Last week Zara Larsson joined the ranks of Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Rihanna as her album So Good became the fifth most streamed album by a female ever.
On release, the album broke the Top 10 on iTunes in 61 countries, and was the 3rd best-selling (yes, selling) album on iTunes in the world. On it’s first Saturday in the world, all the tracks of the album were featured in the Spotify Top 50 in her native Sweden.
But what’s so good about Zara Larsson? Because she isn’t just the nineteen year old pop princess who became inescapable last summer with sugar-soaked single ‘Lush Life’. Instead she’s the nineteen year old who openly talks about masturbation, tweets out pictures of sex toys and holds the reigns over her ex boyfriends; only giving them the time of day if they have a puppy. Her social media feeds vary from fangirling over hedgehogs, complaining about her menstrual cramps, and highlighting the struggles of lipgloss and wind. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s powerful.
It’s complicated. Popstars are given a platform to project a voice; yet they can’t win. Stars are pounced on with unwritten Twitter rulebooks – tweet about the news, but don’t tweet about the news. Share selfies but don’t be vain. Give us your personal life, but not that – we don’t want to hear you whine. Yet Zara uses hers in a genius way. She’s called out rapists on Twitter, she’s embarrassed the guys who refuse to wear condoms by putting one over her leg and Instagramming the proof, and whilst admitting to being petty at times, has basically stuck a middle finger up to any middle aged agent or manager.
The thing about Zara is, you can tell she’s having the time of her life. Her vocal is exciting, it carries an aura like everything is effortless. Distinguished and slick, there’s a smoky edge as though she could be stumbling out of a cab still singing the chorus to whatever is on the radio. Her album captures this essence; a collection of songs that every teenage girl wishes was their life. Yet you know the work is there, and that the dream has always been big. The singer won the Swedish version of ‘Got Talent’ at the age of ten, and has been jumping on the back of tours since.
Zara is true to herself, or her very carefully adopted persona. She doesn’t perform pathetic love songs; she isn’t a woman in distress, nor is she possessed by puppy love (only love, for puppies), Zara is instead a woman who wishes her ex happiness in a song called ‘Funeral’. Unafraid of channelling the pop icons she so publicly cheerleads for, the Rihanna tinted ‘Only You’ is a sultry, song about masturbation– ‘nobody’s ever touched me/loved me like I touch myself, only you’. Whilst ‘Make That Money Girl’ could be related to Beyonce’s back catalogue, but has the heart of Larsson’s childhood dreams. It’s a well-needed, brooding, raised glass of self-confidence thrones women as queens and presidents. Yet it isn’t patronising, it’s honest. Zara recognises that she looks like ‘hell’ at 6am the morning after, and asks if she’ll be loved without make up on and when sober. Instead of singing as a sweetheart, she sings not even with strength (that patronising word), but with a breezy attitude, a venom. With a your loss. She doesn’t conform to the cutesy pop image.
Among the chart hits; the bubble gum bounce of ‘I Would Like’, the rebellious and flirtatious ‘Ain’t My Fault’ and emotional Clean Bandit collaboration, ‘Symphony’, and the volcanic MNEK duet ‘Never Forget You’, you get to know Larsson in her neon light world. She’s had struggles, and ‘One Mississippi’ captures with the simplistic structure that turns thunderous, whilst ‘I Can’t Fall In Love Without You’ offers a softer moment. Is is the mask slipping? Maybe. We’re all human.
With elements made for the dancehall, she’s comfortable in her own body and with her sexuality and urges, and these vices drive this very real album. It’s smart, disguised to Radio 1 listeners as ‘tropical pop’, but the core is unapologetic.
So Good is an album that hasn’t calculated how many swear words is edgy, and how many is ‘perhaps inappropriate’. It isn’t an album that shows off and verges on being cheesy. It isn’t an album that’s been told it needs ‘more colour’. It also isn’t an album made to last. Will it become timeless? Probably not. Does it care? Definitely not. That’s the thing with great pop, it captures the moment. With a ring of a school bell and the calling of an Uber, Zara Larsson is speaking on behalf of the women out there, right now. She’s speaking for herself.
get volume #17 here.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan