For a Swedish triple-threat pop sensation ready to rule the world, Zara Larsson sounds more like the all-American girl next door while chatting on the phone.
She’s funny, self-deprecating even, apologetic when betrayed by her cellphone connection, opinionated, eager to answer any question thrown at her, even just after hitting the runway in New York. And at only 21, this global phenomenon doesn’t lack for confidence, either.
After spending two days off relaxing at a spa in Upstate New York, Larsson laughs when she hears a “Happy Friday the 13th” greeting.
“I know, right? And it’s a full moon,” she responds. “I’m not very superstitious. Honestly, I’m quite boring. Like I don’t believe in anything. I’m very, very skeptical.”
Skeptical, perhaps. Boring? Out of the question. Though she has released only one full-length studio album (2017’s So Good), still fangirls over superstars like Beyoncé (“My biggest idol. I think no one alive can do it like her,” she says) and doesn’t mind having her parents meet her on tour stops (“It’s actually quite nice”), Larsson is establishing herself as an international pop starlet.
Bringing her headlining Don’t Worry Bout Me Tour to Dallas’ House of Blues on Thursday — that will include four band members and two backup dancers — Larsson can sing, write songs and dance, but seemingly would prefer to roll the job description into one classic word: performer.
“I want people to like me for the core of the performance, which I think should be singing, you know,” she says. “And then put everything else on top of it. I love writing songs as well, but I mostly like to perform them.”
Though she may be modest about her early stages of success, which include more than 5 billion song streams on Spotify, opening stadium shows throughout Europe this summer for Ed Sheeran and appearing not only on U.S. talk shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres but also at the Nobel Peace Prize concert (twice) and the United Nations, the Stockholm-area native believes she was born to entertain.
“I’ve just always been someone who wants to have everyone look at me, I guess,” says a laughing Larsson, recalling after-dinner shows at home in front of her parents and a quite-shy sister who’s two years younger. “Very outgoing, very loud, talk a lot. You know, that’s just what my personality is like. So I guess it really went … it was like a good combination when I also figured out that I was a pretty decent singer.”
What really gave Larsson that impression about her potential gift was winning a Swedish television talent show in 2008 at the age of 10. While downplaying her first shining moment on stage by saying, “It was quick … three nights on TV; not like X Factor or [American] Idol, The Voice, when you’re on every weekend,” Larsson feels both nostalgic and wistful about the experience.
“For me, it was literally half of my life ago. So, so young,” she recalls of her time on the show. “When I look back at it now, I can’t believe that’s me. I’m quite proud that I did that. I was very small. I’m like, ‘Wow! That’s me!’ Yeah, but it was great. It was a really fun experience.”
Yet it also gave her false hope about the immediate future.
“I thought that I would be like a superstar after that,” Larsson reveals. “But nothing really happened. Nobody wanted to sign me, like no record label. I was very disappointed in that. Like [thinking], ‘Now I won’t have a career, my career’s over.’ So I was stressed out. (laughs) But then it worked out.”
Of course, it did. If the Swede tween didn’t get an instant career boost, at least Larsson knew she had the goods.
“I know it sounds boring, but for me it’s like, it’s not that big of a shock because what else am I supposed to do?” she says. “You know what I mean? It was obviously incredible that I won but it’s also, like, this is the way it’s supposed to be. Like this is the life I’m supposed to live kind of thing. So [despite the early rejections], I’ve never been that person that’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I never thought I would sell a single record in my life. Like I can’t believe I get to perform.’
“For me, it’s just always been the only alternative, which I would probably be so fricking depressed if I don’t … my therapist says, ‘It’s like a life set up for failure,’ which is really depressing. (laughs) But I guess it’s kind of true. Like I’m just always seeing myself doing really, really big things and I have really, really big dreams. So I’m just gonna work for that as hard as I can, so I won’t fail.”
That drive keeps Larsson pushing herself, whether it’s releasing hit singles like “All the Time,” “Don’t Worry Bout Me” and “Ruin My Life,” or hoping to find the time to release her next studio album the way she wants it.
“It was about to come out in September, but it really wasn’t finished before I got on tour with Ed Sheeran this summer,” Larsson says of her latest project. “I just didn’t have time to finish it. … I feel like I’m missing like two or three songs. So I’m kind of close. I’m almost there. But I’m just not where I want to be. … My goal is to make a really, really good album; at least that’s where my head is at right now.”
With her press releases continually hyping that Larsson’s RIAA gold-certified So Good for Epic Records is “the second most-streamed debut on Spotify by a female artist ever,” Larsson laughs off the possibility that she might top such success (and since she isn’t superstitious, probably doesn’t know about the sophomore jinx). Yet with a serious nose for business, it obviously weighs on her mind.
“I don’t know, and I’m having a panic … no, I’m not having a panic attack. But I don’t know. No one knows. … I do feel a little pressure,” she admits. "I do! Absolutely, I do. … I’ve been waiting a really long time for something new to be released. The longer you wait, the bigger the pressure is as well. But I think I’ll be fine.
“I’m still young, so, you know, if everybody hates this album, I can just do a new one. Ta-da! I don’t see no other passion of mine that I’m gonna pursue.”
Larsson’s popularity continues to grow, with 5.6 million YouTube subscribers, 5.9 million Instagram followers and 1.5 million Twitter followers, including hot young celebs like Games of Thrones’ Sophie Turner and British pop star Charli XCX, who plays House of Blues on Wednesday.
Not one to take lightly the responsibility that goes with becoming an influential pop figure, Larsson is a strong supporter of women’s rights and female empowerment, but also accepts being called a sex symbol with “the ideal look.”
“I at least try to be a good example when it comes to being a good person, being empathetic or, you know, show that you can do a lot of things on social media,” she says. “Like I definitely wouldn’t call myself an activist, but you can be. Like you can really change and inspire a generation. …
“Of course, I can be a feminist and, like, also be sexy. Kind of exist in the same world. But, yeah, it is a little paradox, I guess. … But I do live just like everyone else in the society, which is very based around … how women are supposed to act and how women are supposed to look. It’s really, really hard to be a woman and ignore kind of all these standards that are set up for us.”
Most of her music videos show off those sexy looks and sultry dance moves, but don’t cross the line. Yet Larsson defends the raunchy material that some of her risk-taking counterparts display on YouTube these days.
“I can fucking write a whole essay on this and analyze everything around it, but short term, if it makes you confident, if it makes you money, because that’s literally what it’s all about in this capitalistic world. Money is power,” Larsson says. “If you feel powerful doing it … if you own it and feel confident, then go ahead and do it because women are being … I mean, men are speaking about girls and women in songs that’s very degrading.”
Larsson erupts with unbridled joy when the subject comes up on the “Hot Girl Summer” craze that has spread like viral wildfire in 2019,
With a laugh, Larsson exclaims, “Megan Thee Stallion!” before praising the Houston rapper who is credited for originating the catchphrase.
“Obviously, she is definitely one of the more raunchy artists,” Larsson adds. “I think it’s fun. … Megan’s so sick. She seems like the sweetest girl. And she seems so lovely and positive. And just like, you know, rooting for everyone. And so I’ll root for her 100%. I love her. I love her attitude and her vibe.”
There’s no denying that Swede dreams are made of this, too.
POP QUIZ PICKS: DALLAS EDITION
Sweden’s Zara Larsson, bringing her headlining tour to Dallas for the first time (House of Blues, Sept. 26), was more than willing to make her picks in a series of Texas-based multiple questions to get her ready for the Lone Star State. (Picks in bold.)
Famous Texan you’d like to meet?
George W. Bush
Zara explains: This was an easy pick for Larsson, who even knew Queen B was born and raised in Houston. The thing is, she has already met Beyoncé. “It was incredible. It was so sweet. I cried a lot,” said Larsson, who recalls that it happened after a concert in Stockholm in 2013.
“She had her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, and I emailed Sony like a maniac (six months before the show). And was like, ‘Please, let me meet her.' And they actually arranged it. It was sick. I actually got to speak to her for a minute. And I got to ask her some questions. She asked me some questions. She was very, very nice and humble. She really took her time.”
Texas barbecue you’d like to try?
Zara explains: “Ooh, you know what? I just recently am a bit obsessed with baked beans. Like beans, in general. So I’ll go for beans. (laughs) I know it’s a disappointment, but I’m trying to also be eco-conscious. Don’t eat meat. Not very Texas of me. They’re known for barbecue.”
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Hot Texas spot/attraction you’d like to visit?
The Alamo, San Antonio
Space Center, Houston
Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas
Southfork Ranch (where popular TV series Dallas was set)
Zara explains: “[Southfork Ranch] could be fun. I’d probably do that or ... [go with] Space Center. Yeah, very interesting. Would love to do that. Just 'cause it’s cool. Space is cool.”
Western accessory you would like to add to your wardrobe?
Zara explains: “Ooh! It’s so in right now, the cowboy aesthetic. Maybe the hat. The hat’s hot. You know, like, blinged out. Yeah, a pink, sparkly cowboy hat. I would love that.”