Album Review: Zara Larsson is an unidentifiable ‘Poster Girl’

While Larsson has proven to be capable, she seems hopelessly deadset on only being a singles artist.

Swedish pop starlet Zara Larsson has been on the cusp of a commercial breakthrough for half a decade now. Her stats are perplexing: she has scored over a dozen Top 10 hits in her native Sweden – including 4 No.1s – and boasts one of Spotify’s most-streamed pop records with her major-label debut So Good, but has only broken the US Top 40 once, with her sophomore output Poster Girl unlikely to change that trajectory.

Some of this has been outside of her control, with the momentum of her multi-platinum single “Never Forget You” being squandered by a disastrous two-year delay of ‘Good’ from the notoriously dysfunctional Epic Records[1]The label has been slammed for its handling of pop acts like Fifth Harmony to rapper Offset.. And while her latest output has been marred by a similar delay between the moderately successful “Ruin My Life” and its parent album, the final product reveals an artist who is responsible, at least in part, for her own lack of ubiquity. While the album’s (lack of) commercial success in no way should affect one’s perception of its quality, Larsson’s mission statement with the project has undeniably been to “make it big,” with the album’s title also implying this quest for pop greatness. But none of Poster Girl’s tracks suggest that she has the self-awareness to make that happen.

The transparency of the project is blatant, with the standard-edition exclusion of failed singles “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” and “All the Time,” but the inclusion of the aforementioned “Ruin My Life.” What has kept Larsson afloat for the last several years has been her slow trickle of singles, and to her credit, she picks them well. Her hits “Lush Life” and “I Would Like” are some of the most underrated pop tracks of recent memory, which makes the exclusion of two divinely executed tracks a crime worthy of a criminal trial in The Hague. The album’s deep cuts that take their place instead are lifeless, factory-pressed 20’s pop, with aggressive bass and snare hits that could be the background for any number of milquetoast pop artists. Compounding this, there’s virtually no connection between the songs and within the tracklist, making for a release that feels more like a prospective “Greatest Hits” release rather than a proper LP.

This business-over-art mentality is somewhat expected and even forgivable from a Pop project, but even the most basic elements of the album feel like afterthoughts. While Larsson thankfully clears the most rudimentary hurdle in assigning an effective opener with “Love Me Land,” the choice of closer is outright bizarre, with “What Happens Here” far from sticking the landing. There’s little thematic or sonic variation from beginning to end and no clear narrative being presented aside from its aspirations of fame.

There are moments when Larsson is served well by her team: the album’s highlight track “Need Someone” is an infectious, gleaming piano-driven earworm that cuts through the noise surrounding it. But most of the time, she is left to do the heavy lifting, with her consistently stellar vocal performances. She tackles every song with ferocity, never apprehensive about launching a full-bodied tackle of the money notes. This makes it even more perplexing as to why Larsson refuses to record a single ballad that would highlight her talents, create contrast within the album, and allow the public to see (and hear) another side of her artistry.

‘Poster Girl’ ultimately suffers most not from being irritable or grating on its own but from massively underperforming the most reasonable expectations. The glimpses of greatness that have managed to peek out from the clouds in her career are fewer and farther between than ever before, and her moment in the sun is now more difficult to envision.

References

1 The label has been slammed for its handling of pop acts like Fifth Harmony to rapper Offset.

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