Album Review: Poster Girl // Zara Larsson

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Sweden met Zara Larsson at a mere ten years old as she sailed through her home country’s version of the ‘Got Talent’ shows. She’s now three—two international—full-length releases from then; at only twenty-three, the artist is one of the youngest old-timers making waves on the global pop stage.

Larsson’s latest, Poster Girl emerges from a whirlpool of enticing singles that launched the Scandinavian popstar into a new era. Some of the most captivating cuts made it onto the record—including 2018’s evergreen dance pop sensation ‘Ruin My Life’, the resuscitated ‘WOW’ and the remarkably slick ‘Love Me Land’.

Two notable absences on the standard edition of Poster Girl: ‘All The Time’—probably the best pop banger to come out of Larsson’s camp to date— and ‘Don’t Worry About Me’—a candy-coated electropop gem hard not to vibe to. Fret not: both will be on the Japanese edition of the album.

Larsson and team—of note: Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels leading songwriting on several tracks—demonstrate their ear for what’s hot and how to meld it into dance pop stunners. The title track could’ve easily landed on the record that took 2020 by storm: Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. Larsson brings on icy vocals and meanders through the whims of the leading bass guitar and percussive throttle.

Equally brilliant, ‘Need Someone’ borrows left and right to create a truly singular piece of dance pop. Launched into orbit by key riffs almost right out of Amelie’s soundtrack, the number grows into its own groove with the help of a Tame Impala bass interpolation. The unlikely juxtaposition is as delightful as it is uncanny.

The Scandipop direction occasionally runs back much-traveled tracks without really trying to bring anything new to the table. ‘Look What You’ve Done’ joins a plethora of her contemporaries in a contest for stiffest disco-inspired track. Pinned down to its most literal interpretation of the music that inspired the track, it’s simply too precise to be effective. 

The brunt of the transmission of emotion is too often borne by Larsson’s sole vocal performance. Fun or sad, lyrics can get in the way of what Poster Girl is trying to say. Strikingly, Larsson’s vocals carry ‘Love Me Land’ through fields of bones-that-can’t-be-contained (yes, bones) and an unexplainable tonal shift halfway through.  Larsson goes from the opening cheek of ‘How dare you have lips like that?’ to eventually bring up her ‘vernacular(y)’ for the love of rhyme.

When on the pulse of whatever relationship dismay a twenty-three year old woman might have gone/is going through, the intent aligns with the result. Larsson grapples with knowing what’s best for her, but deliberately choosing to go the other way on ‘Ruin My Life’—the most relatable she sounds on Poster Girl.

Other moments fall prey to generic set-ups and never fully sound like Larsson’s to take. As she becomes buried under layer upon layer of vocoder on ‘I Need Love’, we catch a glimpse of KAMILLE’s songwriting more than we do Larsson’s ability to make a song her own. The track could’ve sat on the latest LP from—KAMILLE frequent collaborators—Little Mix without a hitch.

All in all, Poster Girl displays both some of Larsson’s finest work to date and some of the least dazzling additions to her catalog. The album completely disregards Larsson’s ability to emote for a chance at a top ten hit. 

If not this time, there’s still album three and four (and five and six?). Zara Larsson’s more than ten years deep in the biz. She’s also only getting started.

Poster Girl was released on 5 March 2021 via Epic Records.

Words by Red Dziri
@red_dziri


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