2021 • POP • TEN/EPIC
Working with retro influences from disco and empowering, Swedish singer Zara Larsson’s third album delivers fun songs even though streams still seem to be a major concern.
On the cover of her third studio album, Zara Larsson appears propped up on her bed. She is wearing a blue woolen cropped with little sparkles. In the background, a pink wall is the basis for a poster of her with a white outfit in a gymnastics position. Alongside, photos and CDs are hung on the wall above the bed, which is accompanied by flowers and flashers. Quickly, when you look at this scene, you remember one of those teen movies from the early 2000s. However, Poster Girl is much more than a project where Zara impersonates a girly girl.
The album has been expected for years, even by Larsson. In an interview with NME last month, the Swedish singer considered that the project took too long to be released. “You can always find excuses not to have a release, which is what I’ve been doing for, like, four years,” she said. But it finally came, four years after her international debut, So Good. With 12 captivating electronic pop tracks that revolve around influences from the 2000s, the album acts as a catalyst for fun, with each of the songs working as sparkles on a dance floor. Even though Poster Girl remains concerned with pleasing listeners to Spotify’s fast, fresh music, she still manages to deliver some bold and different songs that reveal that despite being primarily concerned with numbers, Larsson still wants to do something different.
The beginning of Poster Girl, while undeniably fun, is just as disappointing, especially when compared to the last tracks on the album. The album starts off very well with the opener “Love Me Land,” where she sings about falling in love even when you believe you wouldn’t. Despite generic beats here and there, the track features great vocals by Zara, as well as a muffled orchestra of synthesizers and some elements that can be seen as Ariana Grande’s influences. However, from there, the album enters a set of relatively weak songs. “Talk About Love,” with Young Thug, was kinda fun but there is almost no chemistry between the two singers and at different times the track becomes a mess. Meanwhile, “Right Here” is the most generic of the album, and “WOW” has the worst rhymes of Larsson’s entire career. Perhaps, the best part of this first half ends up being “Need Someone,” where it delivers more interesting instrumentation with basses and lyrics with a more independent view.
Fortunately, after that, the record starts to take off. It is plausible to say that these weaker and more generic songs on the album at the beginning are bait for those people who like short electronic pop tracks and totally without innovation — basically, listeners to Spotify’s Top 100. “I Need Love” appears with visceral metaphors and electronic vocals that speak well with the lyric of the song, where Zara debates how love is an addictive drug for her. While “Ruin My Life” is another of Larsson’s most vulnerable moments with her confused about her feelings, saying that she misses the time that her ex screwed up with her life because it was at that time that they were together, “Stick With You” presents some r&b influences and “FFF” some retro beats. It is also interesting to note how well the album is structured, showing each stage of a love disillusionment, breakup, deny and moving on.
Poster Girl’s best track is “Look What You’ve Done.” The track is probably the strongest of Larsson’s career, both in its lyrics — Zara appears independent and empowered singing about how now that she is alone she is “number one” — and sonority — disco influences and retro beats shine with full power on the hook. At the end of the album, “What Happens Here” appears as another strong point, where she shows her confidence enough about herself, singing about that she doesn’t care that the guy she’s dating tells other people what they do at all bed since it is totally normal for a woman to have a sex life. Ironically, the most meaningless track ends up being “Poster Girl,” which beside confusing, doesn’t fit in here. But it somehow makes sense since: in the same way that the song doesn’t fit here, Larsson is much more than the poster girl.