Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Pop star Zara Larsson talks about the songs that mean the most to her

Larsson had much to celebrate this year, even without releasing a new album

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Zara Larsson arrives at The Fashion Awards 2019 held at Royal Albert Hall on December 02, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Zara Larsson arrives at The Fashion Awards 2019 held at Royal Albert Hall on December 02, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)

Pop singer Zara Larsson has had a pretty good year. While spending the summer on tour with Ed Sheeran – an experience she remembers best introducing her parents to the British starLarsson also released a duet, Brand New Day, with BTS, one of the world’s biggest boy bands. The song was featured on the K-Pop behemoth’s BTS World: Original Soundtrack.

Larsson – who celebrated her 22nd birthday on Monday – rounded off the year by giving her ballad, Invisible, to Netflix for use during the end credits of its animated Christmas comedy film Klaus.

That was Larsson’s fifth single of the year, after the outright solo releases Don’t Worry About Me, WOW and All the Time, but a new album to follow 2017’s So Good was conspicuously absent. The Swedish singer’s latest releases follow the global domination of last year’s track Ruin My Life, which was billed at the time as the first single of her third album, a record that has now been more than a year in the making.

When we spoke to the star backstage at the Way Out West festival in Gothenburg in August, where she performed a homecoming gig in front of 20,000 fans, she promised an album would be released this year, which has not been realised. “It’s not an R&B album,” she said, dismissing rumours of a change in direction, away from her familiar upbeat electropop stylings. “This album is definitely pop, it’s very love-­centred, because that’s just easy and universal.”

But the older, wiser Larsson said she was drawing more deeply from personal experience than ever before. “I would say it’s more honest and I also talk about stuff that isn’t love or isn’t about a girl who loves a boy,” she said. “My favourite [new] song is about my sister – it’s a bit more about my life and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from my friends as well, just to write their stories because sometimes my life is very …” Boring? “I just work and I don’t really have a lot of drama going on – but my friends do.”

When we caught up with Larsson, she told us a gig in the UAE was long overdue. She said she “would love to come and play a show” in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. When asked about songwriting and the creative process, Larsson was surprisingly unguarded in her will to do better – even though So Good went multiplatinum and received strong reviews from critics. “I guess I would like for my songs to not necessarily … I don’t know if ‘mature’ is the right word – I want them to be better, and honestly, it’s tricky,” she said.

“I think I’ve learnt on this album that I know definitely how I want to work on the next one and with who. I really want to create my own little team and be comfortable around that, because I feel like I write the best songs when you just feel comfortable with people.”

In her quest to “be better”, Zara Larsson is expected to draw on the songs and experiences that have shaped her life to date. Here are some of the tracks that mean the most to the Swedish pop star.

A song that reminds you of your childhood

‘Greatest Love of All’ by Whitney Houston (1986)

Her album [Whitney: The Greatest Hits] was the first one I bought that was by an international artist. It was a double CD and she’s standing on a ladder on the cover. From that my favourite song was Greatest Love of All.

A song that made you want to be a musician

‘Candyman’ by Christina Aguilera (2006)

I would go to record stores – when they were actually a thing – and Back to Basics was my second or so album. But I’ve always wanted to be a singer – it wasn’t a record that made me think like, ‘that looks cool’. For as long as I can remember, that has been my tunnel vision – singing. Which makes it scary – what if one day I wake up and I don’t want to sing any more? That’s the only thing I’ve known my whole life. But so far we’re good. Candyman was like, it just blew my mind – seeing all those colourful wigs [in the video], everything about it.

A song that changed your career

‘Lush Life’ by Zara Larsson (2015)

I think that’s the one. Uncover (2013) was successful in parts of Europe and it was my first big song in Sweden. But Lush Life took it to the next level.

A song you wish you’d written

That’s a good question, because I always think when I hear a song: ‘I wish I wrote this.’ And it’s a new song every week. But I wish I wrote probably some Mariah Carey, or Old Town Road [by Lil Nas X], now. Because if you think about breaking records and stuff, I think he is so funny. But an honest song I wish I wrote could have been Crazy in Love. That’s a classic and it’s timeless, it’s just insane. It will be filling floors in 50 years, for sure. Will my music do the same? I really hope so. Sometimes I get stressed out and I’m like, ‘What if all the things I want to happen don’t happen?’ And then I’m like, ‘Calm down, you’re 22.’ But I really, really wish it does, because that’s my dream, I really want people to come to my concerts, have a great time and create some memories, because only music and sport can bring people together like this and it’s just special. My favourite spot is on the stage – it really, really is. Music is cool, but I would like to be on stage more than in the studio.

A song that makes you cry

‘I Will Always Love You’ by Dolly Parton (1974)

Oh, like everything – I’m very emotional – but I would say the last record that made me cry was I Will Always Love You, the Dolly Parton version, so emotional. Whitney’s version is obviously fantastic, but there’s something in Dolly’s voice, the softness, what do you call it? I want to call her voice almost tiny – it’s almost fragile, it just makes you feel very intimate. It just hit me, the way she talks, it just made me so sad. I don’t know why.

Updated: December 18, 2019 05:18 PM

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