Zara Larsson Pops Off

The Swedish singer is on a quest for world domination — when she’s not riling up the Internet with her TikToks.

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If there were a uniform for global pop-star domination, it would be the catsuit: glittery enough to see from the nosebleeds, stretchy enough to perform body-contorting choreography in, and comfy enough for the odd nap. And nobody loves catsuits quite like Zara Larsson, who on a whirlwind trip to New York City in March lives in them the way you might spend a whole weekend in your favorite pair of sweatpants: a sculptural black-and-pink one for yesterday’s Late Night With Seth Meyers taping, a sequined python number for a stop at Good Morning America as well as today’s photoshoot. The Swedish singer, 25, has had hit singles all around the world — including her latest, “Can’t Tame Her” — and has been streamed literally billions of times, but she sometimes goofs around like she’s still cosplaying at diva-dom. “Oop,” she says in a self-mocking tone as she strikes a statuesque pose while tunes from Rihanna and Lady Gaga play. Later, when a crew member suggests they put on some of Larsson’s own music, she cringes at the thought. “No, absolutely not,” she says, in her best sitcom deadpan.

Larsson got her start at age 10 after winning Sweden’s Got Talent equivalent, and she talks openly and earnestly about wanting Beyoncé-level success. “For some reason, people are really, really, really bothered by the confidence,” she says. “Or not even confidence — you can be really insecure and still have big dreams.” But she can also sh*tpost with the best of them, whether it’s posting unflattering selfies and zooming in on her pimples or riling up the Internet with absurd takes on why bowling is miserable and why more people should talk in movie theaters. Sometimes, there’s a real message behind the silliness: As a teenager, she went viral for pulling a condom over her leg and instructing guys who say they’re too big to wear one to “take a seat.” In January, she gave her many young female fans some sisterly advice about not faking orgasms for their partners. “If I was running for president,” she said on TikTok, “that would be my whole campaign: Girls Deserve To Come 2023.”

Showing all sides of her personality has been on her mind lately, especially as she readies her as-yet-untitled third international album. Larsson’s music has always been a party — you can hardly take a SoulCycle class or a bachelorette trip to Vegas without encountering bangers like “Never Forget You,”“Symphony,” or her Alesso collaboration “Words.” But this time, “I would like it to be a reintroduction of me,” she says. “I want people to discover not only my songs but who I am. It’s not dark in the sense of depressing, but maybe moody. Sexy. Fun. Honest.”

Being one of pop’s most unfiltered personalities, however, doesn’t come easy to the singer. “I’m quite concerned about other people’s opinions,” she says, letting out a deep sigh. When one of her hot takes blows up, “even if it’s just one comment, it’s like the world is attacking me,” she adds. “[Social media] is really not good for you, and still I keep doing it ’cause I need those dopamine rushes in my eyeballs.” She mimes endlessly scrolling on her phone, her nails tapping against the screen. “It’s kind of sad, because it really is my drug. F*ck alcohol or anything. Give me my phone. I am so addicted to my phone, it’s actually scary. I’m really scared, if I ever have children, of how they will be because I have so much ADHD. I’ve always been drawn to those instant rushes.”

She’ll brave the comments, though, if it means standing up for other young women in the industry. Larsson is just as much of a pop stan as she is an artist — she’s been known to recreate memes with some of her die-hard fans (known as Zluts). And in the past few months, Larsson has come to the defense of peers like Gayle and Meghan Trainor, who have been accused of pandering to or only succeeding because of TikTok. “F*ck that,” Larsson says. “People look down on [pop] because it’s very female dominated. Everything that is female coded, it automatically becomes not a cool thing to enjoy, or to listen to, or be a part of. And I think that is definitely rooted in good ol’ misogyny.” You don’t have to be a superfan to respect those artists’ wins: “I don’t love every genre, every singer, but if f*cking Phish did pop, I would defend that.”

When Larsson was a teenager, she had a blog about feminism, and sometimes her inner blogger still jumps out. “People are really quick to diminish the success of a pop artist because of the genre when they are really putting in just as much work, if not more, to reach success [compared with] any other field or if a man would do it in another genre.”

She’s getting fired up. “I love Ed Sheeran to death. I went on tour with him. I think he’s one of the most talented writers. But he walks up in a T-shirt and is like, ‘What’s up?’ And it’s just him and a guitar, which is great. But I don’t think people would accept that if a woman did that. You would need the dancers; you would need the fan in the hair; you would need the sparkles.” You would need, she says, “a f*cking glittery catsuit.”

Larsson moved to Los Angeles last year, and she admits she’s still figuring out what life away from home looks like. “I don’t think anybody feels like an adult, right?” she says. “Growing up, I realized that everybody is just babies with beards.” (Her mom logs into her accounts to pay her bills for her: “I’m like, ‘OK, if you want to do that, that’s fine by me!’”) On her days off, Larsson often does… nothing. “I love to drive. Sometimes I just drive [around]. I drive to Malibu. It takes me an hour, an hour and a half if there’s bad traffic, and I sit on the beach,” she says with a goofy blank stare, mimicking the way she gazes at the Pacific. “I actually love being by myself — or I don’t mind it. If my boyfriend was with me, or if I’m with my sister, I like spending time with them, too. But I’m not really a person who needs to be around people all the time.”

For a little over three years, Larsson has been dating dancer Lamin Holmén, who appeared in the music video for her single “Talk About Love.” When I ask about him, she lights up and breaks into a cheek-to-cheek grin. “We’re just two peas in a pod. He’s really just my best friend,” she says. “I get sucked into what people think about me, and what they talk about, and he’s really good at just pulling me out of that and being like, ‘This is not real life. This is real life.’”

I’m working through some sh*t. I have some baggage that I needed to sort out with myself.

Their relationship blossomed at the very beginning of 2020, and they moved in together in Sweden amid lockdown. With Larsson back at work traveling the world, they’re doing long distance while working on a visa to join her stateside. They talk on the phone or FaceTime every day but keep their relationship mostly off social media. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but I really believe that if you are really happy in your relationship, you don’t have to prove that to others,” she says. “My nightmare would be to have a joint TikTok account. When couples do that it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, what are you doing?’ I know he wouldn’t like that because he’s his own person, and I am my own person.”

Straightforward love songs, however, will be in short supply on her album. “I’m in a position where I can look back on the moments where I have not been so happy and reflect on those a lot more,” she says. “I’m finally going to therapy, and I’m working through some sh*t I went through in my [teens]. I’ve come to realize that I have some baggage that I needed to really sort out with myself, and what other people have put me through.”

The album is an evolution in other ways. For starters, it’s the first to be released on her own label, Sommer House, which she launched after buying the masters of her back catalog. The head of her Swedish label, an industry veteran named Ola Håkansson, offered Larsson the chance to purchase them after watching Taylor Swift struggle to take control of hers. “He saw what went down with that, and he was like, ‘That is literally a nightmare,’” she says. “It was very nice of him to do that for me.” She also had a heavier hand in the songwriting process, collaborating with hitmakers like Rick Nowels (Madonna, Lana Del Rey) and Danja (Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Nelly Furtado) for tracks that range from spare piano ballads to aerobic club-bangers.

My nightmare would be to have a joint TikTok account.

In the past, Larsson has worried her albums were too all over the place. Now, she owns her range — “The [throughline] is my voice and the quality,” she tweeted back in December — even if she still falls down those rabbit holes of self-doubt. “Something clicked in me where I’m like, ‘Why are you so embarrassed to promote yourself?’ Would somebody look at this and be like, ‘That’s so embarrassing, look how much she’s promoting herself’? I wouldn’t do that [to other artists],” she says. “But I’ve stopped overthinking it that much, and I f*cking love my music.”

Her ambitions are still big: “I want all my songs to be No. 1, for everybody to dance and have a great time to it.” But success, she’s learning, is maybe simpler than she thought. “When you release something that you are genuinely super proud of,” she says, “I truly feel like you can’t lose.”

Photographs by Ruo Bing Li

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