FOR her new album Poster Girl, Zara Larsson wanted to reveal the many different sides to her character.
The Swedish singer says fans see only one side of her — and it is important to show that she is a real person.
On a Zoom audio call from her home in Stockholm, she says: “Poster Girl is the glamourised pop-star version of myself you see performing at shows. But lying in bed watching TV, looking at my phone and eating noodles is me too.”
Larsson admits she always wanted her image on fans’ walls, having dreamt of being famous since she was a little girl.
“I couldn’t wait to have paparazzi around me but now I think I’m lucky not to have experienced fame like other artists,” she says.
“I’ve experienced the good side of things — like, I’ve travelled the world and met so many people — but I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything. It’s a good balance. I’ve been lucky.”
Poster Girl, which reached No12 in the charts here last month, is an album of back-to-back anthemic singles.
But when she is not dancing, the singer has her feet firmly on the ground.
Larsson says: “Because I live in Stockholm, it’s not that bad. People don’t care that much.
‘You can be strong in a compromised position’
“We have a few photographers who go to movie premieres but that’s it. And fans can be very shy. They don’t really come up to you. They might stare and whisper a bit to their friends but they’re very respectful and they let people be.”
Much of the album was written after a break-up and the start of a new relationship, drawing on a wide range of emotions.
“Half of the album is like, ‘Give me love, ruin my life or I will die!’ while the other half is like, ‘I don’t give a f*** about you, I’m the best person in the world!’ It’s ups and downs. And it’s relatable for every situation.”
The infectious single Look What You’ve Done “is heavily inspired by ABBA” as Larsson embraces her Swedish roots.
She says: “That is one of the empowering tracks, which I feel so good to sing. Even with the darker songs, I’m showing you can be a strong woman when you’re in a compromised position.
“The song Ruin My Life is about a toxic relationship I was in a few years ago. It was trash and we didn’t treat each other well. He definitely did not treat me well. It was so bad but I’m stronger because of it.”
Larsson cites the recent story of FKA Twigs suing her actor ex Shia LaBeouf for physical, mental and emotional abuse. The singer said she was left with post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of that troubled relationship.
And Larsson says: “You can be a really strong woman and have strong beliefs — look at FKA Twigs. Coming out and talking about her abusive relationship shows strength. A lot of women go through similar and she is strong enough to talk about it.
“Some people have criticised me specifically for that song because it’s high-lighting bad relationships. But I’m an artist and what I went through emotionally I should be allowed to sing about. It’s honest.
“Of course, I shouldn’t want to be with someone who’s bad for me. But it’s hard to leave, even when you know that person isn’t right for you.”
Empowerment is a central theme of Poster Girl. Larsson says: “I want songs to feel really empowering because I’ve tried a million times to make feminist anthems to uplift women and say, ‘We’re in this together’ without being super-corny.
“I want women to feel strong listening to these tracks.” Though Larsson considers herself a strong woman, she was keen to reveal a fragile side too.
It doesn’t mean I’m weak just because I’m also writing songs about being vulnerable.
‘Toxic masculinity affects all of us’
Larsson’s first break came when she won Swedish talent show Talang 2008, aged ten. Her 2017 release So Good boasted six Top Ten UK singles and, on Spotify, was the year’s second most-streamed album by a female artist.
She has also landed four Brit Award nominations.
Larsson is clearly not afraid of speaking out about the issues she cares for. But that has landed her in trouble on social media from time to time, including a Twitter spat with disgraced rapper Chris Brown, who in 2009 assaulted his on-off partner Rihanna.
It is no surprise that in 2016 Larsson was listed as one of Time magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teens. She is more guarded now over social media but says she does not regret anything she has said in the past.
“There’s nothing I wish I hadn’t said because it all made sense for me at that point,” she says.
“It was important for me to find my voice, so I’m happy I didn’t go silent.
I mean, it was hilarious that Chris Brown blocked me.
“I’ve always been very outspoken. And I think it’s necessary, especially when you’re young, to find a sense of purpose or direction. I hate toxic masculinity, as it affects all of us.
“It shows itself in violence towards women. I still have the same opinions but I might not express myself in the same way I used to on social media.”
Larsson collaborates with US producer and DJ Marshmello on the banger Wow, which she says was one of her favourite tracks to make. “It was really fun. Marshmello is a great guy and hardworking. I was really happy to be a part of something he made.”
Another standout is the sassy FFF, which stands for “falling for a friend”. “That was inspired by true events. Before my boyfriend and I fell in love with each other, we were really good friends. Writing that song I was in a love bubble!
“Me and my boyfriend weren’t official but we were very much in love. It’s something I’d never experienced. Before, I’m very much like, ‘Go and sleep with him on the first date.’ But this was the opposite. I already knew I really liked him as a person and that meant it was a lot to lose if things didn’t go as planned. I didn’t want to lose him as a friend.
“It was risky but that made it even more exciting. It was definitely worth the risk.”
‘This album is perfect for dancing to’
Larsson says her own “poster girl” will always be Beyonce. Meeting her idol backstage at a concert in Sweden was an overwhelming experience.
“I had a lot of her posters on my walls,” Larsson says, “so it was surreal to meet her in the flesh when I’d watched every one of her videos and sang all her songs.
“I was in shock. I was on the floor crying! I don’t think I ever want to meet her again because I don’t want to make a fool of myself again.”
Larsson recently performed for a special International Women’s Day show and she is looking forward to touring once the world gets closer to normality.
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She says: “I can’t tour at the moment, so I’ve been using video to show that if you go to my shows, I like to dance — and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.
“This album is perfect for dancing to. That type of music is making a huge comeback, like in 2010 when Katy Perry, Kesha, Lady Gaga and Rihanna were making those big pop albums.
“People want pop. People want to hear melodies and they want to dance and sing along. You want to hear something fun but that feels really familiar. I think this album is for that.”
Zara Larsson: Poster Girl
- Love Me Land
- 2.Talk About Love (ft Young Thug)
- Need Someone
- Right Here
- Poster Girl
- I Need Love
- Look What You’ve Done
- Ruin My Life
- Stick with You
- What Happens Here
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