REVIEW | Zara Larsson Moves Away From Pop Super-Stardom With ‘Poster Girl’

‘Poster Girl’ doesn’t ask much of listeners and listeners who don’t ask much of it are likely to be pleased

Bubblegum pop is no longer the dominant genre it once was: the days of ‘Teenage Dream’ and ‘Blank Space’ dominating the chart are well in the past by now. Zara Larsson broke through in the dying days of bubblegum pop’s commercial relevance and squeezed out everything she could from it’s final breathes; with hit singles like ‘Lush Life’ and ‘Never Forget You’. Now, however, the spaces on the charts that Larsson once filled with her hits are now dominated by power-ballads like ‘Drivers License’, synthwave-R&B like the Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’, Dark pop like Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ and throwback-disco anthems like those off Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’.

In the face of this changing environment, artists like Larsson are faced with a handful of choices: they can continue to chase commercial success in vain with their quintessential 2010’s brand of pop (see Katy Perry), re-invent their sound to something less-poppy (see Taylor Swift and ‘Folklore’) or they can attempt the move from superstar to cult-favourite (see Carly Rae Jepsen).

‘Poster Girl’ feels like an attempt to achieve both the first and the latter. At it’s best, the album is unashamedly sugary-sweet and surface-level deep; the title track is even catchier than some of Larsson’s biggest hits – and has a longer shelf-life too -, ‘Stick With You’ incorporates a trap/hip-hop influence better than any of the other tracks on the album do and, ‘FFF’ is so affectionately and resolutely carefree that it almost makes you look over the melodic math of “is this a story arc? / Cause if it are, it’d be iconic”. None of it is ground-breaking in any real sense, but it takes a pre-existing template and executes it as well as Robyn does on ‘Bodytalk’ and Carly Rae Jepsen does on her landmark ‘Emotion’.

Elsewhere, however, ‘Poster Girl’, feels bogged down by a desire to maintain widespread commercial appeal and easy accessibility. The Marshmello-produced ‘WOW’ is predictably generic; bogged down by clich├ęs like “If I can’t have you, I don’t want no one”, while the misplaced Young Thug feature on ‘Talk About Love’ places Larsson in the long-running, transparent tradition of pop stars featuring rap stars on their songs solely in the hopes of expanding their audience without any thought to whether the feature actually compliments the song. Ultimately, ‘Poster Girl’ frustratingly fluctuates between near-pop perfection and wanna-be radio hits. That said, the album doesn’t ask much of listeners and listeners who don’t ask much of it are likely to be pleased. On the whole, ‘Poster Girl’ is a refreshing pop album, albeit one that exists firmly within the pre-established boundaries of pop.

Score: 6.8

Best Tracks: Poster Girl, Look What You’ve Done, Stick With You, FFF, Need Someone

Worst Tracks: Ruin My Life

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