Zara Larsson has released some of the best pop tunes in recent memory. Listening to her song "Lush Life" makes you feel like you're cruising down a California highway with the top down – even if you're actually stuck on the bus while someone in front tucks into last night’s KFC Mega Bucket. But the 19-year-old from Stockholm is also our new fave because she's so funny, relatable and plain-speaking. In one Instagram post, she shared a picture of a condom stretched over her lower leg to shame guys who claim they're "too big" to wear one. As she prepares to drop debut album So Good, R29 speaks to Zara about why she uses her platform – 850,000 followers on Twitter, 2.6m on Instagram – to promote an important message.
Following you on Instagram and Twitter, it's clear you're always the person posting, which isn't true of all pop stars. Has anyone at your label ever tried to take over your social media?
Nah. I would never let them have the password to my Instagram or Twitter – because that's my personal thing. I would most likely post the exact same pictures and write the same tweets if I wasn't doing this; I just wouldn't have as many followers. It's who I am, I'm just being myself, and I think that's what people like. Because these days, people want their pop stars to post about more than just singing and performing. People wanna know what kind of breakfast you had, and what you think about whatever big event happened last night. I really like social media, but I think it would be really hard for someone to be a pop star in 2017 and not have social media, you know.
Because you have so many followers, some of them young women who are about your age, do you view yourself as a role model?
A little, but I don't think about it too much. But I do think that because I have a lot of followers, even if I didn't want to be a role model, I would still be seen as one. And honestly, I don't mind it. I don't think I'm a bad role model. Sometimes I curse a lot, I go out every Friday and Saturday, I drink, I smoke, I do all the "bad stuff". But I wouldn't say that makes me a bad person or a bad role model. When people say Rihanna's a bad role model, I definitely don't agree with that. I think she's great – she's super-cool, she's being herself, and she's proving to people that you can do whatever the fuck you want, and own it. She's not a bad role model because she talks about her sexuality or says "fuck" or smokes. There's a lot of really bad people out there, so honestly, I'm not too worried about someone cursing and smoking.
When we saw Rihanna drinking out of her hip flask at the Grammys, I thought that was awesome – because that's exactly what most of us would do to pass the time at a long, boring awards show. That's exactly what makes her a good role model, I think.
Hell yeah! Absolutely! And I guess a lot of people at the Grammys were doing the same thing, but they just didn't show it and own it like Rihanna. She was just like, "Whatever". And so I think, "Go ahead – you're a grown woman." People definitely judge young women and girls much harder than they judge guys. I think being a good role model is being who you are. I want people who follow me to be who they are and do what they want to do. So actually, I think she's a great role model.
When you posted the picture of a condom stretched over your leg, what was the response like?
The majority was absolutely positive – most people laughed. But some people – some guys – were really hurt. They were like, "You don't even know what it feels like to wear a condom!" I was like, "Ok, whatever, go ahead, get an STD." I thought it was a really fun post but it does prove a point. I mean, that condom was super-stretchy.
Is it important to you that you use your voice to convey that sort of message?
Definitely. Going back to what I post online, I post things because I think them. I'm not doing it to provoke – it's not about that. I'm just posting things that are very feminist because I am very feminist. As a pop star, you're not really obligated to speak about politics and social issues, but I feel like I want to do it because I'm really interested in those issues and I think they are really important. Because I’m a girl and because of my life experiences so far, it’s most likely feminist issues that I'm going to be posting about, and obviously I try to be as intersectional as possible.
Do you think growing up in Sweden helped you find your voice? We tend to think of it as a very liberal, progressive country.
We are pretty forward-thinking. But like with any country, maybe 20% of the people are... stupid, I would say. But I think maybe we're closer than other countries to being equal. We're built on socialism and the idea that everyone should be a part of everything. I'm very happy I grew up there and got "woke" or whatever you want to call it. Some things that are totally reasonable in Sweden might seem radical in America. I don't really care, I still say what I think. People might think I'm being radical but it's really them that's behind. But if you're talking with someone who knows nothing about feminism, let's say, you gotta bring it down a few notches for them to even understand what you're talking about. It's really hard to talk about social structures with someone who doesn't even believe they exist. They're like, "What is privileges?" But it's fine [to bring it down], I think they'll always learn eventually.
Zara Larsson's album So Good is released on 17th March.