BIG INTERVIEW: Swedish pop star on way to Portsmouth Guildhall

Zara Larsson.

Zara Larsson may still be in her teens, but the singer is no music business ingenue and is already making her mark on the world

For someone who won Sweden’s version of the ...Got Talent TV franchise at the tender age of 10, Zara Larsson comes across as remarkably unaffected by having lived half her life in the public eye.

Now 19 and with her first internationally-released album, So Good, having charted everywhere from Australia to America, Zara is well on her way to being a bona fide global superstar.

Her official videos have been streamed nearly 2bn times on YouTube. The album, released in March this year, has been certified platinum in her home country and gold here and the US, and it has yielded four top 10 UK singles.

When The Guide catches up with her, she’s recently returned home to Stockholm from a trip to Los Angeles where she’s already busy working on the next album.

‘I was writing songs – yes, it’s for album number two and it feels really good.’

Zara Larsson

As with So Good, she’s working with a wide array of producers including the award-winning Monsters & Strangerz, and some ‘super-fresh’ new writers.

‘It’s a lot of different people, but I still love the people I’ve been working with for a while. We worked so well on the first album, I kind of want to keep them close to me and keep the circle not too big.

‘It gets hard if you work with too many people on each session, with different people every day. I still want some kind of consistency.’

Although Zara was thrust into the spotlight when she won Talang with a performance of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, she has managed to stay impressively grounded. She comes across as experienced but not precocious.

Nowadays I don’t care about the trolls, it’s block and delete, block and delete, bye!

Zara Larsson

‘When I was 10, people really didn’t care – we didn’t have that culture in Sweden or the paparazzi – that whole “fame” culture. I just kind of went back to school, it was just normal life, basically.’

Nor does she get overwhelmed by her burgeoning profile.

‘I still live in Stockholm where I grew up, and they don’t care around here. It might be different if I won the contest in America or the UK, but people forget, especially since it’s one of those shows that goes on and on. I won it in 2008, but then there’s someone else who won in 2009, and 2010 and so on. And then I was quiet for about five years before I released anything.’

She released her debut EP, Introducing, in 2013. ‘I’m really happy I had that time now that I look back. It gave me the chance to grow a bit more, and do whatever I wanted to do. It’s hard to take a 10-year-old super-serious, and I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist.’

Time Magazine listed her as one of its 30 most influential teenagers in 2016. How does she feel about that?

‘It’s definitely incredible that they see me as someone who has influence. I’m just trying to write good things, and do good things.

‘I have a very hard time being quiet and if I can influence someone to speak up or do something about things I disagree with – whether it’s human rights or politics, I will.’

In an age of media-trained acts who are taught not to say anything controversial, Zara’s social media output is refreshingly outspoken.

‘I don’t really think about it twice, I just put it out. I would never let anyone else touch my Twitter account – what I write on Twitter, is what I write on Twitter, you know what I mean?’

But sadly, as with any other woman who speaks her mind on the internet, she has attracted the attention of trolls.

‘I don’t really deal with it,’ she says, ‘I used to. I used to a lot, she sighs. ‘I would raise my voice and wag my finger,’ she makes the noise of someone nagging, ‘and try to educate them. If someone would call me something degrading or say something negative about other people, like minorities or women, I would get very, very upset – which I still do. But now if someone comes on Twitter to say something like: “You whore”, or “You suck”, now I’m just like, well, I already kind of lost you. You won’t listen to what I have to say, or care about me trying to teach you about why you shouldn’t call women that. You don’t care – you just want to be mean to me and say those things. Nowadays, I literally don’t care – it’s block and delete, block and delete, bye!

‘People come on social media and create accounts just to be mean. You’ve got to think, “Wow, this person is actually really sad.” They made an account just to say those things and they’ve got nothing better to do with their lives, apparently. It’s a cliché, but if you feel you have to bring people down, then something’s wrong with you.’

So far her sole number one in the UK has been the single Symphony with dance act Clean Bandit earlier this year.

‘They heard [2015 single] Lush Life, and they were really interested in working with me, which I was so excited about. I was so honoured to be asked. I loved Rockabye and all the things they’d been doing before me.

‘They sent me the song and asked if I liked it. I absolutely loved it, I thought the melodies were so beautiful, and even though it was in collaboration with them I wanted it on my own album because I loved it so much. It felt great and the video was amazing, so thank you to Clean Bandit for having my first number one – most likely not my last number one.’

She pauses.

‘Absolutely not my last.’

•Zara Larsson plays Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, October 27. Doors 7pm. Tickets £26.20. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk

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