wearing. I am unique, so if I can express that through clothes, that’s fun.”
But a fashion icon and pop singer she might be, it isn’t where she begins and ends. Heck, far from it. Zara’s personal commitment to supporting all corners of her audience comes through when we ask about how her life has been better because of the inclusion of minority voices within her own creative teams.
“With the people I work with, the table is very inclusive,” she says. “It’s not like we are sitting there wondering how we can be more inclusive — we have those people at our table already. The majority of people that I create with, not just music but what I’m wearing, the choreography and releasing my music, are Black, or gay, or both. I also have a lot of women around me, which I’m so thankful for because it does make a difference.”
Noting a conversation with friend and music genius MNEK, Zara recalls: “We were saying that, if you live in London and you don’t have any Black friends or anybody that’s LGBTQ, that’s an active choice.”
She continues: “If you could hire somebody from a minority or a woman, do that. I don’t want to go into a session if it’s me and three other white guys. Why? If you can put someone else in there, do that. If everyone that you have around you looks like you, you should think that over.”
Vocalizing support for the ongoing placement of women within music and the troubling number of assault allegations against producers, it’s no surprise that our conversation displays the greatness of repressed voices being given a chance. It’s matched equally by Zara relinquishing her digital platforms to the amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement following the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the first half of 2020. Writing online: “Enough of white supremacy, enough of the big corporations protecting ultra-nationalistic views, enough of piece-of-shit-human Donald Trump. They are not THUGS. It’s citizens HURTING. No justice, no peace.”
Zara continues to speak out and break the conservative mold for what’s been so traditionally expected of women in a sadly all but majority male-run business. It’s something she’s rightfully unafraid to do again and again and again. And the same rallying cry for equal justice sounds loudly when we highlight one of the biggest groups within her audience — the queer community!
“Speaking of courage and being confident, the LGBTQ community is sometimes — depending on where you live — about putting yourself out there if you want it or not,” she laments with great pride. “They’re going to dress however the fuck they want and ‘here I am.’ That is a huge inspiration for living in your truth and being who you are. It’s very inspirational and I have the privilege of the best people around me.”
Laughing, we continue: “In my head, I want to dress like a drag queen. I want all that extra because that is a show. I’m looking at a performance with the existence of a person. It’s giving me glamour, but there’s more behind just that.” Set for a departure back into rehearsals for the new era of Zara, we ponder on the age of 2021. With this frankly abysmal year almost over, we ask the cliché question of all cliché questions; what next?!
“I would love to be in a movie or act. I had a few proposals of being in movies but it’s always that ‘she is a pop star’ and … well, no.” Could we be able to see Zara Larsson “do a Lady Gaga” and enter into the world of the Hollywood Hills? Not if the powers that be don’t buck up their ideas. Make it happen, people!
“If I will be in a movie, I want to be completely not music related in a dark drama. Y’know those series or movies with a blue or gray filter over it? That. That’s what I want to be in. That would be cool. I also really want to be really, really good at producing. For the next album, I’d like to produce a few tracks on it. That would make me proud.”
Well if the next stage of her career is anything like the first, Zara Larsson’s got a lot to be proud of.