An effervescent sheen is painted over the entirety of Poster Girl, Swedish popstar Zara Larsson’s third studio album. In her delaying the albums release multiple times over the past few years through simply wanting to wait until she had achieved perfection in her music, this gloss should come as no surprise.
But within Poster Girl’s glitterball lustre, it’s her dealing with the various strings of love that offers vibrancy. You can hear it glimmer in the opening, low pitched synths of “Love Me Land,” a synthetic gleam of hope in romantic love, and beyond.
Poster Girl’s thematic through line is a welcome change from Larsson’s 2017 So Good, which had its fair share of pop bangers (including the now-platinum singles “Lush Life” and “Never Forget You” with MNEK) but struggled cohesively. To be fair to Larsson, So Good came out when she was 19 — a teenager — and moving into the throes of young adulthood has no doubt played a role in maturing her sound and creative direction. Luckily for her, Poster Girl excels in its creativity, riffing on familiar pop music tropes to make fun and surprising tracks.
The album’s lead single, “Talk About Love,” differs the most sonically, but still plays into frank assertions Larsson expects from romantic partnership. The track chimes with playful complaints: “I can make your dreams come true overnight / I’ll do anything that you like / But I won’t talk about love.” Young Thug’s feature comes in a sing-songy ramble, somewhat odd but fitting with his own frustration as he groans, “Can you please tell me I’m in control today?”
Larsson plays with her contrasting feelings in the best way that she can: writing upbeat pop numbers that have irresistible grooves. The gorgeous, twinkling “Need Someone,” sounds designed to play on an early-evening summer car ride, brooding over a crush while faintly tapping your hands on the steering wheel. Elsewhere, on the subsequent track “I’m Right Here,” she pleads for a lover to notice her, agonizingly in thought over crude scenarios (“I could have two girls in the bed / It wouldn’t even get your attention”) over a fast-paced snappy drum beat. And the ABBA-inspired, “Look What You’ve Done,” is a revenge bop of campy proportions, soaring with a sharp violin melody and Larsson’s joyful resonance, existent even after a painful heartbreak: “‘Cause now that you’ve gone / I’m number one / Boy I should thank you for who I’ve become.”
Despite Poster Girl being a better cohesive effort from Larsson, not everything sticks the landing, though not without effort. “I Need Love,” the track sounding closest to a ballad on the album, is emotive but dips into too many cliches to seem authentic — comparing love to drug addictions and hunting. And not even a Max Martin co-write can help the cloying naivety of “Stick With You,” an acoustic-led toast to a bad relationship. On repeat listens, it sounds more sarcastic than genuine — with lyrics like “We in a bubble with only good vibes” seeming to pop Larsson’s romantic illusion — yet it doesn’t ring with the same glow of confidence portrayed through the rest of the album.
It’s that confidence that permeates throughout Poster Girl, making it an album perfect for repeat listens, and maybe one day, a soundtrack for communal gatherings. Larsson may have kept us waiting for four years, but at least the time gave her a chance to perfect some signature romantic pop bangers — quite a lot, in fact.