The following feature appears in the December/January 2017 issue of NYLON.
Despite her chart-topping singles and millions of Instagram followers, Zara Larsson is somewhat unimpressed by her own success. “When people ask me, ‘What would you do if I told you five years ago you would be here?’ my answer is, ‘Honestly, I thought I would be way bigger,’” the Swedish singer tells me. “I thought I would be selling out arenas by now.”
As we sit in her manager’s backyard for breakfast, overlooking the little neighborhoods that make up East Los Angeles, Larsson, who turns 19 this December, is all candor, and self-aware well beyond her years. She picks the raisins out of her pastry as she relays stories from her childhood in Stockholm, where her mother and father—a nurse and a military man, respectively—raised Larsson and her sister, Hanna. Both girls loved music as kids (Hanna now plays in the band Hanna & Andrea), but Zara was always the more extroverted one. “Every chance I got, I wanted to be onstage,” she says. “I wanted to sing, I wanted people to look at me performing.”
At age 10, Larsson convinced her parents to let her audition for the Swedish version of America’s Got Talent, where she took home the top prize, thanks to her powerhouse rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Even back then, she saw her role on reality TV as a means to an end, so after the show wrapped and record labels refused to sign her because of her young age, she was crushed. “I thought people were going to throw contracts at me and ask me to do a world tour, and then I just didn’t get anything,” she recalls. “I thought it was over, that that was it for me. I thought I wasn’t going to be a singer.”
Still, Larsson continued to pursue her dream of making it in the music industry, and finally got her big break at age 14, when she signed to Ten Music Group in 2012. The next year, she released her debut EP, Introducing (the lead single, “Uncover,” went on to become her first No. 1 single in Sweden), and dropped a second one shortly after. In 2014, she debuted her first full-length album, 1, which was certified platinum in Sweden. But it was her 2015 single “Lush Life” that catapulted her to international It Girl status, and her duet with MNEK, “Never Forget You,” that ultimately cemented her position among pop music’s rising stars. Since then, she has been in and out of studios and writing rooms all over the world, slowly chipping away at her new LP.
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