Sometimes the music industry marvels at the maturity of a young artist dropping surprisingly advanced pop. Call it the Lorde effect, but we’re all becoming a bit nonplussed by overachieving teens – Zara Larsson might feel that more than anyone, given she won Sweden’s equivalent of the Got Talent series when she was just 10. Now 16, and with an entirely different pop landscape around her, she’s facing quite an unfair benchmark on her debut, 1.
For the most part, she meets that mark. And then some, actually, if you take a track like Never Gonna Die which is so Rihanna with its R&B-trap style that it makes you do a double take – whatever army of producers are behind Larsson clearly know what they’re doing. But then this is Scandi-pop after all, where artists are forged under the shadow of Robyn rather than Ariana Grande – sure, there’s a little bit of the latter’s bubblegum being peddled (If I Was Your Girl), but there’s also surprising balance of maturity on songs like Weak Heart and Wanna Be Your Baby. And of course, it’s all handled with all the vocal dexterity one comes to expect from a talent show winner, especially one that seems to have been honed for six years.
But the age argument creeps in, and Larsson’s songs unfortunately feel bereft of any substance based on life experience. Skipping A Beat takes a riff on that similar Olly Murs song, while Rooftop is simplistic “I said hi, you said hi” pop lyricism; meanwhile the ballad-heavy second half sinks under inadequate support. But it’s easily forgiven considering how fresh it all sounds; give it another couple of years and 1 will definitely be a number closely associated with Zara Larsson. In the meantime, let’s be thankful that there’s at least one version of this reality series giving us people like her instead of Jai McDowall.