With a voice that can shift effortlessly from full-tilt electro-pop diva in “Never Forget You,” to silky toned seductress in so good tracks like “Sexual,” Swedish pop singer Zara Larsson is best described as a musical chameleon. Winning the Swedish version of Britain’s Got Talentwhen she was only ten-years-old, Larsson has had her eye on the prize since before she was tall enough to reach it. She explains to me that she’s had a desire to be a performer since the beginning of time and seeing as no one in her family is musically inclined, she has absolutely no idea where this desire comes from. “My parents can’t hold a tune to save their lives,” she jokes as we talk over the phone on a sunny Friday afternoon. She talks to me about what it was like releasing her single at age 15 and the gratitude she has for the team that fought for her music to be aired on the radio. “They knew it was a good song, regardless of my age,” she remembers. “My team really believed in me. When the airlines agreed to give me a chance, I think that’s what really put me on the scene.” Now, aged 20, five years after her first solo release and almost a decade since taking home the Brit’s Got Talent title, Larsson talks to ‘TINGS Magazine’ about what it was like growing up in the limelight, the joy she feels from knowing she gets to live inside stranger’s memories, the fears that come along with being a mainstream artist, and her quest for global stardom.
I read in an interview somewhere that you said you felt like you were having a mid-life crisis when you were ten. Can you elaborate on that?
Oh gosh, I know. I remember no one wanted to sign me when I was ten and I thought my world was over. I was devastated. I thought I was running out of time. I mean clearly, I feel differently about my musical career now then I did when I was ten. It wasn’t until I turned 15 that my career really took off. I released my first E.P ‘Introducing’, and then my first album in Sweden. You know people always say you need to make it in America if you want to be significant. I think that’s true and I still want to break into American media, I haven’t had a super hit. I’ve had a radio top five, but I haven’t had a hit single or a breakthrough here yet. I’m really grateful I worked in Europe first because now I feel like I have all of these fans supporting me into my American transition as I work on my second album.
That’s so exciting. What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages ofstarting so young in this industry?
I think starting young in this industry gave me a really great work ethic and the majority of it I learned by doing ballet. I went to the Swedish Royal Ballet school, and that definitely teaches you discipline because you literally do the same thing every single day. The older you get, the more advanced the moves become, naturally, but you’re still standing by the bar. For me, having that discipline instilled in me at an early age feels like a huge advantage.
As far as disadvantages go, I really don’t feel like I can say that I was robbed of an adolescent or anything. I’ve lived a very normal life. I have the same friends I’ve always had around me, a very supportive family, I’m fortunate in that regard. I’m living my dream every day but it still works, and it’s not always fun. But (although) it’s hard I still love it, and I’m incredibly grateful always. I’m very aware that there are so many incredibly talented people out there that deserve a chance, and I’m one of the lucky ones who got one. I don’t know why I got the chance, and they didn’t, but I got it. I’m going to work really hard to keep it, and make the most of it and never once take it for granted.
That’s beautiful. I often have the same thought, why me and not her? Or sometimes the opposite, why them and not me. But we’re all dealt our own deck of cards, and as you said, we need to be appreciative of the path we’ve been given and make the most of it. What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you on your artistic journey so far?
Hmmm, I’m not sure, but since I’ve been in this industry for years now, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I’m much more involved in my projects now than I was when I first started. One day I would love to produce my own work. I’ve always been in control of my art in the sense that all the people that work with me really listen to what I have to say, but I’d like to truly be in control of everything I do, you know what I mean? I think if I hadn’t started when I was 15 I’d be much shyer when making big decisions. I wouldn’t speak up as much as I do now. I’m confident in what I think sounds good and what doesn’t, but that’s because I’ve had years to build that confidence. At the beginning of my career whenever people would tell me “oh we think this will be a hit single” I’d respond with “oh yeah, me too.” While deep inside I honestly thought it was such a shit song. I just didn’t have the balls to say it then, now I do.
What part of creating is your favourite?
I love being on stage. Touring takes a tremendous toll on you. Or it does on me, I sleep so badly on the tour bus but being on stage is my favourite place in the world. I love entertaining people. Nothing compares to it.
What are you the most afraid of? In life or in art?
It’s a little tricky because I think as long as you make the music that you love, it’s all good. But then again, I’m a mainstream artist. I want to be played on the radio. I want as many people as possible to come to my shows. So I guess I fear that no one will like my music. Even though I know what really matters is that I’m happy with the song, I still want others to enjoy it or feel something when they hear it. It would make me really sad if I heard someone say, “this sucks.”
What excites you?
The fact that I’m capable of, or I should say that music in general, is capable of changing people’s lives… that power really excites me. A song I create has the ability to make someone feel stronger, or happier, or sad. It really excites me when I see my music bringing people together or when people propose during my shows. The fact that my music is able to make a profound impact on someone else’s journey just floors me every time. I get to live inside someone else’s memories.
Ahhh that’s such a cool way to put it. “I get to live inside someone else’s memories.” What songs live inside of your memories? What is your current go-to happy song? If you’re having a shit day what do you play to get you out of your funk?
Oh gosh, if I have a shit day I’m probably playing something that will make me even sadder. I’m always like “fuck Zara why do you do this?” but I love being sad. Or the way I work is I usually have three songs on repeat that I just listen to every day. And then when I’m tired of them, I move on, and I listen to three other songs.
You’re hilarious. What are your three songs at the moment?
I love MNEK’s new album Language, and one of my current songs is from that album, it’s a song called “Correct.” Then there’s another from this Swedish artist I really like and the song that makes me happy at the moment is a French song. The artist’s name is ‘Aya Nakamura’, and the song is called, “Djadja.” I have no clue what she’s singing, but it always makes me want to dance.
If you weren’t making music what would you be doing?
Hmm well, I love people, and I love to talk so maybe go into writing. I think I’d like to pursue journalism. I’ve very curious about other people. Maybe acting? Anything where I can be creative and work with people I think I’d really enjoy doing.
You say that you’re on your way to global stardom, but you are nowhere near where you want to be? So where do you hope to be in the next year? Where do you see this life taking you?
A lot can happen in a year, and that’s scary because a year goes by so quickly. I would love to release my album next year. Keep doing what I do but hopefully, see myself grow. It’s so fun to think about growth. Just a few years ago I was standing outside of Best Buy (or the Swedish version of that) on the tiniest little stage with 20 people in the audience watching me perform, and now I’m traveling the world. My goal is to have a stadium world tour, that would be really cool.