Zara Larsson: Growing Into Womanhood

With second album 'Poster Girl', the Swedish pop star has cemented her transition from pop ingenue to musical force of nature.

With undeniable bangers like “Lush Life” and “Ain’t My Fault” Zara Larsson emerged as the new teen powerhouse for the 2010s. Ballsy, outspoken, sex-positive and unapologetically feminist, the Swedish wunderkind represented a thoroughly modern brand of pop — one which would have been unthinkable even just ten years prior.

Today, four years after establishing her name with debut album So Good, Zara, now 23, has released follow-up Poster Girl. Here, we can find the larger-than-life anthems we’ve come to expect but also moments of hard-won personal insight as she dives headfirst into tales of toxic love, heartbreak and eventual triumph. It’s clear that while she’s been reigning in the charts, she’s also been doing some serious self-growth.

To celebrate the album’s release we caught up with Zara to talk all things TikTok, Framing Britney Spears and why hotness is a state of mind. 


How has the past year in lockdown been for you?

It’s been quite chill. Now, when I think back on it, summer was one of the best summers that I’ve had in a while. It was very different because I wasn’t travelling. While I was in it, I didn’t really like it though. 


Why was that? Beyond the obvious reasons of course…

I just thought like, “So what am I going to do? What’s my purpose?” But I did have a lovely, lovely summer. Lots of nights out on a field or in the woods. I was really in nature and looking back at it, I had a really nice time off. I haven’t been home for this long since I was 15. But now, I’m not the only one, I’m really excited to get this over with and go back to festivals and night outs.


Definitely, once this pandemic ends I am heading straight to the club. So, congrats on the new album! One thing that really struck me was how vulnerable some of these tracks are, especially given that you’re kind of a force of nature. 

In real life, I feel very empowered. I’m a very strong woman who’s quite opinionated and I’ve grown into that. I think that’s why I usually don’t have a problem at all with showing my vulnerable side in my songs. That vulnerability is a sign of strength.

There’s a candour as well with how you approach relationships which I found really refreshing. You don’t shy away from the difficult, ugly emotions that come from loving someone or the times we aren’t as strong as we’d like to be…

You can be a really strong woman but still be put in compromising situations by other people. With my first relationship, that was going on for way too long. It ended a few years ago and it was my first relationship, I had nothing to compare it to. I felt like he was the one person for me, that I’d never find anybody else. It was so bad, we were so rude and mean to each other. I felt like I would rather [have] that than nothing else. I’m still inspired by that in my songs. 


Is it hard to have songs that are that personal, drawing on your real life, out there for everyone to hear? You’re more known for your songs that have more of an empowered vibe.

It’s interesting for someone who feels strong to open up and be vulnerable. Sometimes I can end up in a hole where I’m like, “Let’s just talk about how sad I am.” The truth is, I’m not that sad, that’s not what my life is about. So I wanted songs on the album to make me feel empowered too,  to say, “I’m shining, I’m a star, I’m on fire.  I don’t care what you say about me or what you say to your friends. I don’t give a fuck.” My album is about a girl coming into womanhood, so it touches on a lot of different aspects of what you feel growing up. We don’t feel one emotion, you can be like plenty of stuff at the same time.


Definitely. I’m wondering, have you seen the Britney documentary? How did her coming of age differ to what you’ve experienced as a young woman in the public eye? Have things really changed?

I can’t believe the world treated her like that. I was thinking about Paris Hilton when I saw that documentary, how she was one of the first people to get the paparazzi treatment like that too. And I don’t know if you’ve also seen that [David Letterman] interview with Lindsay Lohan… These women became a laughingstock if they didn’t feel their best. We haven’t really seen men go through that, at least not in a normalised way like it was back in the day. [Since then] people have started sharing their stories about sexism, and Me Too was coming from a tipping point where people had had enough already. Also with mental health, it’s not as stigmatised anymore. I don’t really know what it was that woke people up, hopefully, it’s because people were starting to share their stories and other people could relate to that.


I remember growing up with Britney and Paris in the tabloids, I find it really weird to re-engage with their stories from the perspective of an adult who can see how victimised they were by the media.

I grew up wanting to be that girl who has a lot of paparazzi around her, who’s famous like that. Now that’s literally the last thing in the world that I want. With social media, you don’t have to read tabloids to see what a person is up to. It’s their everyday life on their Instagram but it’s the stuff that they want to share. Not something someone stole from them.

Is that the way you use social media, to take control of the narrative? 

Sometimes I wish I had a plan because sometimes I just get it like moods where I don’t feel like posting anything and I think, “Oh my god, what if people forget me and stop liking my pictures?” I spend so much time on my phone that [I think] it’s real life but it’s literally not real life. I miss the times on Instagram when you took the picture straight in the app and every word in the caption was a hashtag. You didn’t care about [social media] at all.


l feel like TikTok is kind of like that now, right?

I have anxiety around TikTok for some fucking reason. My label [wants me to] post on TikTok and I’m like, “I don’t know what to post because I just don’t relate to that app.” I love to scroll but what the fuck do I post? You know? 


One thing that I’m seeing on TikTok, is the idea that hotness is a state of mind rather than something determined by society or the male gaze, which I love. It’s a vibe that your music gives off too.

That’s why people love [listening to] Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo and why I love performing for myself in the mirror. Whether it’s your bathroom in front of an imaginary crowd or walking into a room, you’re thinking, in the most humble way possible, “I am the shit, I’m better than everyone else.” [Hotness] really is a state of mind. We should all practise.


Poster Girl is out now.

5 March 2021