Backstage With Zara Larsson, Sweden's Pop Sensation

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Why you should care

Because she is one of pop’s hottest young talents.

Following her showstopping performance at OZY Fest, 19-year-old Swedish star Zara Larrson — fresh off this year’s hits “So Good,” “Never Forget You” and “Ain’t My Fault” — sat down with OZY to discuss her experience in finding singing success at a young age, her biggest fears about the future and the thing she would most like to change about the music industry.

WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?

I’m listening to a lot of U.K. hip-hop. A lot of J Hus, Young Bae, Yungun. I like everything mainstream, all the pop stars, Calvin Harris, all the DJs — I just listen to the albums whenever they drop, and so far, 2017 has been a great music year. I’m trying to catch up all the time. Up-and-coming artists, that’s a tough one: People here know about Stormzy, people know about Skepta, but J Hus is definitely an artist to check out.

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Zara Larsson backstage at OZY Fest 2017.

Source Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Fusion Fest 2017

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN MUSIC INDUSTRIES?

In America, first of all, the taste is very different. Some songs just fly in Europe and other parts of the world. My song “Never Forget You” was the biggest one here so far; it wasn’t nearly as big in the U.K. I’m also from Sweden, and people don’t really care about famous people; we don’t have paparazzi. I walk around like a normal person every day. It’s not that big of a deal.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING YOUR “BIG BREAK” AS A 10-YEAR-OLD?

That was half of my life ago now. It was a lot of eyes on me for a couple of weeks, months, but after that it very slowly toned down. Because, just like with every TV show, there’s going to be a new one next year. It goes very quickly, and you forget someone. And because I blew up before becoming a teenager, and a young woman, I felt like a lot of things changed appearance-wise, so maybe not that many people remembered me. I feel like the first single I released in 2015 (“Lush Life”) was my big break, musically.

HOW DOES THAT EXPERIENCE — IN THE PUBLIC EYE, THEN OUT OF IT — SHAPE YOU NOW?

All the time, I think about people forgetting about me — it’s definitely something I’m a little bit nervous about. You are never bigger than your last song or your last movie, whatever you did. And it does keep me humble too, because I have such a long, long way to go. It’s the journey — it’s going to be up and down. Not every song is going to be multiplatinum.

WHAT WOULD SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

I feel like I’m in control of my music and all the songs that I release — so that’s pretty successful. It gets me nervous to think about — “What if, 20 years from now, I’m [singing] in a bar.” There’s nothing wrong about that. But I want to do — I like it big. I would love to sell out a stadium tour, if I could dream. Have a couple No. 1 songs on the Billboard charts, couple of No. 1 albums. I want a lot of people to like what I do.

Beyoncé is my biggest inspiration. If she did Lemonade as her first album, it might not have been the wow factor it was. But since she’s Beyoncé, she had the creative freedom to do whatever she wants and tell a story — to me, that’s powerful.

WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?

The inequality in music, when it comes to the sexes. Especially for me, because I identify as a woman, my focus is very much on women, but it obviously should be applied in everything. I think music should be inclusive. I’ve never worked with a female producer, and I work with a lot of producers. If you write a song for a young woman, it should be a woman in the room writing the music. It’s weird to me when middle-aged men write songs for young women; it’s a really weird feeling. And it would give a young woman an opportunity to be a writer. It’s a lot of things behind the stage. But also when it comes to someone in hip-hop, everyone knows hip-hop is male-dominated. I want to see other people than white men represented.

WHAT IS ONE FUN FACT PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I did have a snake once, but it ran away — or snaked away. It made me so sad. I don’t think it was legal to have that snake. Because I just picked it up out of nature.

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