Born in Sweden, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Zara Larsson knew she wanted to be a singer for as long as she can remember despite coming from a non-musical family, and so wasted no time in diving into the galaxy-sized pool of pop stardom when most were only just learning how to swim. At 10 years old she won Talang, the Swedish talent show, and since then enjoyed a triple platinum selling EP before releasing her debut studio album aged 16. She might be on Time’s ‘30 most influential teens of 2016’ list, but she’s conscious of using her powers for good through filtering out negativity and vocalising her feminist views: “Block and delete” is as much of her motto as “why not”. Zara's just what the world needs right now – a reminder to take your dreams seriously without taking yourself so serious.
"Opening for Beyoncé was really spiritually amazing"
Zara! Where did your love of music begin?
I’ve had a love of music and always known that I was going to be a singer for as long I’ve had memories. I literally have no memories of me wanting to do something else. I’ve been singing my whole life which is kind of strange because I don’t come from a musical family, it just came out of nowhere but it’s always been there.
Who were the first artists you listened to that instantly blew you away?
Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. Back in the day when people could only buy records, my mom came home one day with Whitney’s Greatest Hits double CD and I think that was the first time I actually heard somebody sing like that. My mom and I went to Celine’s concert when she was in Stockholm and it was amazing and then I discovered Beyoncé which changed my life. She obviously has a great voice like Whitney and Celine but she also had something else too. She just performed different. She was not just a singer, she was a dancer too and she put on all of these shows and I was just like what! Ever since then, Beyonce has been my biggest inspiration, she changed everything for me.
Did it blow your mind supporting Beyoncé at Wembley?
Dreamy. I cried so much on both shows and it was just surreal. Not because it was the biggest crowd I’ve performed in front of so far, but because it was her stage. It was really spiritually amazing. When she was walking the corridors and hallways I kind of hid because I was scared of meeting her. It was like looking straight into the sun – you can enjoy the sun and you can love the sun from faraway, and it’s really nice and warm, but you can’t look straight at the sun, it’ll hurt your eyes. That’s kinda how I felt.
"Right now, I just feel like I don’t know how to be different."
How would you describe your own sound?
I feel that my songs are sometimes so different to one another, Lush Life is very different from my new single Ain’t My Fault which is pretty different from Never Forget You which is different from the ballads I have. I think it’s a good mix, but it’s still ultimately pop which is what I love about the genre -– it can be pretty much anything but still have those catchy melodies and always something you can relate to.
Pop stardom came early for you – you’re 18 now and you’ve been performing since you were 10. What do you feel have been the grounding forces in your life so far?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s really that hard. I like to think of me as the same person I’ve been all my life and hopefully always will be, and it’s just like why would it be hard not to be that person? Why is it hard to be nice? Some people meet artists and are like ‘oh my gosh I can’t believe that she was nice’ but why wouldn’t they be? I just surround myself with great people, my family, the same friends I’ve had for a long time. I just love what I do and I get to do what I love, I’m having fun. I just can’t see myself being different from who I am just because I might be gaining a lot of success in the future. I mean, it’s probably easier for me to say this right now, then wait 10 years and you’ll call me and I’ll be like ‘uh excuuuuse me’ (laughs). Right now, I just feel like I don’t know how to be different.
As a vocal feminist, in your opinion what do you think are the most important fundamentals of the movement?
Equality for all sexes - allowing girls to be masculine and boys to be feminine despite social structures. Women are so complex. I really do feel that women and men can be both feminine and masculine, personally and socially. Of course men have feelings, of course girls can be masculine. I posted this picture on insta the other day and it was about the diverse roles - boys can cry, girls can watch porn, boys can be sensitive, girls can get angry, boys can like boys, girls can like girls - basically everything we expect boys to be and like, girls can be and like too and vice versa. At the end of the day, the specific roles that we have are just not healthy. I think it’d be a much better world if we were open to people being whoever that want to be without being judged.
You’re pretty active on social media and have an enormous following, how do you maintain a healthy relationship with the various platforms you use?
It’s kind of like this extra world we have nowadays - we spend so much time on this thing that doesn’t really exist but it kind of does because we spend so much time on it. I think that people use it and I use it just because it’s fun. I love memes and it was funny to see vines (R.I.P) but also short funny clips, sharing funny things just because it’s kind of almost relaxing. The first thing I do when I get home is scroll through Instagram and Twitter but it’s great because it’s so easy to be vocal and get people to listen to you. There are so many different channels nowadays, there isn’t just one TV channel that you can watch or one paper to give you all the news. It’s really up to anyone who has a twitter, fb or insta account to write whatever they want. For me, I think that because I do have a big audience and following I’d like to take advantage of that and share my opinion. I really do think you can make a change by sharing important views on social media, why not? If I have the audience to do that, I would like to do that.
Which emotion is the most powerful and inspiring for you when writing?
Sadness, unfortunately. It feels good writing or expressing myself when I’m emotional, really sad or angry. Being livid and alive, that kind of sadness. The thing with me is sometimes I find it hard to sit down and write about things happening in my life because right now, my life is so not dramatic. I wake up really happy, eat my breakfast, talk to my family, love my friends. No love drama. So sometimes it’s really hard for me to find stuff to write about because creativity expresses itself so well when you’re kind of sad, and art in general is a way of putting pieces together. Like when you’re sad and feel broken, writing or painting helps to puzzle those pieces back together but if I’m already really happy, I’m just gonna lay here and watch some Netflix. Both sadness and love are so easy to write about but love is so broad. You can be sad in love, jealous in love, happy in love, angry in love…
Do you have any advice for girls that may look to you as an inspiration?
Well, I’d like to express how important it is to be with people who make you feel good. Be aware of your surroundings, surround yourself with good people that love you and won’t bring you down. In your social media feed, follow people that inspire you and block nasty comments. I just block and delete. If someone brings negativity to my page I am blocking and deleting in one second because I don’t allow negativity into my space. It’s so important that girls especially uplift each other and it really doesn’t matter if I know a girl or not, I just love to support other girls. I think that is so important because women are always being put against each other, from the red carpet ‘who wore it better’ to ‘who has the best hair’ or ‘who’s the baddest bitch.’