By Paige Daniel
Swedish pop star Zara Larsson released her second studio album, “So Good,” last Friday, officially making her debut in the United States. Larsson has slid under the radar while slowly accumulating success with her singles “Lush Life” and “Never Forget You”—creating a new kind of pop stardom.
Larsson is following a path similar to that many other pop artists. She has been releasing a slew of singles that crack the charts, but don’t go to number one.
This seems to be the approach for many young pop singers: oversaturate yourself in the market by releasing too many singles to count, but hold off on the release of an album for as long as possible. The terms and conditions of the pop game have changed. Larsson is the champion of this, much to her fans’ chagrin.
That being said, Larsson is young—only 19. Winning Sweden’s version of America’s Got Talent at 10 years old, she has initiated an overdue comeback with “So Good,” slightly rebranding her image to fit the current pop landscape. That’s where things start to get murky.
Pinning down Larsson’s pop identity is tricky. Larsson seems to have borrowed inspiration from Rihanna, often inflecting the rich tone of her voice with a Caribbean accent (she’s not Caribbean, so take from that what you will).
Her single “Lush Life” achieved a one-off hit status with this sound, a tropical tinge to its interlocking beats. “Sundown” (featuring WizKid) is basically a Drake song, gathering its trademarks from dancehall; funnily enough, WizKid is also featured on “Sundown”’s doppelganger, Drake’s “One Dance.”
She rests on her five singles for the album, which doesn’t leave much room for a fresh track list. While the singles are arguably the best songs on “So Good,” their styles vary wildly, oscillating between R&B (“So Good”), urban pop (“I Would Like”), pop/rap hybridity (“Ain’t My Fault”) and ballad-gone-rogue (“Never Forget You”). Each was too eager to pander to radio by throwing out different sounds, creating a mix-up of dissimilarity.
This would mean the other tracks need to submit a strong, singular sound. But Larsson’s identity is still unclear, letting mimicry take the reigns as true invention is pushed aside.
Maybe Larsson doesn’t mind sounding like everything else out there. She has the vocal chops for almost anything, except they waste away on tracks like the faux-reggae “Only You” and lackluster “Don’t Let Me Be Yours.”
Some tracks rotate through house and EDM beats (“TG4M,” “What They Say”), while others fall into a mid-tempo formula (“Make That Money Girl,” “Funeral”). The album feels very glued together—pieces that don’t belong to the same puzzle.
This doesn’t mean “So Good” is an unenjoyable listen. That’s where confliction grows—Larsson has an undeniable swagger and charisma that some of her pop peers lack. Her songs are sugary and buoyant enough.
However, she could rethink how she uses that swagger and charisma to develop a more focused identity. In the final track “Symphony,” a collaboration with Clean Bandit, Larsson charms at the eleventh hour to pull the album together. Her future work will hopefully hone in on a sound that’s uniquely her own. Meaningful pop can be made; Larsson doesn’t necessarily have to be the one to make it.