From the recent success of Icona Pop and Tove Lo to time-tested hits by Robyn and ABBA, it’s clear there’s big love for Swedish pop in the U.S., and 18-year old Zara Larsson proudly carried the torch of the Swedish Invasion passed on by her fellow countrywomen as she made her late-night debut with a performance of her new radio bop “Never Forget You” on Tuesday night’s episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
As Lo did before her, Larsson invades the American airwaves well after her European breakthrough. She won the Swedish edition of the Got Talent franchise when she was just 10 years old, notched three top-10 singles in the U.K., and scored another trio of number-ones in her native Sweden. Now “Never Forget You,” co-written and produced by MNEK, the 21-year old EDM mastermind behind tracks on recent albums by Madonna and Kylie Minogue, is steadily climbing the Billboard Hot 100.
Larsson’s upcoming album, dropping in June, doesn’t have a title yet, but the pop star tells EW it will include even more tracks co-written and produced by MNEK, and that a collaboration with (also Swedish) hitmaker Max Martin is in the works. Larsson dishes more on meeting her celebrity obsession Beyoncé for the first time (she cried) and why Sweden does pop music better in the interview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As a Swedish artist, what do you think makes the country such a unique place for pop music?
ZARA LARSSON: My theory is [because] in [Swedish schools] you need to know an instrument. You’re obligated to take music classes. Even in elementary school, we start at first or even in kindergarten with ukulele and guitars and we sing songs. Sweden is also built totally different when it comes to the society. We are built on socialism, and that makes us basically solidaric, so we depend on each other, which is a great thing because we don’t have to pay for school, we don’t have to pay for college, we don’t have to pay to go to the dentist or the doctor, so even if you don’t have a stable income, you will still be able to get an education or the health care that you need. That makes it possible to actually focus on creative stuff. We have a history of great producers – ABBA and Max Martin – we have proof of people being successful from Sweden. Could you imagine being from Siberia? Like, a small part of Russia, where it’s like, “When was the last time Russia was having a super big international pop star in the U.S.?” I don’t know, but I can name a few from Sweden. I think that gives us a lot of confidence in being pop stars because we’re like, oh, we actually can. We know we can.
Did recording and writing “Never Forget You” with MNEK, who’s worked with international artists like Madonna and Kylie Minogue in the past, make you nervous?
Oh no, I actually didn’t know who he was. After we did the session, I figured out that I’ve heard his music a lot of times; I did know who he was. He’s probably one of the most talented people I’ve worked with, so that was a great day for me. We wrote a great song, and [we wrote] a lot of songs after that.
What are those songs like?
[They’re] more dancey, but also more chill. [There’s] even a mid-tempo, slow song. He’s still got that MNEK sound.
It’s so distinct, like ’90s house mixed with modern EDM. Why do you think your style meshes so well with his?
I think we just vibe really well on a personal level. We’re not afraid to speak our minds, and when people are not afraid to speak their mind, that’s when you create magic. We don’t really criticize each other; we just let each other flow.
Are you writing more on this album than you did on 1, then?
“Never Forget You” was the first song I co-wrote. Before that, I wasn’t really writing, I was just singing, and a lot of the songs were written by Swedish writers [who] I’ve known for a very long time, so they know my style; they know what I like. But, I want to be an even bigger part of the whole thing than just being a singer; I want to create [songs] as well. I didn’t write “Lush Life.” I’m not proud like that. If I hear a song I really like and I didn’t write it, I’m not going to be like, “Oh, I won’t sing it” or “Maybe I’ll change ‘won’t’ to ‘don’t’ so I can get the publishing [credit].” If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. I’ll take it.
You also have some sessions with Max Martin coming up, right?
I’m hopefully going to work with him when I come back to L.A. When I was there, he was like, “Frankly, I don’t really have the time for you right now” because he was finishing up Ariana [Grande]’s album and finishing up a few songs from The Weeknd’s album, which I respect, because he was like, “I want to give you my full attention, and if I have other projects I’m thinking about, I can’t do that. I don’t want to run in and out of the session — five minutes here, five minutes there — just to put my name on it.” He’s super sweet.
Are there any other producers or tracks or album title?
That’s the last thing I’m going to decide. Producers — I’m so bad at that as well. I don’t really know a lot of producers. I’m just into Beyoncé. If I get a nice vibe from [a producer], I don’t really care if they‘ve done blah blah blah. If they don’t give a nice vibe, I absolutely don’t care if they’ve done 20 number ones, so it’s mostly about the person. I think I work with a lot of producers who might be the next big thing. I love The Monsters and the Strangerz from Miami. Everyone I’m working with is great; [they’re all like] “Oh, I produced ‘Sorry’ for Justin Bieber” or “I produced three tracks on the Rihanna album.”
I do pop. Pop is everything from The Weeknd to Taylor Swift to Beyoncé to Rihanna, [and my album is] a good mix of everything. There are some very soulful songs on there, but also electric dance songs, and also pure pop, darker songs with a trap vibe.
When’s it out?
June. I know that!
I know how much you love Beyoncé, and I’m trying to imagine your reaction to being in a studio with her. How would that song turn out?
Man, I don’t know. I met her once and I just cried so much. It was just after a concert. I’d been looking at her for two hours as a fan, and then I meet her backstage, and I’m still kind of in that fan mode, so it was a meeting between a fan and an artist. If I were in the studio with her, I guess it would be different because that would be like two artists working together. When I think about her, I think about her being like a good mom, I don’t know why, she just seems really calm and mature. I have a friend who’s been working with her a little, and she told she’s super cool, like she just feels really young; she’s like a girl you want to hang out with. Hopefully [our song] would be the best song ever, but I don’t want to really collaborate with Beyoncé because she would outshine me! She outshines everyone, except for Jay Z and Nicki Minaj, basically.