Zara Larsson’s ‘Poster Girl’ is glitzy, intoxicating bubblegum electropop

Photo of Zara Larsson's album "Poster Girl"
Epic Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Swedish pop star Zara Larsson is an engineer of musical roller coasters. Her songs offer whirlwind rushes of adrenaline, fading to leave listeners craving more of her infectious vivacity. Released March 5, Larsson’s third studio album Poster Girl follows this well-established pattern as a cohesive collection of lively, sensual songs. While the album provides a mirthful ride about the fundamental ups and downs of love, its fast-lane fun is fleeting. Behind a thin sheen of glamorous production, Poster Girl somehow finds very little to say in its 40-minute runtime.

The album begins in a dreamlike place that Larsson christens “Love Me Land,” a lucid world of radiant love. Fancifully mixed with warbly beats and dramatic strings, Larsson revels in pure passion, infusing this opener with a celebratory energy that sets a high standard for the next 11 tracks. But as she sets a standard, she also demarcates her limits; Poster Girl never wanders outside the boundaries of love as a subject matter, occasionally wandering into tedium as a result.

Larsson consistently leads with her heart and not her head — purposefully devoid of any slow or sweet ballads, Poster Girl is solely electric pop. Larsson lives and loves freely, and this pride translates cleanly into her music. “I don’t wanna talk about love,” she blurts out on a catchy track ironically titled “Talk About Love,” which features Young Thug. The momentous chorus of post-breakup anthem “Look What You’ve Done” is a burst of euphoria, and Larsson yearns for chaotic love with her lead single “Ruin My Life,” engulfed by a hard-hitting chorus of emotional disarray and longing. Here, Larsson breathes in moments of glory without contemplating future consequences, making it clear the present is her one and only concern.

Along with this embrace of exuberant glory, however, comes a carelessness. Larsson’s lyricism begins to wither as she relies too heavily on innovative production. Her lover won’t give her the time of day on “Right Here,” where she sings that “I could be naked at dinner/ And touching the waiter” and still wouldn’t get their attention. Later in “What Happens Here,” Larsson sings cliches such as “I’ma do it cause it’s what I want” with no original twists. Admittedly, deeper themes exist beneath this tacky lyricism — wanting to feel loved, female empowerment — but these tracks are overly simplistic, vapid representations of such matters.

Larsson has never been one for nuance in her music, which is both a blessing and a curse. On Poster Girl, she generally pulls off this straightforward approach with heavy lifting done by the album’s dynamic production. She makes listeners hold their breath for the chorus of “Wow,” which erupts as a voltaic shot of throbbing dance party pop that’s obnoxiously captivating. Other times, her lack of nuance comes across as lazy — “I Need Love” doesn’t lend itself well to Larsson’s high-pitched, hollowly beautiful voice, and “Stick With You” is especially derivative with its “break up/makeup” rhyme.

However, even with such banal lyrical faults, Larsson’s music remains upbeat. Animated, funky bass lines thrive on album highlights “Need Someone” and “FFF.” Poster Girl presents as a blithe fusion of mainstream dance-pop and contemporary R&B, and consistency in its zestful production uplifts — though sometimes carries — Larsson’s passion.

Poster Girl, by title, suggests some relevant introspection regarding fame or womanhood, but for the most part, Larsson rarely delves into anything truly weighty. Her album is pop escapism in more ways than one — as Larsson molds her unrestrained love into digestible dance music, she also escapes profundity. The glittery album holds its ground for a while, but it eventually dissolves into lovesick, sugary nothingness.

In “Stick With You,” Larsson’s lyric “We in a bubble with only good vibes” serves as a rather precise synopsis of her album. Poster Girl is bubblegum pop at its heart: Though Larsson might get a few fun songs stuck in your head, it won’t be long until her bubble bursts.

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].