Zara Larsson has just returned from a work trip to Los Angeles. “It was great, funny, nice,” she reports. “I just felt so relaxed being there.”
The trip had offered the 20-year-old Swedish singer the chance to hook up with several of the writers and producers she’d worked with on her debut album, So Good, which came out earlier this year. “It was one of those familiar sessions which I love because usually I’m a bit shy,” she says, explaining she prefers spending four or five days working out a song, rather than being shunted from one meeting to the next.
“We don’t have to make a great song on the first day, stress away, that was really tough when it’s like ‘We have 12 hours, let’s do this’. If it doesn’t feel good they were like ‘Ah man, that sucks, because I know we could have made a great song’.”
Now fast approaching it is Larsson’s first UK and European headline tour, which includes a date in Leeds. She says she’s looking forward to it “so much”. “I just want people to come and sing as loud as they can. I can’t believe this is my first UK tour really, or European headlining tour. It feels like it’s really about time.”
Larsson may only be familiar to UK audiences from a string of hits in the past two years but she made her first televised appearance in her homeland at the age of ten, when she went on to win Sweden’s version of Got Talent. She admits the stage has always felt a natural environment for her. “I’ve always loved the attention, I’ve always been the class clown. I’ve always been wanting to be the centre of attention, like ‘Look at me, look at me’ ever since I was really little. Then combined with the fact that I love to sing it’s a perfect combination.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else than entertaining people somehow. Even if I lost my voice I would still love to dance or do my podcast still. Maybe I would act, I don’t know, but just something creative like that.”
She reckons her breakthrough hits Lush Life and Never Forget You will always have a special place in her affections. “To date Never Forget You and Lush Life are my two biggest songs. I released them before my album and I know they obviously helped my album a lot. I think that’s the point of releasing singles.
“I do feel a bit of pressure for my next album because I want people to love it as much as they loved the first one. But maybe I’ll be 50 years old and I’ll still sing Lush Life and Never Forget You, maybe it’s going to be one of those [situations].”
This year Larsson scaled the top of the UK singles charts as a featured artist on the Clean Bandit song Symphony. She says it was “one of those easy-peasy” collaborations. “They heard Lush Life and they really liked it and they thought ‘Why don’t we do a song with her?’ Their team contacted my team and sent the song and I really loved it. Even though it’s a collab I wanted it on my album too.
“I didn’t hesitate. I just basically ran to the studio, recorded the song, it felt really good doing it, then we recorded a video which was so beautiful and then it was out and with help from all those UK people it reached Number One. I was so happy because I’d never been Number One before in England. First [time] but not last.”
I hope that my generation is the generation of love and I hope that when we grow up and sit in power we will be accepting and way more educated about religion, human rights, feminism.Zara Larsson
In a recent interview Larsson said she thought we were living in “revolutionary times” where people “want to make a difference”. She admits she feels like one of those people.
“I feel like my generation is so outgoing and expressive in their thoughts and our voices need to be heard. You obviously don’t have to be a politician to have views on things, as you can see. You don’t even have to be a politician to be president. My mom once said, ‘I feel sorry for you’ because they were just chilling. Maybe we have to fight for something and I believe that it does give meaning somehow to what we do and I do hope that we can prove to everyone that love really wins and all that. I hope that my generation is the generation of love and I hope that when we grow up and sit in power we will be accepting and way more educated about religion, human rights, feminism. It’s such a huge movement and it’s been for years and I hope that we can move forward every day when we grow up and make bigger, greater things. I really would like to see my generation change the world.
“I’m 20 now but in ten or 20 years we’re the ones who are going to be in power or be the CEOs of a lot of these companies but we can already make a change by social media. Look at all those movements like Black Rights Matter, all these movements started on social media and they made a difference.”
She takes inspiration from artists such as Beyoncé who are prepared to be outspoken on social and political matters. “Beyoncé is one of those people who are really outspoken in her art more than personally writing tweets or making Instagram posts, but she’s out there. Now she just did a song from which all the money will go to Puerto Rico and the islands – that’s definitely making a statement. The whole of Lemonade was a huge statement and when she performed she had a minute of silence.
“I would love to do that too. My art might not be political, I just do pop, [but] I’m outspoken in my free time [and] I would like to be political in the songs too, for sure.”
As a songwriter, Larsson feels she is gaining confidence. “It’s just that thing, practise makes it not necessarily perfect but a lot better,” she says. “You’re just getting comfortable with it and you’ve got to build up that confidence to make you want to share your personal thoughts and your emotions. It’s very scary to tell people, especially people you might never have met, ‘Oh by the way, I just broke up with my boyfriend, for example, and this is how I feel about that’. I’m just so scared that people will say, ‘No, that’s not good’, that’s just basically saying ‘Your feeling sucks’. It’s scary but I’ve learned to not take things personally.
“Also I’m one of those people that if I have an essay or something I work on I want it to be 100 per cent done and then I can show you. I don’t want to show anyone my work in the middle of it which was so scary to me because that’s what you have to do when you write songs. You can’t just sit in a corner by yourself and write the whole song then be like ‘What do you guys think about this?’ When you write with other people it’s a collaboration and you have to throw ideas out there, and that’s scary, but I’m getting better at that and that makes me happy.”
Larsson says she has greater ambitions for her music. “I don’t see myself doing a worldwide tour right now. I’m doing this European tour which is incredible and it’s definitely the start of something bigger, I hope. But eventually I want to win Grammys, I want to be Number One on the Billboard [chart] a couple of times and I want to have a sold-out world stadium tour. I want to do so many things.
“I want to be big. Some people will say, ‘She only cares about success’. No, I don’t, but I want to be f***ing successful, like really, really successful. I feel that sometimes especially women aren’t allowed to say that, but I want to be like Madonna successful, like Beyoncé successful, and that’s my dream and that’s just something I will work towards.”
Zara Larsson plays at O2 Academy Leeds on October 22. www.zaralarssonofficial.com