Zara Larsson is the Swedish Pop Star Breaking Into the American Mainstream

Zara Larsson is the Swedish Pop Star Breaking Into the American Mainstream

The Swedish singer talks her forthcoming love-fueled album, feminism, and her love of Beyoncé.

The Swedish singer talks her forthcoming love-fueled album, feminism, and her love of Beyoncé.

Text: Ilana Kaplan

Perfect pop his hard to come by, but Zara Larsson comes pretty damn close. Straight out of the Sweden, the 19-year-old isn’t afraid to sing about getting "naughty" with a guy or state her opinions on how the music industry treats women. It’s something that’s made her an artist to watch in the pop realm.

Things really took off for Larsson after she released electropop ballad “Never Forget You” with MNEK back in 2015, which amassed over 80 million YouTube views, but she’s really been on the path to stardom since she was 10-years-old, winning Talang Sverige—the Swedish version of the Got Talent series. It took about four years for her to sign a record deal following her television win, but it allowed her to grow up and hone in on her passion. While Larsson has released several EPs and debut album 1 in Sweden, her sophomore record So Good (due this spring) will be her first international release. Judging by first singles “Ain’t My Fault” and “I Would Like,” So Good is going to be full of R&B-fueled pop songs that fall somewhere between Rihanna and Tove Lo.

We caught up with Larsson about the iterations of songs she went through, what makes a good pop song, and how the music industry needs to change for women moving forward.

Can you tell me a little bit about what your upcoming record is about? What’s the story behind it?

I didn’t have one story or vision for it, but the theme is pretty much all love, as usual. [My music] is usually about that.

Is it about multiple relationships or just one?

A lot of the songs are just relationships with friends, but, obviously, if it’s usually to one person it doesn’t need to be a true story. It’s a story like—I talk to you, love you, I loved you, and you make me feel...you know how it goes.

You originally had an album written and then scrapped it. Why did you do that?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true, but I have been working on this album for a very long time. I had so many very different A&Rs on the project. I felt like the songs I was doing three years ago weren’t necessarily the songs I loved today. When I got my new A&R and a new team at Epic, we mixed it up. I was starting to write myself, and that changed a lot for me because I wanted to be a bigger part [of the process]. I mixed it up—I guess I made it better. I was excited to sing the newer songs, which I guess is natural because, of course, you get tired of the songs from three years ago even though your fans don’t get tired of them. I’m way more confident that the [new] songs are better.

How do you feel like the Swedish pop scene has changed? How do you feel like you fit into it?

I really don’t know how it was before my time, but honestly, I feel really lucky that I’ve become a part of the pop scene. We have such a great list of people who have come from here like ABBA, Max Martin, and Ace of Base. I’m super happy I grew up here. It’s just natural for me. My inspirations and my idols are not from [Sweden]—they’re Beyoncé and other international artists.

What do you love about Beyoncé? How has she inspired you?

Come on! What can I say? It’s easier to say what I don’t love about her. What can I say? She’s just the definition of what artists should be like, period.

Zara Larsson at V Fest Photography Jenn Five

What were you listening to when you made this record?

I was just thinking about having good songs because it’s my first international album. Like I said, I don’t have a story for it like LEMONADE or J. Cole’s album. I’m just trying to make really good pop songs, sing songs I love, and write songs I love. I would say it’s relatable. I would say that my audience is a great mix of people, of all ages and genders. When I do write songs, I think about women. It’s mixed—I know it is, at least in Europe. I don’t really have this big vision for it, I just hope people like it.

What do you think makes a good pop song?

That’s hard to answer. I don’t think there’s a formula for it. I think people are thinking a little bit too hard about what it is. I don’t think there’s anyone who will listen to a [pop song] and say ‘I love that chord progression in the chorus when it comes into the second verse.’ You just hear a song and think it’s good. It could be the lyrics, the melody or everything mashed up together. I would maybe say it’s how it sounds and how you feel. It’s tough. I think the songs on my album are mixed also. There are some real good pop jams, while others are dancehall-ey or reggae-y.

Who did you get to work with on the record, and how did that influence the sound?

I got to work with a lot of different artists, producers, and writers, which I’m very excited about because I learned a lot from them. As a writer myself, and how I like to write songs, I love working with Ty Dolla $ign, Wizkid, POOH BEAR and some Swedish producers. It’s also the interactions you have with people. I don’t really care about the names. When you get in the studio with them, there can sometimes be no vibe. Other times, it can be this completely unknown producer who you love and get along so well. I feel like I’ve been getting along with all of the people and would love to work with them on my next album.

How do you think your music has changed over the course of the past couple of years?

I don’t really know. I haven’t been writing for that long, but I work with different people all of the time so it’s always different. I’ve learned to take up more space in a positive way and speak up and say what I feel—what I like and what I don’t like. It’s really scary to throw your feelings out there to people who you’ve met for the first time, but it’s like fuck it, just do it. Everyone’s so nice. There are no bad ideas—just good ideas and better ideas.

Tell me what the song “Ain’t My Fault” is about.

Well it’s basically me being at a party, and I speak with a guy who I think is really cute, and I tell him whatever happens tonight isn’t my fault, because I know he wanted to and let’s be naughty, naughty.

How do you think the music industry needs to change for women?

I think we are getting better as a whole, but we’re not even close to being there yet. Women in general in society need to be respected. I wish we didn’t need to scream twice as loud to be heard when men can just whisper and people listen to them even more. You really have to speak up—that’s why I say what I think. I’m brave enough to say how it is for once. I feel more confident in myself, but it’s easy to feel pushed down especially by those older men in the industry. We’ll definitely have to listen more, to see more artists, and respect the voices of those artists. We’ll need to put a focus on the music rather than women’s looks—what they’re wearing or how they’re moving. If they want to be sexy, let them be sexy. We need people to stop objectifying women.

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