Zara Larsson learned a lot about herself in the three years leading up to her fourth album. The results manifest on VENUS, a treatise on love in all its forms that marries classic songwriting with off-the-wall experimentation. “It’s been a really, really fun project to do for my personal growth,” Larsson tells Apple Music. “I feel a lot more secure in myself and what I do. I’m not stressed, I’m way more present, I’m thankful for making music. It was actually an amazing experience to do this album.” Amazing experiences aren’t always guaranteed, however, as Larsson can attest. The unprecedented success of 2017’s So Good—the hit parade that introduced Larsson (already a household name in her home country) to the world—had a detrimental impact on the way she approached the 2021 follow up, Poster Girl. “People held me to some kind of standard,” she says. “I felt so pressured to live up to that. I was thinking a lot about what other people were expecting from me and of me. This time, I didn’t feel that pressure. I just focused consciously on the making of the songs, not so much how it’s going to be received, and that really changed how I felt making it.” Her creative process changed too. The “red thread” tying the project together was a blissful three-way union between producers Rick Nowels (Lana Del Rey, Adele, Lykke Li) and Danja (Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, Madonna), and Larsson herself, alongside a streamlined team of other collaborators including Casey Smith and MNEK. Working closely with Nowels in particular granted her the space she didn’t know she needed to understand and develop her own craft. “I didn’t see myself as a writer. I was just an artist that sometimes writes,” says Larsson. “But Rick really doesn’t want anyone in his studio. One person, two tops. And he expected me to have titles and ideas and come up with chords that I liked. So I had to write, because there was no one else in the room. I realized I do have good ideas and I have a really good ear, and I do trust myself in what I think sounds good.” She is exceedingly proud of the chapter of her life that VENUS punctuates with the enthusiasm of multiple exclamation marks. “I feel like it represents an era, and the core of female energy and empowerment I want to step into,” she says. “I talk a lot about love and I think that is what makes the world go round.” Here, she takes us through more of the album’s themes and inspirations, track by track. “Can’t Tame Her” “I think MNEK is one of my absolute favorite people to work with, we have amazing chemistry in the studio. I’ve learned to stay close to the people that you feel good with. It’s fun and it’s a good way to start off the whole thing. It was released about a year ago now, and it was definitely a different type of vibe, sonically, from what I have done previously. It’s very much like she’s doing whatever she wants, she’s carefree, she’s that girl—which is a good representation of how I felt about making this album. And I have loved to perform it live. I think that’s something that was really important for me to just be like, ‘How will this be in a live show? How will all the songs feel on tour?’ This one gives me so much energy.” “More Than This Was” “I can definitely relate to this song, maybe not right now, but there was a time in my life where I felt maybe that was the one that got away from me…but then I realized it wasn’t. I’m fine! The nice thing about music is that sometimes you just want to feel related to, which is why you put on a sad song when you’re sad. I think you can make an amazing song just being empathetic for a situation in general. You don’t have to be going through it in the moment, because it would just be the cheesiest, corniest album ever if I wrote about how [happy] I feel right now.” “On My Love” (with David Guetta) “My A&R played me the chorus and the opening for this song when we were driving around LA. It could just have been really affecting me because it was dance-y and soulful, and the demo singer was absolutely incredible, but I thought it was so amazing. So it was a song that already existed and then I just finished it. I know when they wrote it, they were speaking to the universe and to God—just this very big love. For me, in my life, that is my sister. She’s the biggest love in my life, my oldest friend. We’re so close and we have been our whole lives. I’ve written a lot of songs about her, actually. Love doesn’t have to be romantic. It could also be friends or family, or love for myself and my career, and all these other things that are just as important.” “Ammunition” “This started off as a ballad, funnily enough. We were just in the studio listening through stuff Rick had in his computer and that chorus, originally from Starrah, stuck out. ‘I want to give us a shot/Please give me, give me, give me ammunition’ is such an amazing lyric. Then Danja was like, ‘Let me try some things on this…’ and you can really hear him in there—the drums and the vibe, even that little squeaky ‘give me, give me, give me’ sound. The production is the main character of the track and it has that nostalgic but fresh feel to it. I cannot wait to give you choreo, give you a breakdown, that whole thing. It’s one of my favorites.” “None of These Guys” “This is a song we did with [Swedish production and songwriting duo] MTHR, who also worked on ‘Can’t Tame Her’ and ‘You Love Who You Love.’ It’s so nice when we have a couple of days and we know we’ve done some great songs, so we can just have a little fun and not think about how we’re going to make a radio hit. We were just like, ‘Let’s go to a dirty, sexy club for this one and just talk about how much I love my man.’ I wanted an angle that wasn’t just ‘you’re my baby, you’re my favoUrite’ and I think it’s nice when you get to see a little bit of personality. I’m not a very serious person, so it’s definitely been nice to have songs where I get to be a little sassy and fun, because it’s such a big part of who I am.” “You Love Who You Love” “I’ve been in so many situations where I’ve talked to a friend and I’m just like, ‘Get up. What are you doing? You deserve so much better.’ I also had a relationship with an ex that just went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. One day, we were seeing each other again and he was on my sofa when my sister came home. She just started crying. She was like, ‘I hate him.’ So it’s quite relatable. It’s very desperate, it’s very emotional, and it’s camouflaged by this nostalgic beat and the guitar and how it breaks out into this very pop chorus.” “End of Time” “Casey Smith and Rick Nowels made this album with me and I am really thankful that they were still in the studio writing songs for me even when I wasn’t present. This is one of the songs that came out of that, and I think it’s such a beautiful track. It’s big, existential. In creating the visual world and the video for this song, I wanted to focus on love for myself—loving what I do and believing in myself. That is a love that will be with me for the rest of my life.” “Nothing” “I feel really happy about this track because this is throwing it all the way back to the very start of my career, when I signed to TEN at 15 years old. It was written by Mack [Marcus Sepehrmanesh] who was one of the writers on ‘Uncover’ [Larsson’s debut single, released in 2013], Erik Hassle, who I absolutely adore, and produced by Grizzly, who’s also a TEN Records ‘OG’ for me. We worked on my EPs, before my first album. And it’s just a really good song. It talks about that very relatable feeling, when you just know like, ‘Are we coming to an end? I feel like it’s slipping away from me a little bit. We could sort it out if we would just talk with each other, but you have very low communication skills.’ It’s an eerie feeling.” “Escape” “I think this is just a vibe. It’s very dreamy. I think my personal heaven would just be a very comfy bed. I live my life horizontally when I’m not working. That’s just how I exist—being cozy, a cute little cuddle with my boyfriend. It’s the perfect escape for me. And you don’t actually have to go anywhere.” “Soundtrack” “I have a lot of songs that are like different perfumes for different periods in my life, when I smell it and I’m like, ‘OK, wow, this really brings me back.’ Music is the same. You can encapsulate a whole story and a relationship in just one song that represents all that and it becomes a soundtrack to the life you lived or the memory you made. I get tagged in so many videos and the comments are like, ‘This was the song I ran out to at my graduation’ or ‘this is the song that I got married to.’ When I look back in a year or two, ‘Close to You’ by Absolutely will be the soundtrack to spring 2024 for me—she’s RAYE’s little sister, and she’s so incredibly talented. It’s just so insane when you think about being a part of people’s lives in that way. It’s one of the most beautiful things about being an artist.” “Venus” “She’s a dreamy, dreamy, dreamy girl. It was written by [Welsh singer-songwriter] Violet Skies and Rick when I wasn’t in L.A.. They sent it to me and I felt like the melodies were so beautiful. It’s almost a love song to love itself—the feeling of love, or meeting someone and realizing love could be different, it could change your perspective on what you thought it would feel like to be loved. I just thought it was gorgeous.” “The Healing” “A very soft but very important goodbye. It’s very bold in the sense that it’s not something I would usually do when it comes to the production, or my singing. Sometimes the voice can be camouflaged by the production on a pop song, but with this one you have no choice but to be really close and intimate. Even the way I sing is very pulled back. In real life, I think a big part of starting to love yourself can sometimes come from being loved by someone who really appreciates you. You don’t have to be completely healed, but know what you want and what you need and don’t just throw yourself at the first thing that shows up and looks good. But this is just meant to be for yourself, to go on your healing journey so you can come back as the fullest version of yourself that you can be, and love, even stronger—maybe stepping into a little Venus energy. It’s a nice little reflective sign-off to the album.”

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