When Zara Larsson’s good, she’s really bloody good
Zara Larsson matters because she’s a new pop star with an exciting voice, both literally and figuratively. When she sings, the 19-year-old Swede sounds youthful but not too pure – like she spent last night having fun in the club, not practising vocal runs in her bedroom. On social media and in interviews, she shuts down bigotry and calls out bulls**t. In one memorable Instagram post, she shamed boys who claim they’re “too big” to wear condoms by sharing a picture of one stretched over her leg. In short: she’s smart, woke and refreshingly unpolished.
But while her personal confidence seems boundless, Larsson’s release strategy has been more cautious. This album has been trailed by no fewer than five singles, the first of which dropped way back in September 2015. Thankfully, ‘So Good’ justifies a protracted build-up and its pointed title. Without an ounce of false modesty, Larsson said recently: “I just thought [naming it] ‘So Good’ was easy because the album is so good.”
The big hits you know are obviously brilliant: ‘Never Forget You’ teams her emotively with fellow pop talent MNEK; ‘I Would Like’ is a surprising, slinky house tune; ‘Lush Life’ could be the best summer jam since Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’. The album has new highlights, too: ‘TG4M’ lays self-deprecating lyrics over percolating electro beats; ‘Don’t Let Me Be Yours’ is a typically melodic Ed Sheeran co-write. At times, especially on the reggae-flecked ‘Sundown’ and post-coital shuffle of ‘Only You’, Larsson owes an obvious debt to Rihanna. Then again, it feels silly to complain: if you’re going to channel anyone, it may as well be pop’s greatest badass, and Larsson has the vocal chops to pull this off.
Still, ‘So Good’ isn’t a perfect pop album. There are some dull ballads towards the end, and the title track’s flimsy R&B isn’t even redeemed by its righteous opening line: “My love is more potent than anything in the cup you’re holding”. But like all the best pop stars, Larsson shines bright even when her material lets her down. And when it matches her, she’s basically irresistible