Zara Larsson makes breezy, digestible electro-pop: all shine, but no substance. She found her niche in the years after EDM crept into pop, crooning over bright, sanitized synths on her 2015 breakout track “Lush Life” and sighing over wobbling bass on Kygo and Clean Bandit tracks, her voice reduced to a murmur. On her third album, Poster Girl, Larsson attempts to incorporate Dua Lipa–style disco, with stabs at the kind of retro gloss that filled Lady Gaga and The Weeknd’s albums last year. But the record sounds more like a sun-splashed artifact from decade-old pop charts, filled with dated references and fizzy hooks, clunky metaphors and boundless optimism. Even when Larsson stays firmly in her comfort zone, she struggles to convey a sense of character or identity. Years into her solo career, she’s still just a disembodied voice floating over the beat.
These are wispy songs, and Larsson’s at her best when she allows them to drift and dissolve. “Need Someone” melts over a knock-off Tame Impala bassline. “Ruin My Life” starts with fluffy strings before receding tastefully into the middle distance. These are pool-party soundtracks, songs to hum while driving around—pleasant at times, but mostly just tolerable. Too much of the album is hindered by grating, overly accessorized production: hand claps and layered, distorted vocals, theatrical spritzes of synths. On “WOW,” Marshmello slings Larsson’s limp vocals over teetering bass, looping her deadening “Make your jaw drop–drop” hook 10 times in a row.
Larsson and her collaborators — a cast that includes Dua Lipa producer Ian Kirpatrick and boy-band whisperer Mike Sabath — have a penchant for clumsy lyrics, slippery vowels, and mangled subject/verb agreement. “Is this a story arc/’Cause if it are/We’d be iconic,” she chirps over bleating, tinny beats on “FFF,” apparently code for “Falling for a Friend.” The song fumbles over a well-tread narrative in pop, a “Will they or won’t they” dynamic with no charm or suspense. The title track is supposedly dedicated to Larsson’s love for weed, with a chorus of “Holy smokes!” and gasps about “sweet organic healing,” but the song crumbles under its own nonsense:“Someone call a lifeboat,” Larsson moans, “Because I’m drowning in your vibe.”
It’s easy to pinpoint Larsson’s influences, a “Who’s Who” of 2011 radio. The sludgy Young Thug duet “Talk About Love” rehashes Lil Wayne’s croaking Auto-Tuned ballad “How to Love.” The half-spoken bridge in “What Happens Here” tries on early Kesha cadences—“Even if I kiss it, touch it, feel it,” she drawls. What’s harder here is identifying Larsson herself; these songs seem like glitzy containers with nothing inside. When she started making music, Larsson told MTV recently, she didn’t focus on formulating lyrics or testing out guitar chords but on crafting the persona of a star. “I would stand in front of my mirror and sing into a fake mic and tell my fake crowd, ‘I can’t hear you! Sing it louder’,” she said. “Poster Girl” is so enraptured with this idealized vision of a pop star that it leaves no room to learn about the woman behind the mic.
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