Step into any decent LGBT+ establishment and you are certain to hear Sweden’s influence on pop music booming from the speakers.
From the campest (and most addictive) ABBA classics, through Robyn’s dancefloor heartache, to Tove Lo’s disco-tinged pop, they’ve kept us pulling out moves we never even knew we had for decades. Hey, even Swedish super-producer Max Martin has given us all of Britney, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift’s finest.
So when Zara Larsson burst onto the scene back in 2015 with her MNEK duet Never Forget You, of course we stopped and took notice. Here was a young female popstar with a big voice and an even bigger personality (please follow her on Twitter if you don’t already), brimming with stage presence and speaking our kind of language.
© Martin Cox
But while Lush Life included flourishes of that Scandi-pop we all hold so dearly close to our hearts, Zara is a Generation Z popstar who had other styles on her mind. This is a teen who grew up through the School of Rihanna, graduating from the University of Beyoncé. Their influence is prevalent throughout her first UK tour – and we mean that in the best way possible.
Zara has kept it no secret that she is a Beyoncé superfan, and her movement on stage suggests she’s slipped into a Queen Bey performance clickhole on YouTube many a time. Wind machines keep her flowing long blonde hair lightly blown back, while the numerous hair flicks and hair flips with slick choreography come through effortlessly. Sharp, fast strobe lighting offers greater impact, bringing plenty of power to the performance.
But it’s in the music that Rihanna’s influence creeps through. Urban-pop numbers like Sundown, Make That Money Girl and TG4M are delivered with the right amounts of vulnerability and empowerment, the backing band bolstering up the production with extra electric guitar and harder beats. What’s particularly striking, however, is that amongst the huge wall of sound and on-point choreography, Zara’s voice never falters. Pitch, tone, range, power, texture: the girl doesn’t let you down.
© Martin Cox
It’s a perfectly polished pop act, but that doesn’t mean Zara doesn’t have anything to say for herself (again, go follow her on Twitter). The 19-year-old is adamant her shows are to be an inclusive environment for all of her fans. “No-one in here is going to judge,” she tells the young crowd. “You’re just gonna let people express themselves.” Her album track What They Say also comes with a political message in tow. “People out there are actually voting for Trump,” she says, telling the audience to listen to the lyrics, and fundamentally ignore the hate that’s out there.
But let’s be real for a minute: it was Zara’s chart-bothering club anthems that got the biggest reaction. Just try not to mimic the routine to stomping dance anthem I Would Like, or bellow out the words to the infectious Ain’t My Fault (“I just called an Uber and it’s right outside”). When they are delivered with such high energy, you are pulled in like you’ve got to lip-sync for your life.
A special shoutout needs to go to the most underrated pop ballad this decade, Uncover, which was presented with all the grace and emotion we’d hoped for. But of course, Lush Life delivered an uplifting, exuberant finale as the crowd wailed the words right back at her. Zara has studied well, and judging by this reaction she’s passing with flying colours.
Gay Times gives Zara Larsson at the Eventim Apollo – ★★★★☆
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