Zara Larsson has been through a lot since releasing her debut album “1” in 2014, which is why she’s relishing her newfound creative space. “This era is the fun, free, lover era,” she explains of “Venus,” her fourth album that released today. “Venus is the goddess of love and beauty. She’s Aphrodite. She has many names, but Venus is just embodying what the album is about. It’s the kind of energy I want to bring into the new year, I want to step into my goddess-y vibe of feeling confident.”
For the pop singer, that meant undergoing a few administrative changes in the lead-up to “Venus.” In 2022, the 26-year-old, who internationally broke through in 2017 with her sophomore album “So Good” and the top 20 hit “Never Forget You,” announced the launch of her own record label Sommer House, licensed through Epic USA and distributed by Sony Sweden. The move also coincided with the acquiring of her back catalog, allowing her the freedom to make music with the liberty of knowing its artistic rewards (and risks) rested squarely on her shoulders.
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“It definitely gave me a sense of security in knowing that I have the songs, and I actually think it’s quite rare for artists to be motivated by money and financial gains. If anything, we’re just hungry for people’s validation and respect,” she says. “But it definitely gives you a sense of security because in a way, that’s sort of a retirement fund. I do think also that the older I get, the more I’m focused on, what is some shit that I want to create? It doesn’t even have to be, ‘Who am I?’ It’s just, what do I want to do right now in this moment?”
With that, “Venus” began to emerge from its shell. Larsson excitedly tells Variety about the project from her native Sweden, fresh out of the studio where she’s already begun work on her next album. She started laying the foundation for “Venus”—a romantically-inclined collection of shellacked, snackable pop gems—shortly after her 2021 pandemic release “Poster Girl.” Initial sessions took place in Los Angeles with Rick Nowels, the acclaimed producer/songwriter who’s collaborated with everyone from Madonna and Lana Del Rey to Dua Lipa and Celine Dion. At first, they bumped heads—a proverbial ego battle, if you will—before settling into a rhythm that yielded half of the tracks that ended up on the set.
“We would bicker a lot,” she says with a laugh. “When I first started working with him, I was like, this guy is a weirdo. Then the more we were working, I was like, he’s amazing because he’s so passionate. He’s stubborn, and I’m stubborn, too.” But his approach to songwriting made her reassess her own process. In the past, Larsson found comfort in working in rooms packed with songwriters, letting groupthink dictate a track’s direction. (On past albums, for instance, Larsson’s name would often be listed alongside anywhere from six to eight co-writers.) Nowels preferred to keep his studio circle small, and Larsson found herself digging deeper to figure out what she truly wanted to say.
Their sessions resulted in various tracks spanning mood and texture from the hip-snapping “Ammunition” to dreamy “Soundtrack,” an all-too-familiar interrogation of the feelings and relationship memories that certain songs can elicit. But she also cast a wider net of collaborators who bring different flavors to “Venus” including Danja, MTHR and Jack & Coke. For “Never Forget You” allegiants, “Venus” sees her reuniting with MNEK on the chugging “You Love Who You Love” and lead single “Can’t Tame Her,” a breathless ’80s-inflected trot that became a viral hit on TikTok with 335,000 video creates.
What she ended up with is a pop record that feels distinctly her, but framed by a newfound sense of ease. “I felt a lot less pressure in making this album,” she says. “I felt so much pressure after ‘So Good’ in coming up with something that was equally as successful numbers-wise. And I just did not feel this way creating this album. I think the more music I write, the more fun I want to have. I just want to get to the essence and the core of who I am as a person and artist. It’s a journey, and I think I’m on the path there. But I wasn’t boxed in and thinking, ‘Oh my god I have to make the perfect pop album. I have to make people love me.’ I still really want that, but it’s a little bit more like me, actually.”
Finding herself over the years has been its own passage. Born in Stockholm, Larsson has roots that run deep in the music industry, planted as far back as when she became the 10-year-old winner of “Talang” (the Swedish version of “Got Talent”). She signed with Ten Music Group in 2012 and subsequently released her debut EP “Introducing” and full-length “1,” with her career percolating overseas. “So Good” is what put her on the global map, and amid the run of “Never Forget You” on the Stateside charts, she landed her first Billboard topper on the Bubbling Under chart with a feature on Clean Bandit’s “Symphony.”
Since then, Larsson has become something of an international underdog, accruing a legion of fans online drawn to her confessional lyrical approach, bell-ringing vocals and clear adoration for the art of pop music. With “Venus” as the latest entry in her growing discography, Larsson extends adds yet another brushstroke to the portrait of an artist figuring out things in real-time, and trying to enjoy herself while doing it.
“There’s humor to it, like with ‘You Love Who You Love’ or ‘None of These Guys,’ but there’s also a vulnerability and calmness, the healing which I haven’t really done before,” she says. “This album is more eclectic, it’s a little more dynamic. It allowed me to have more fun, be more involved, and I think that’s why it’s a bit more, ‘Whew, what’s going on?’ It’s all over the place in the best way, because that’s just who I am as a person.”
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