Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl

Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl | Random J Pop

Zara Larsson puts out what I feel is anybody music. This isn't always a bad thing. Anybody music can be good. Great in fact. But it's what Zara has always put out to me. There is nothing about her music or her voice that is particularly unique to the point where you could single them out amongst the current Pop charts, because they sound like everybody else. When I listened to Zara's second studio album So Good, I was genuinely surprised by just how many songs on it that I had heard before, because I'd heard them everywhere with no idea who the songs were by. Yet not once was I compelled enough by them to Shazam. This was also my experience of listening to Dua Lipa's debut album for the first time.

But the one Zara Larsson song that really got me was her 2019 single "All the Time". I was in the gym (a rare occurrence for me), and as the song I was listening to on my iPod was fading, I caught what was playing on the gym PA system. Sure, I thought it was a Little Mix song at first. But the fact I even took the time to wonder 'Oh, who's this!?' and actually check it out was a big deal following a string of songs that didn't illicit such a reaction. And it's what made me say that maybe I'd start paying a little more attention to what Zara Larsson puts out.

Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl | Random J Pop

At some point, and on some level Zara and her team knew that they had to start trying to build something which would allow Zara to be less of a face in the crowd, and Poster Girl feels like a conscious step towards that. One revelation which was thankfully made since Zara's last album is that pop suits Zara far better than attempts at R&B leaning club cuts; although, unfortunately we still get a couple of such songs here. But it is to be expected, as not to alienate those who actually loved the So Good album more than they did Zara herself.

As is the case with many a pop album released over the past couple years, Poster Girl touches on disco. Zara suits it and does it well. But the issue with each of these songs, or my own issue rather, is that I can't shake the feeling of 'This reminds me of Dua Lipa' - which has more to do with Dua being one of the first big pop names to roll out the gate with her album than the sound itself. Contrary to popular belief, Dua Lipa did not invent disco, although white gays™ will beg to differ and claim that Future Nostalgia was the birth of it. But Zara has that 'I don't give a fuck' energy about her and a texture to her voice which when matched with certain songs frame the whole thing in a way where I can't not hear Dua Lipa. It's unfortunate and unfair. But we are at a point in music where pop girls that do disco in this manner are going to get compared to her, unless they give something a little different. And Zara doesn't always give enough, despite giving us really good songs.

Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl | Random J Pop

When Kylie Minogue did disco for her imaginatively titled album Disco, she gave us songs which still sounded like atypical Kylie songs, that she likely would've done regardless of whether the album theme was disco or not. When Jessie Ware did disco for her album What's Your Pleasure? it was still in that seductive Jessie Ware style that she was known for from her debut. When Duolingo did disco for Future Nostalgia, some of the songwriting, production and curation was meticulous and deliberate in trying to build out a sound for an artist who up until that point had no discernible sound. Zara's team went for what would make good for radio, but made no real effort to try and craft an album which gave Zara a sound. She sounds good on each of the disco cuts, but she doesn't always own them. It's quite simply just Zara doing disco. And...that's it. Each of the songs are great, but they'd still be great if literally anybody else did them. Where-as with Kylie, Jessie and Dua, separating them from the likes of "Supernova", "Spotlight" and "Don't Start Now" respectively is far more difficult.

Another part of the problem is that there isn't as much of a commitment to a vibe on this album as the aforementioned ladies showed with theirs. Poster Girl ends up just as Ariana Grande's Positions did. An album which wanted to be pop and glossy, but also lean into R&B and Trap. These sounds can co-exist. Anything can in theory. But there needs to be a consideration of how everything will tie together and create some form of musical narrative. This is what was missing on Ariana's Positions and what is also absent from Zara's Poster Girl; even down to the sequencing. "Love Me Land" is a great song. But it absolutely should not have opened this album. In fact, I question whether it should have been included on this album at all.

But I'll give credit where it's due. Poster Girl is a step in the right direction for Zara, and we get some really good, memorable songs out of it - some of Zara's best.

Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl | Random J Pop

There are a couple of moments on Poster Girl where things intersect perfectly and we get songs where Zara shines. "Love Me Land" is a highlight and the one song that really made me lean into Zara and wonder about this album. Although it does feel very out of place here. Then there's "Right Here" which is the perfect mix of the club readiness of So Good, but with the pop sensibilities of Poster Girl's playfulness. The common thing about both of these songs just happens to be Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who have written for many of todays' pop stars - but are probably better known for their work with negative octave vocalist Selena Gomez. And speaking of Selena, a fair amount of the songs for her third studio album Rare would have been far better off in the hands of Zara Larsson; a couple of which were also written by Tranter. "Rare", "Look At Her Now" and "Let Me Get Me" would've fit nicely on Poster Girl, and Zara would have given each of these songs the energy and punch that Selena can't give for the life of her. 

And of all of the disco jams on Poster Girl, "Need Someone" is the standout. Helmed by a team of Swedes including Noonie Bao and production duo Mattman & Robin, the song has echoes of Swedish musical royalty ABBA, with its gorgeous piano riffs, sugar sweet chorus and how it manages to feel both joyous and sad at the same time. It sounds old, it sounds current and it sounds like a future that Zara needs to consider with her sound. How "Need Someone" was not made a single is truly beyond me. The song highlights something that Zara and her team need to take better note of. And that is that Zara is a Swede...in Sweden. The home of great pop music that changed the world. Zara shouldn't be trying to sound like everybody and anybody else on US radio. She should be embracing that she's from the country of some of the best pop music around, and trying to build something with the talent there - as opposed to picking from the who's who roster of American producers who are spreading their sound thinly.

Album Review: Zara Larsson - Poster Girl | Random J Pop

The unfortunate thing with Poster Girl, is that whilst Zara gives us better songs than she's ever given us before, it will get lost in the shuffle due to so many of the pop girls doing the same types of songs. But separate from everybody and everything else, this is an album with some damn good songs on it that Zara Larsson fans will be really happy with. But some may have a bone to pick concerning which singles made the tracklist. "Wow" and "Ruin My Life" don't really fit the album, and are examples of Zara's team not committing to a sound or a vibe, and just including a couple of songs because they were popular online. If the name of the game here was about truly creating a consistent body of work and songs that fit the album story and visual concept, then "All the Time" would have made the cut, and not  been relegated to a Japanese edition bonus track. It's truly wild that "All the Time" was left off when it's what I'd imagine the album cover to sound like. It should have been the first track on this thing.

Poster Girl is a big step up from So Good. The way it clings to certain sounds from her previous album hurt it far more than its generic disco cuts. But Poster Girl has just about enough going for it that it shows promise of what Zara's music could be and go on to be, if she chooses to hone in and build on some of the great foundations laid on this album.

VERDICT: IT'S FROM ZARA

Highlights:
■ Love Me Land
■ Need Someone 🏆
■ Right Here

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