On her second international release, the Swedish singer delivers a predictable but lightweight and enjoyable album highlighted by solid singles.
With the risk of sounding rather inflated, reading this review might give you a new perspective on Zara Larsson, the Swedish pop singer who is currently the 174th most streamed artist on Spotify despite not having released an album since 2017. Zara was born a couple of days after me during the darkest time of the year in the small nordic European Kingdom of Sweden, most known for pop exports such as ABBA and Roxette, beautiful blondes , bewildered vikings, democratic socialism, and international mega-corporates such as H&M, Spotify, and IKEA.
But where I am the biggest Swedish music critic on Instagram, Zara is the biggest and most well-known pop singer in Sweden. She has been so for the last five years or so, inheriting Robyn’s (“Dancing On My Own” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” international mega-hits of the 2010s with songs such as “Symphony,” “Lush Life,” and “Never Forget You,” which reached no. 12 on the Billboard charts. Being a mega-star in such a small country with roughly ten million people may leave some artists standing lonely in the spotlight — an easy target for headlines-hungry journalists. Zara, always unafraid of speaking her mind, has faced her fair share of media attention. During the #MeToo movement of 2017, her comments about “hating men” instantly made her enemies with white, middle-aged Swedish men. When she just a couple of weeks ago declared that she has smoked “a huge amount of cannabis” throughout her life, incomprehensible criticism arrived from Facebook moralists accusing her for being the worst possible role model for teenage girls could have, eventually forgetting how most of them probably managed to listen to Michael Jackson’s Thriller without hanging out with preteen boys, or singing along to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” without ending up on heroin.
So, apart from her American or British peers, Zara has had the eyes of an entire nation following her every step toward fame and listening to every word she’s been saying ever since she first appeared in the public collective when performed a stunning version of Celiné Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on a Swedish talent-show at 11 years old. Why? Because no one else among the rest of the Swedish population has been quite as interesting, scandalous, nor talented. In fact, no one has come close in decades. And of course, few of us can claim to have the same fortunate reflection in our mirrors – another source of jealousy to feed the trolls. Despite all this, Zara shows no signs of weakness, appearing like a pop diva with attitude and strong feminist opinions. She is certainly more than just a “poster girl.” Still, few people outside Sweden are aware of her somewhat controversial status at home because her unique personality has not really been reflected in her lightweight, radio-friendly pop music. As Zara now approaches her mid-twenties, will the music mature along with her?
Unfortunately, Poster Girl does not really emit much surprise. This is Zara Larsson as we’ve always known her — only with a little more Ariana Grande influences and some ABBA-melodies. In a recent interview with Swedish music magazine Gaffa, Zara explained how there’s not very much going on in her life at the moment, so she’s returning to her younger years to find inspiration. The album opens with “Love Me Land,” a groovy, dense-sounding single that flopped when it was released last summer. Here, it gets some redemption, but it pales next to the best songs here. Unlike Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia or Ariana Grande’s thank u next, where excellent little gems are spread-out over the entire album, Poster Girl is a typical singles’ album where the big hits are what makes it worth revisiting. “Talk About Love” is a Young Thug-featured, ultra-manufactured, pop construction that has the potential to become her first big US hit. “WOW” has a memorable, electronically charged chorus that makes you want to turn the volume up. “Ruin My Life” dates back to 2018 – the song that gave Zara her latest UK top 10 hit – and though it feels a little old by now, it is hard to ignore that fact that it is pop craftsmanship at its finest.
If Zara’s producers would put a little more faith in the natural beauty of her vocals rather than making her sound so damn synthetic for much of these 37 minutes — and if Zara herself would dare to write songs that reflect and elaborate on her strong political opinions – her records would break pop routines that we have heard a thousand times already. More importantly, Zara would truly feel like an individual artist independent from the sticky hands of label executives. Apart from a couple of duds, Poster Girls delivers its promise.It’s a fun, enjoyable pop album that will make Zara’s teenage fans and those who make the playlists at H&M or ZARA satisfied. It is one of those albums where the commercial success comes down to how popular the songs become on TikTok, rather than based on musical preferences. I am sure Zara is more ambitious than this gives credit, but as far as maturity goes, Zara still has plenty to prove.
GENRE: Dance Pop
SINGLES: “Love Me Land,” “Wow,” “Talk About Love”