Nine Songs: Zara Larsson
The pressure’s been on for Zara Larsson to deliver with her new album and boy, it’s been a long road, but Poster Girl is finally here
The follow-up to her Platinum-selling international debut So Good - which spawned hits such as the inescapable bubblegum rush of “Lush Life” and the powerhouse MNEK duet “Never Forget You” - comes two and a half years after “Ruin My Life”, the first single from Poster Girl, was released. Where So Good was an amalgamation of singles and ideas of what Larsson could do with the world watching, Poster Girl is a far more cohesive and condensed effort,with its roots firmly in pop.
Describing So Good as “fun to make, but a little messy,” Larsson, in part, accounts the more streamlined approach of its successor to her nostalgic media consumption habits. Revisiting songs from her childhood and “watching movies I’ve seen a million times, that sense of familiarity has been really important for me.”
“It has to live up to not only my expectations,” Larsson continues, “but to other people's expectations.” With delays caused by the pandemic and a desire to ensure the record lives up to its wildly successful predecessor, Larsson knows the time is now. “I just can't wait to get it out,” she says, “I'm very proud. I'm very happy. It has a positive vibe. Even though every song is not super positive, I feel it's not a sad album in any way.”
Larsson’s evolved into quite the songwriter since releasing her 2014 Scandinavian debut 1 on which she didn't have a single songwriting credit. Reflecting on her growth as an artist, she explains she's proud of herself for “Growing as a creative person,” whereas earlier in her career she was happy to be given a song and get onstage and belt it out.
Having penned nine of the Poster Girl's twelve songs, Larsson explains how her role has expanded beyond writing and laying down vocals. From the songwriters she’s trusted with her vision, to the sparkling sheen of her music videos, “I have a lot of opinions,” she laughs.
For her Nine Songs selections, Larsson explains she drew inspiration from her Spotify library. She has one big playlist with "everything on it" and a second entitled “Vibes”, which contains all number of timeless classics including “Just the Two of Us”, which makes the cut here, along with end of night singalong anthems like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Toto” by Africa.
She's also a big fan of podcasts, something she puts down to being easily distracted. “When I listen to music, it usually makes me want to dance and perform. So when I'm out, if I take a walk, go in the supermarket, or if I'm just cleaning by myself in my apartment, it's always podcasts. Because if I put on a song, I'm not going to get anything done.”
Thanking the power of the algorithm and her tastemaking friends, Larsson’s favourite songs right now are an eclectic mix of old and new. She highlights Hope Tala as an exciting new name in constant rotation, professes her love for the hitmaking talent of PARTYNEXTDOOR and having found the time to finally give ABBA a go, she considers the impact of Sweden’s pop legacy.
Despite rarely going into sessions with songs as named references, throughout this process of detailing their significance, Larsson realises just how important they are to her own expanding artistry.
“The algorithms are quite good at figuring out what you like, you know? I think I first heard this song when I was listening to my favourite playlist, where I just put all of the tracks that I like, and it was one of those that sometimes the list continues with 'Hey, suggestions!' I love it, it's just perfect, it has a guitar, it has Drake - perfect. I think his chorus is beautiful. If I was to describe my music taste that I listened to, it would pretty much be this song.
“You know what I do sometimes? I go into the bathroom, I go to the mirror and I pretend that I'm in a studio, because I love performing. I do this a lot, that's how I relax, that's how I escape.
“I pretend that a producer, like a star producer, is playing me this track and I'm ‘Hey, can I do a freestyle?’ And the freestyle is always a Drake verse, that I pretend I make up on the spot. I am Drake, basically! And everybody in my head is, 'This is really good, she's great' and I'm 'This verse is one of my favorites to do that on.' [begins to rap] I just go full in.
“Also, “You're Mines Still” is relatable, it's like 'My ego is bruised.' I am so happy with my boyfriend, I'm obsessed with that guy, but finding out that my ex - not even my ex, but my ex ex - got a girlfriend, and he used to be so obsessed with me and now all of a sudden he's not obsessed with me anymore, because he's got his own girl and I’m like 'No, no no. You’re supposed to be obsessed with me for the rest of your life!' You know, just for my ego.”
“I’m obsessed with J Hus and I wish I produced this song. I really like the producer (iO), he's a friend of mine and for me, the production is what makes the song so sick. It has this really cool bounce to it and I think I could enjoy anything on that. It's the beat that makes this track. So sick, but so simple in a way. It makes me want to walk down the street to the beat. It really gives me confidence.
“The first time I heard this song was a couple of summers ago, it was probably my best friend who played it to me. We both love J Hus, so I think it was because of him that she found the song. Skepta is cool too, but J Hus is just, you know... J Hus.
“She has a playlist for everything, which is so not what I have. Like I said, I have one playlist where I put everything and that's what I listen to. First of all, she has a playlist for every month, with new songs that she heard that she enjoys that month. And then she has them for very specific things, like if we're playing a board game every Tuesday, she has a playlist for it.
“There’s one that’s called 'What life should feel like' and she's very specific with her music, but she also listens to a lot of music and you know what? Sometimes I feel really guilty, because as an artist, I should be obsessed with music, like I can't stop listening to it. But the truth is, I listen to podcasts so much more and I feel like they're my friends.”
“I can't remember the first time I heard this song, because it's old. I think my Dad played it for me, he really likes rock but his is a very poppy rock. But he loves Motörhead, Grateful Dead and even some punk, like Sex Pistols and Metallica.
“It makes me think of an accident that happened in Norway with a school bus, it crashed into water and they all died. They played this song at the funeral and that makes me cry. And I've had this thought ever since I heard it for the first time that that happened.
“It was a huge thing in Sweden and Norway. It's really sad to me, but in a weird way, because at the same time, it makes the song even more beautiful, it tells a whole other story melodically. It's beautiful, and the lyrics are really interesting to me. And they’re also Swedish buddies.
“I would love to do a song like that. I love that the instruments have their own solo parts. You hear it instantly. These days we have drops, but here with the musical part, "The Final Countdown" has the instruments - that's the hook. I feel like MNEK is very good at that with “Ain’t My Fault” and “Never Forget You”, but it’s quite different nowadays to let that be the hook.
“Also, every time I hear that song, my mom is like, 'They got fucked by their manager and they didn't get a dime from that song. They got so fooled by him.' I’m like, 'Don’t let my managers fuck with me,' I know they wouldn’t, but you know, you gotta keep your eyes open.”
“Vibes! Vibes! It never gets old. This is one of my favourite songs to play when I'm in a car, because it gives me such a nice feeling. I always think I can't wait to get married, so I can play this at my wedding. It’s one of those songs that I just know I will have in my wedding.
“The voice? C’mon, it's like 'Wow'. It's a timeless song. I have another playlist and it's called Vibes. I was one of those people that make people excited [lists] and I was like, 'Oh, that's funny because 80% of these songs I have on my Vibes playlist.' But this song is one of the more soulful ones on that list to me. It's such a timeless jam. It really is. And the breakdown in the end, the percussion comes in and I lose it. I wish I wrote this song.
“You know what's funny? Most of the best songs in the world are so simple. Like this… “Just the two of us,” why didn’t I think of that? It's really frustrating, because it's so easy, but it says so much with the melodies, and the chorus is genius. The feeling I get when I listen to it, the smoothness of it, is so nice.
“Sometimes I really like to enjoy a song for what it is, without actually having to project it on myself. I tried to make this list a little versatile, because I listen to alot of hip-hop and stuff that I normally wouldn't really do myself. Which is maybe why I love to fake perform it, because it's like another part of you lives out some kind of dream. I think music is more fun when you just enjoy it.”
“Now, I take that back, because I would actually love to do a song in Spanish. There are a lot of people on this one, and it’s something I would love to try out, as a feature. If J Balvin or Rosalía called me one day and they were 'Hey, I want to be on my song?' I’d be 'Yes!'
“Every time I hear a Spanish [language] song, I think that I can speak Spanish. I always go in and check the lyrics and I like to practice the lyrics again and again and again until I think I know the words, and then I look up like what they are saying.
“Rosalía was actually what made me interested in the song, because it's a remix. Seeing her name, I was 'I have to check this out.' I love everything she does. I love how she incorporates her tradition, traditional sounds and looks into something really modern and cool. That makes it super special. Nobody else really does that.
“Her voice is very recognisable, and what she does is very recognisable. She has her little signature, which is super important as an artist. But I love that track, especially when she comes in the chorus!”
“This is also one from Spotify’s recommendations to me. When I first heard it, I was like 'What the fuck is this?!" The whole song, how it's structured and how she sings it. What she says, I don't know, I just think it's perfect, it blesses my ears.
“It has a little bit of a Spanish vibe to it actually, when you think about it. Again, I would love to do something in that world, for me, but coming back to not being inspired by music? I am.
“Sometimes you hear a song and you don't know why you really love it, but I really love this. I can't really explain what it is. All the chord progressions that come into the pre-chorus, I love how that sounded. I love the little guitar. I just never get tired of it.
“I've been listening to “All My Girls Like To Fight” now for a few months and I think it's a genius song. I'm so excited to see what Hope Tala is going to put out over the next few years.”
“I just can't believe he did that song. Personally, when I make music, I speak a lot about a general feeling, but this is like he’s telling us a story. He's telling us exactly what went down. And I don't think he's lying.
"If I heard that song and it was about me… I mean, I think I know who it's about, but it’s a savage anthem, definitely. But also it’s like, 'Party, you're a little bothered, because if you weren't, you wouldn't have made this song.'
“He is a really good writer. I know people know about him and he's appreciated, but he's very underrated. He deserves to be super mainstream. It's the way he writes songs, and again, coming back to Drake, I think some of Drake's best songs are with PARTYNEXTDOOR.
“It's not a radio single for sure, but it adds something to this album, his personality and his storytelling, which I think is equally as important. It’s really exciting to have that sort of thing on your album - 'This is not for a radio audience or anything like that, but this is a story I would like to share with you guys.' And boom! Here it is.”
“I haven’t really listened to ABBA that much. I grew up with them, they’re Swedish icons. Someone said they're an institution and I was like, 'That's true'. They even have a museum. I never really took the time to sit down and listen to them the way you do with new artists. or when my favourite artists release an album. They were huge before I was born, but then I listened to them and I was blown away.
“I can't believe how timeless it is. I'm a big fan of melodies, and actually for this album, I was really inspired by ABBA. I listened to them a lot and “Love Me Land” was heavily inspired by “Lay All Your Love On Me”. It’s so simple. The chorus isn't very long, It's just “Don't go wasting your emotion / Lay all your love on me” That's it! But it's so good.
“I can't even say it's been a big part of my life, ABBA has always been there, but in the background. Everybody knows their songs, but I was really happy that I actually took the time to sit down and really go through the Swedish legends. There’s Roxette, bangers! Even Robyn. Come on! We’ve had some really sick artists.
“This year really made me appreciate the Swedish legacy. I really don’t know why, I think it could be a lot of different things, like how we view music, and everybody's forced to do music in school. You can get funding quite easily, so you're able to pursue your passion without being scared of not having food or money for rent this month. You can really focus on that.
“If one person is lucky enough to pave the way for you, if one person blows up, it does pave the way for other people to go through that door. And if then two people do that, and then three people and then four people, it’s like, 'Oh, Swedish pop music, we love that!' I feel like I definitely benefited from that.”
“I have this one on my Vibes playlist too and it's definitely another song I wish that I'd written. Again “Stand by me / stand by me / stand by me”, is genius and so easy. The verses are really nice too, 'If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall / or the mountain should crumble to the sea,” it’s so poetic. It fits into anything. It's definitely a mood lifter for me when I hear it. It’s definitely heartwarming. It makes me feel nostalgic about the distant past, that I have no experience of.
“It’s also a great soundtrack. They made the song, obviously, before the Stand By Me movie, but it fits really well into that. I think the first time I heard that song was when I watched the movie in school, many many years ago. And my whole class just started singing that song over the next few weeks after that.
“After seeing the movie, it was about friendship to me - 'You're my friend, I'll never leave you.' I've written a lot of songs about my friends, or my sister, that read as love songs, because I love them so much, but not necessarily like, 'I'm so attracted to you'. I think a lot of love songs could be interpreted in that way, if you allow them to be, if you allow the listener to hear something in a different light."